White Rock Baptist Church Blog

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Wednesday, March 20, 2019

20Mar

Called to Sacrifice

Lesson and Read: Mark 1.16-20; Luke 14.25-33

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14.26-27 (NRSV)

This lesson presents two pictures of discipleship. One comes from the start of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1.16-20) and one from perhaps its zenith (Luke 14.25-35).

In Mark, Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee and called out to two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John. These fishermen dropped their nets and immediately followed after Jesus. Other gospels (Luke 5.1-10; John 1.35-51) indicate that this was not the first meeting between Jesus and these men. They did make a radical decision but they did not leave their businesses without counting the cost. In Luke 14, Jesus’ popularity was at its height. Many “followers” were not disciples. (Today we might say Jesus was “trending,” i.e., the “thing” of the moment). Jesus spoke a word to sober the wild enthusiasm of the crowd. He was on his way to Jerusalem where arrest, torture and crucifixion awaited him. Anyone who would be his disciple had to expect a similar destiny. Jesus was looking for recruits, not spectators. In stark language, Jesus described the cost of true discipleship. Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple (v. 26). The Semitic mind was comfortable with the extreme hyperbole; “hate” described an undivided loyalty. However, the choice to follow Jesus was not to be wholly governed by emotion. The parables in verses 28-25 suggested that one must count the cost of discipleship. A poor or uncalculated decision could be foolish (the inability to finish a tower) or tragic (the slaughter of an outnumbered army).

Jesus challenges us. Do we consider what we have (possessions, positions, relationships) to be of greater value than our commitment to him? What we have will not last; it is like the salt compound found around the Dead Sea, which did lose its flavor and was then useless. The cross of Christ is more than an ornamental accessory. Following Jesus is not a guarantee of comfort; it is a call to sacrifice.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Thursday, March 14, 2019

14Mar

Our Rescuing God

Read: Psalm 91.1-16

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91.11-12 (NRSV)

The theme of Psalm 91 is the protection that God gives to those who trust him. Consider the number of words used to describe the act of protection: “shelter,” “shadow” (v. 1); “refuge,” “fortress” (v. 2); “cover,” “shield and buckler” (v. 4); “dwelling place” (v. 9). This psalm may have been part of a liturgy performed by those entering or leaving the temple (the shelter of the Most High) seeking God’s safekeeping from dangers physical (robbers) and spiritual (demons).

According to the Hebrew, this psalm begins with the testimony of the psalmist. “I will say of the Lord . . .” (v. 2). He invites his listeners to likewise put their trust in the Lord (vv. 4-13). At the close, God makes the promises; “I will show them my salvation” (v. 16). God is referred to as “the Most High” (elyon) and “the Almighty” (shaddai) because God is able to protect from every peril. There are unexpected dangers like the snare set by a trapper and there are overwhelming threats like a fatal plague (v. 3). God’s sheltering is personal like a parent (a bird extending his wings) and it is pervasive like a soldier’s shield and buckler (surrounding armor, v. 4). God is present to deliver day or night, in deepest darkness or at high noon (vv. 5-6). The “scourge” and “plague” sound like diseases but they could also be demonic spirits; the “wings” could be those of the cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant. Or they could belong to the “guardian angels” (see Exodus 23.20) dispatched by God to keep close watch lest that slightest threat comes near (vv. 11-12). Perhaps the most powerful and convincing verses are 14-16. The Lord says those who have “set their love on me” know my name. Therefore, when they call, the Lord will answer. God will be present. God will rescue. God will honor. God will extend life. They will fully experience (see) God’s salvation.

There is a divine promise or an assurance of help in almost every verse of Psalm 91! One could easily call this the psalm of our rescuing God.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Wednesday, January 16, 2019

16Jan

Love God for the Gift of Jesus

Lesson and Read: Luke 1.26-32; 2.22, 25-35

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

Luke 1.30-31 (NRSV)

Many Sunday church schools involve their students in holiday pageants. These events often include children, dressed in costume, reciting memorized verses that tell the stories of our faith. For those churches, there are two lessons in the Sunday school curriculum that never get taught: Easter Sunday and the Sunday closest to Christmas.

This lesson is the Christmas lesson. The birth story of Jesus is only found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. However, John captured the central theme of The Nativity when he wrote: For God had such love for the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever has faith in him may not come to destruction but have eternal life (John 3.16). The baby Jesus was a gift to the world; a blessing, though not inconvenient and a surprise, though not unexpected. Gabriel told Mary, a young teenage girl who was betrothed but not yet married, that she was pregnant with a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit. She wondered how it could be and, no doubt, she thought about what people would say. But, she also placed her faith in God and soon discovered that Joseph would be a faithful, supportive husband. God blessed Mary and Joseph to be the parents of the little babe destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel (Luke 2.34). Leviticus 12 says 33 days after the birth of a boy, the mother is to present herself before the priest in a service of purification. When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, they encountered a devout man named Simeon and a prophet named Anna. Both of them were devoted to their faith and had not lost the hope of seeing God’s promise of a deliverer, the messiah. When they saw the baby Jesus, they were not surprised, because they believed and were expecting. They were, however, thankful that God had permitted them to witness the fulfillment of his promise.

Simeon and Anna rejoiced just to see the beginning of what God was about to do. Their gratitude and praise (Luke 2.29-32, 38) were expressions of their love for God. Let us also lift grateful praise as we celebrate the birth of the Savior.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Thursday, January 10, 2019

10Jan

Love and Worship

Read: Psalm 103.1-17a, 21, 22; Deuteronomy 6.4-5 (NRSV)

We often hear that the Old Testament is based on the Law and the New Testament on grace. However, Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5.17). This lesson shows us the overlooked presence grace right in the midst of the Law.

The Book of Deuteronomy is often called Moses’ “last will and testament.” First he reviews the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land (chapters 1-4). Then he charges the People of God to remember that history and their covenant with the Lord as they go forward. In Chapter 5, we find a second reading of the Ten Commandments (that’s why we call this book deutero (second) nomus (law) or Deuteronomy. In chapter 6, just before Moses makes his final appeal to the people, we have the passage known as the “Shema.” Shema means “hear.” Moses is saying, “Listen! Pay attention to this!” He is reminding and affirming the truth that is the foundation for all that follows.” The Lord is Israel’s God”—Israel worships and is claimed by the Lord, the God who is over all. And “the Lord is one”—the Lord is God alone or the Lord is the One God. Other nations have a plethora of gods for wind, rain and fire, but Israel’s God is God alone; Israel’s God hold all power. “God and God alone is fit to take the universe’s throne. Let everything that lives reserve its truest praise for God, and God alone” (Phil McHugh).

How are God’s people to respond to the almighty God? With fear? No. With anxiety? No. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (6.5). Love is the fulfillment of the Law. When we honestly consider who our God is and all that the Lord has done for us, are not our hearts filled with gratitude, with appreciation, with love? And if we truly love God, it is not a burden to obey. In fact, it brings joy to lend heart and mind and soul and strength to serve him.

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Monday, December 31, 2018

31Dec

Love and Serve God

Lesson: Joshua 24.1-3a, 13-15, 21-24

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods . . . Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

Joshua 24.16, 18b (NRSV)

In the Book of Joshua, Chapter 24, there is a Covenant Renewal Ceremony. It comes as the culmination of the conquest of the Promised Land and the division of the territories amongst every tribe, clan and family. The ceremony was an opportunity for the people of Israel to remember their history and reaffirm their purpose.

Joshua began the ceremony by reminding the Israelites that their ancestors did not start out worshiping the LORD. Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor-- lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods (Joshua 24.2). The LORD took Abraham from that land to Canaan but later, during a famine, Jacob and his children left Canaan and went to Egypt. Unfortunately, they became enslaved there and were exposed to the gods of Egypt. But the LORD brought them out with a mighty hand. God brought them through the wilderness to Canaan. God defeated their enemies and provided cities to live in and groves they did not plant. Now, As they prepared to settle in Canaan, Joshua challenged the Israelites. Make a choice. The gods of Haran, of Egypt or even the gods of Canaan. But, said Joshua, as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD (v. 15). The people responded, we also will serve the LORD (v. 18). Joshua warned the people that the Lord was a jealous God and would not permit them to serve other gods. Joshua knew the people were accustomed to including the LORD in the list of the many gods they would worship. Joshua, however, was calling for total devotion. ”You shall have other gods before me” (Exodus 20.3).

Joshua’s challenge is ever present. He does not ask us to serve the Lord because of our grandparents or out of tradition. He simply asks that we look over our lives and identify the One who found us, walking in darkness, and brought us out. Find the One who has never forsaken us even when we have been untrue. It is none other than the LORD. Let us love and serve God.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Thursday, December 27, 2018

27Dec

Love and Obey

Lesson and Read: Deuteronomy 6.1-9

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Deuteronomy 6.4-5 (NRSV

We often hear that the Old Testament is based on the Law and the New Testament on grace. However, Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5.17). This lesson shows us the overlooked presence grace right in the midst of the Law.

The Book of Deuteronomy is often called Moses’ “last will and testament.” First he reviews the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land (chapters 1-4). Then he charges the People of God to remember that history and their covenant with the Lord as they go forward. In Chapter 5, we find a second reading of the Ten Commandments (that’s why we call this book deutero (second) nomus (law) or Deuteronomy. In chapter 6, just before Moses makes his final appeal to the people, we have the passage known as the “Shema.” Shema means “hear.” Moses is saying, “Listen! Pay attention to this!” He is reminding and affirming the truth that is the foundation for all that follows.” The Lord is Israel’s God”—Israel worships and is claimed by the Lord, the God who is over all. And “the Lord is one”—the Lord is God alone or the Lord is the One God. Other nations have a plethora of gods for wind, rain and fire, but Israel’s God is God alone; Israel’s God hold all power. “God and God alone is fit to take the universe’s throne. Let everything that lives reserve its truest praise for God, and God alone” (Phil McHugh).

How are God’s people to respond to the almighty God? With fear? No. With anxiety? No. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (6.5). Love is the fulfillment of the Law. When we honestly consider who our God is and all that the Lord has done for us, are not our hearts filled with gratitude, with appreciation, with love? And if we truly love God, it is not a burden to obey. In fact, it brings joy to lend heart and mind and soul and strength to serve him.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2018

19Dec

God’s Blessing

Read: Genesis 30.1-43

[Laban said] “I have learned by divination that the LORD has blessed me because of you; name your wages, and I will give it.” [Jacob said] “Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages.”

Genesis 30.27,28, 32 (NRSV)

This lesson is about God’s blessings to Jacob—a family and wealth—and Jacob as a blessing to Laban.

Jacob left Bethel (the site of his dream, Genesis 28.12) and arrived in Paddan-aram. Immediately he met Rachel (the daughter of his mother’s brother, Laban). He was no doubt overcome with emotion. He had found his tribal people after a long journey. He moved a large stone, kissed his cousin and wept aloud (29.10-11). Laban also received Jacob warmly and put him to work. The cordiality of these opening scenes proved to be a pleasant covering for many deceptions to follow. Jacob agreed to work for his uncle for seven years in exchange for Rachel as his bride. After seven years, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying the older sister, Leah, and then contracted to give him Rachel for another seven years labor. It is hard to believe that both Leah and Rachel were not aware of this marriage custom (v. 26); it seems that Rebekah, Laban, Leah, and Rachel were as clever as Jacob!

Jacob favored Rachel so God favored Leah with the first children. The rivalry between the sisters resulted in 12 children. Jacob had been blessed with a family. For twenty years, Jacob’s talent with animal husbandry had made Laban rich. He did not want to let Jacob return home because he discerned that the Lord was blessing him through Jacob. Jacob and his family escaped through one final, masterful deception. Jacob let Laban choose the type of sheep and goats he would take for his wages, and then influenced their environment during their mating, so that Jacob received the strongest. Whichever Laban chose, Jacob manipulated the results. Soon Jacob, who came to Haran with nothing, had wives, children, servants and livestock. God’s blessings.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Saturday, December 15, 2018

15Dec

Jacob’s Dream

Lesson and Read: Genesis 28.10-22

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place-- and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Genesis 28.16-17 (NRSV)

Esau was in enraged because, once again, Jacob had taken something for him. He planned to kill Jacob after Isaac’s death. So now both Isaac and Rebekah had a reason to send Jacob away. His father did not want him to marry a Canaanite girl and his mother wanted him distant and safe from his brother. They decided to send Jacob to Haran, to live with his kinsman (Rebekah’s brother) Laban and to seek a wife. Isaac blessed his journey (Genesis 28.3-4) and Esau, moved to consider his mother’s displeasure with his former wives, married a granddaughter of Abraham (27.46; 28.6-9). What did Jacob expect on this trip to Haran, his ancestral home—a temporary escape from trouble or a whole new life?

Jacob made his first stop in Luz. He took a stone for a pillow and slept. As he slept, he dreamed of angels ascending and descending on a stairway. What he saw resembled a Babylonian pyramid call a ziggurat. Egyptian pyramids had a flat exterior; ziggurats were constructed with step and a throne on the top. It symbolized a mountain with a place for its god to be seated at the top. In his dream, The God of Jacob’s father and grandfather spoke the same words of the covenant made with Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 28.13-14); God renewed that covenant with Jacob. The prophecy given to Rebekah was coming true (25.23). When Jacob awoke, he realized he was in an extraordinary place, a stairway to heaven. He anointed his sleeping stone with oil and named the place Bethel, the House of God. But then, as was his character, Jacob made a wager with God, a vow. If God will be with me . . . so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God . . . and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you (Genesis 28.20-22).

Jacob is clever. Does Jacob believe he can set the terms for his covenant with God? Powerful lessons await him in Haran, in Laban’s house.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2018

11Dec

Jacob’s Deception

Read: Genesis 27.1—28.5

[Rebekah said] “Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you. Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he likes; and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”

Genesis 27.8-10 (NRSV)

The title of this lesson is a misstatement. It is not just Jacob’s deception; it is Rebekah and Jacob’s conspiracy. Together they devise and execute a plan to redirect Isaac’s blessing for Esau to Jacob.

Isaac instructed his firstborn son, Esau, to hunt for and prepare the savory meat that he liked. He would eat the meal and then bestow on Esau the father’s blessing. Rebekah overheard her husband and called to Jacob, the second born son (her favorite). She informed Jacob that she planned to secure the father’s blessing for him. Together they would trick Isaac. Rebekah instructed Jacob to bring her two goats which she would prepare in a savory way. She also used the goat skin to fashion coverings for Jacob so that he would resemble his hairy brother. Wearing his “Esau costume,” Jacob took the food to his father. He explained his quick return from the hunt as a sign of the favor of his father’s God (Genesis 27.20). Isaac’s vision was dim. “You sound like Jacob,” he said, “but you smell like Esau” (v. 22). Then, when asked directly, “Are you really my son Esau?” Jacob replied, “I am” (v. 24). Jacob kissed his father and received the blessing intended for his brother. Rebekah’s role in this deception was played out at distance but Jacob had to carry out his part right in front of his father. Deceptive words sealed with a kiss. How sad.

It seems that Rebekah had not informed Isaac about the prophecy concerning the younger son (Genesis 25.23). This deception suggests a lack of trust in the family or perhaps reflects the difficulty in challenging the traditions of the eldest. In the ancient world, one survived either by being physically powerful or being mentally sharp. In the account of Jacob’s blessing, the clever one beat out the strong.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Sunday, December 09, 2018

09Dec

Siblings’ Rivalry

Lesson and Read: Genesis 25.19-34

The children struggled together within her; and [Rebekah] said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”

Genesis 25.22-23 (NRSV)

The story of Jacob and Esau is the very definition of “Sibling Rivalry.” Genesis 25.22 says they began their fighting in Rebekah’s womb! Esau won that tussle and emerged first, but Jacob was born grasping his brother’s heel, signaling that the battle was not over.

Esau and Jacob were fraternal, not identical, twins. Esau, the first born, was a skillful hunter and a man of the open country. Jacob preferred life around the tents—pastoral, i.e., cattle and sheep and agricultural, i.e., crops and vegetables. It seemed that Esau was wild and Jacob was quiet. Isaac favored Esau because he loved fresh game. Rebekah loved Jacob but the text does not give a reason (Genesis 25.28). It is reasonable to think that Rebekah believed what God said to her during her difficult pregnancy, two nations are in your womb . . . one shall be stronger that the other (v. 23). Esau was obviously physically strong but Jacob was no weakling (he will later lift a huge rock to water Rachel’s sheep, 29.2-10). However, Jacob’s strength was his mind; he was obviously more clever than Esau. He easily tricked his brother into selling his birthright for a bowl of lentils (25.29-34). Rebekah remembered that God also said the elder son shall serve the younger (v. 23). Rachel’s favorite son was the one that God favored (and it is not clear that Rebekah ever shared this prophesy with Isaac).

Believers must confess that we are confused, at first, about what to think about Jacob. We know he is God’s chosen successor to Abraham and Isaac but we also can see that he is a villain. Jacob is tricky, manipulative and merciless. Esau is unarmed in a match of wits with Jacob. We may even feel sorry for the elder brother. Yet, we cannot ignore that Esau does not understand the value of his birthright. He thought more of an immediate satisfaction than a future asset. And Jacob, though a “heel grabber,” knew the worth of both birthright and Isaac’s blessing and, eventually, ends up with both.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence