Bible Study – Forgiveness and Grace

Topic: Grace, Forgiveness, and Paying it forward

Passage: Matthew 18:21-35

Opening Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer

Ice Breaker
Two Truth’s and a lie

Game
Gospel pipeline
Materials:
2 marbles
8ft of PVC pipe cut in 1ft sections, and then cut in half long ways.
Divide the group into two teams. Each person gets a piece of the pipe. Set up a starting point, and an end point approx 16 feet apart. Then challenge the teams to move the gospel (the marble) from point A to point B to see who can get the marble there first.

Breakdown:
Who liked this game?
Who did not like this game?
What made it hard?
What did it take to figure it out?
What would have made it easier to move the gospel from point A to point B?
Was competition helpful?
If the goal is to move the gospel from point A to point B what would have made it easier?

Play the game again:
This time do not divide into teams and move the gospel (both marbles from point A to point B).
Hint: An 8ft pipe cut in half, and laid end to end will be 16 feet long. All the participants will have to do is get in a line and allow the marble to roll from one pipe to the other.

Division and Unity

Was this game easier when you were not in competition?
What made the game easier this time?
Are there times when competition within the church is a good thing?
When is competition within the church a bad thing?
What else divides Christians?
When we face conflict, what is the best way to handle that conflict?
Grace and Forgiveness
Define: Grace – What is grace?
What does grace look like to you?
What is the difference between grace and forgiveness?
How is grace connected to forgiveness?
When we are offered forgiveness how are we expected to respond?

Prepare to read the passage:
As we go through this weeks’ passage I would like you to consider what words and phrases jump out at you.
What theme’s are present?

Read: Matthew 18:21-35
Allow them to read the passage silently.
Then try to have two different people read the passage from different translations.
Following last week’s example let’s use our three basic questions to explore this passage. Our three basic questions are What? So What? Now What?

What?
What words or phrases jumped out at you?
What are the big ideas at work in this passage?
What kind of language is being used to make this point? (tough question)
What is happening in this passage?
Do you see a pattern to the way this passage is laid out? What is it?
Peter asks a question about forgiveness
Jesus tells a parable
A King settling accounts forgives a wealthy man’s debt
The forgiven wealthy man does not do the same for others
The King is told and the wealthy man is punished
Jesus concludes the parable by explaining the connection between God’s forgiveness and the way we should act.

Does v.22 sound familiar to any of you?
Genesis 4:13-15; Cain’s punishment/protection
What is God doing for Cain in this passage? – protecting, or avenging?
What is the protection offered to Cain?
Why is God protecting Cain?

Genesis 4:23-24 Lamech’s vengeance
Who is Lamech?
What is Lamech saying in this poem?
Can anyone tell me what Lamech is doing in this poem?
So what is Jesus saying to Peter when Jesus says, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven[?]”

So What?
What is it about the language of banking, and debt that helps Jesus explain forgiveness?
How would you define grace from the stand point of debt? – possibly a credit
How is grace described in this passage?
How is the word forgive or forgave used in this passage?
Did the king have a right to demand repayment of debts owed to him?
Did the wealthy man have a right to demand repayment of debts owed to him?
Why did the king forgive the wealthy man’s debt?
At this point is the king acting more like God protecting Cain, or like Lamech taking out his revenge on others? Why do you think the king acted that way?
What were the king’s expectations for the wealthy man?
Do you think the forgiven wealthy man was grateful to the king?
How did the forgiven wealthy man show his gratitude?
How did the forgiven wealthy man act towards those who owed him money?What was it about the forgiven wealthy man’s actions that made the king angry? Why?
Did the forgiven wealthy man act more like God protecting Cain, or like Lamech taking his revenge?
Why do you think the forgiven wealthy man acted that way?
What was the king’s response when he heard about the actions of the forgiven wealthy man?
What is typically your response when you find someone you’ve helped is not using that help in grateful manner?
What is a modern word for what the king does to the forgiven wealthy man? – accountability
Is holding someone accountable the same thing as denying them grace?
What does accountability have to do with vengeance and justice?
Is accountability about getting even?
What is the purpose of accountability?
What makes it hard it hard for us to forgive others?
Have any of you ever had a hard time offering grace to others?
Have any of you ever had a hard time receiving grace from others?
What are some things which get in the way of either offering or receiving grace?
What is the connection between grace and forgiveness?

Now What?
Everyone here is either married, or they have been married.
What does it mean to show your spouse grace?
Is offering grace to your spouse the same thing as letting them walk all over you?
What does showing grace look like in marriage?
Is holding your spouse accountable the same thing as walking all over them?
What does Godly accountability in marriage look like?
When is it hard to show your loved one grace?
What about in the church?
When is it hard to show people in the church grace?
When is it hard to hold people in the church accountable?
Is there a time when you have been held accountable by people in the church?
Would someone like to share?
Did you receive that accountability graciously or with vengeance?
What are some ways we can handle receiving accountability well?
Will someone please share a time when they have offered grace to someone who was not a loved one, or church member?
How was that grace received?
How did that make you feel?
If rebuffed (were you gracious?) If gratefully accepted (did you feel pride?)
(Show of hands) Have there been times when you have been held accountable outside of marriage, and the church? How did you respond?
Have you seen people held accountable in ways that are not gracious? How did you respond?
Have you ever had opportunities to speak truth to people in positions of power?
Were you gracious in holding that person accountable?
What does it look like to be gracious while holding someone accountable?
How does grace help us to share the gospel with others?
How does grace help us to handle it when the gospel message is rejected?
How can we continue to offer grace to those who reject he gospel message?
For whom do we share the gospel?
How does forgiveness help us to share the gospel with others?
How can a lack of forgiveness and grace hurt the gospel? (publicly, and inside the church?)

Final Statement:
When we fail to offer grace, and forgiveness our gospel pipeline loses a section of pipe.
What happens when we lose a section of the pipe line?
How do we make sure we keep the pipe line in tact?
Grace and forgiveness are a part of who we are as Christians. Let’s make sure we are continuing to offer grace and forgiveness to others.

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Bible Study – Contentment and Complacency

Here’s a Bible Study I ran a couple of weeks ago. The churches I’m serving have asked some topic based Bible Studies. This was a topic they specifically asked for. Everyone had a great time so I thought I’d post it here for anyone to use.

Materials needed
Black board/White board and chalk/markers
Three objects to pass around (this works better if one is a squeaky toy with an easy squeaker)
Stop watch

Set up
Have tables folded down and set against the wall. Set chairs up in a circle in the middle of the room.

Welcome
Open with Prayer
Give a brief explanation of how these Bible studies are going to be structured.
Each week: Ice Breaker, Experiential Ed, Investigative Ed.

What? So What? Now What?

Ice Breakers & Games (25 min)
Introduction: Introduce yourself and your three favorite things to eat at a pot luck.
Game: Who can raise their hands the highest?
Move the chairs to the walls of the room.
Game: Around the world.
Have the people stand in a circle. Then call the name of one person on the opposite side of the circle and toss them the squeaky toy. Then explain the game. Each person has to call the name of someone on the opposite side of the circle, and then throw them the squeaky toy. When the toy has finally gone to everyone it comes back to the facilitator. Once the toy has gone all the way around the circle ask the group how quickly they can get the ball around the circle. Tell them you are going to time it the next time the object goes around the circle. Toss the object and time the interaction. Did they meet their goal? Now tell them they are going to do it again with all three objects being passed one after the other, and ask how quickly they think they can pass all three objects around the circle. Start the stop watch. Call the name. Pass the squeaky toy. Call the name. Pass object number 2. Call the name. Pass object number 3. Did they meet their goal? Can they do it any faster? Set a new goal? Keep pushing the group to get the items around the circle in the fastest time possible until the participants change seats to pass the objects without having to toss the items across the circle.

Follow Up Questions:

What? So What? Now What?

How many people liked this game?
What did you like best?
How many people did not like this game?
What did you find difficult?
How were those difficulties over come? / What did you have to do to achieve the goal?
Did any of you find it difficult to achieve the goal?
What techniques from this game might we apply to the way we run meetings in our churches?
What techniques from this game can we apply to the way we participate in Bible Studies?
Let’s practice.
Move the tables to the center of the room so everyone is seated around one large table. Place the snacks in the middle.
Another prayer for the study, and the snacks.
The Passage Hebrews 12:1-17
Observations (The What? Question)
Context is King.
Let’s start with our own context. What do we know?
Where is the book of Hebrews found in the Bible?
Who wrote the book of Hebrews?
For whom was the book of Hebrews written?
Can it hurt us not to know a lot about the Bible before we begin reading it?
What might be good or bad about not knowing a lot about a passage of Scripture before you study it?
How might studying the Bible together help us to learn more from Scripture?
Let’s find out.

Read the Passage
Tell them ahead of time I am going to ask for key words or themes that jump out at them.
Use a chalk board/white board to write down their observations.
Break the passage up so one person reads two verses each.
What words, or phrases jump out at the reader?
What passage does the author of Hebrews quote?
Is the passage quoted exactly? What might that imply?
Who are the cloud of witnesses mentioned in 12:1?
(Grab a cookie from the table.) I’ve got a cookie for the first person to find the right answer.
Where is the best place to find the cloud of witnesses?
What do we know about the chapters, verse numbers, and subheadings in the Bible?
So if a passage mentions something I don’t recognize or understand where is the best place to look for the answer?

[REPEAT WHAT WE HAVE OBSERVED, OR POINT TO CHALKBOARD]

Based on what we’ve done so far what do we know about the author of the book of Hebrews?
What does that also tell us about the people the author of Hebrews was writing to?

Authorship, intended audience and controversy

The original title of what we call the Book of Hebrews was “To The Hebrews.”

We do not know for certain who wrote the book, and because the authorship was so much in question the book of Hebrews was nearly not accepted into the canon. The canon is the accepted list of the books of the Bible. Some give credit to Paul for original authorship, while others give credit to Barnabus, and still others to Clement the bishop of Rome at the end of the 1st century. We know the letter was widely circulated in the second century because of the remaining correspondence which passed between bishops and presbyters who quote the letter. We don’t think about it much in the U.S., but the Catholic church was the Body of Christ until the Reformation in the 1400’s. The split between the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox occurred sometime in the sixth or seventh century, but early on there were different lines of thought and not much ability to share those ideas except by letter. There was no e-mail. There were no Blackberrys or Iphones. Which meant it took a long time for letters to move back and forth, and for ideas to be tested and tried. By late in the second century Paul was largely given credit for the Letter To The Hebrews. There were others who claimed Clement the bishop of Rome wrote the Letter To The Hebrews from things he heard Paul say, things he had been told Paul said. From the Eastern Church in Alexandria, Egypt, there was a claim the Letter to the Hebrews was written by Paul’s traveling companion, Barnabus. The Letter to the Hebrews finally became a part of the official canon at the first Council of Trent because of claims the letter was written by Paul.

The reason I am telling you all of this is because I want to point out your observations were very good. You identified an author who knew the Hebrew Scriptures, and was probably writing to an audience who was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Hebrews is a New Testament book about Christ which means you correctly identified an audience who was Christian and were at least aware of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is very good work.

Restate who are the cloud of witnesses.

What is a witness? What do witnesses do?
What have the members of the cloud of witnesses done?
What would you say the cloud of witnesses is doing now?
How does being a runner fit with the idea of being a Christian? Is it a good analogy?
Can you think of some similarities between being a runner and being a Christian?
How might the analogy of a runner better help us to understand the role of the cloud of witnesses?
How do teammates help us to do better when we play a sport?
When we played the game earlier what was the focus? What was the goal?
How did the other members of this Bible study help to achieve the goal?
When learning to be more like Christ how does it help to have a crowd of witnesses, or teammates?
Who is allowed to run the race?
What would disqualify someone from running the race?
What impact does sin have on those who are allowed to run the race?
What is required to run the race well? (look to the blackboard, and use their observations)
What do you think the author means by every weight and sin which clings so closely?
If you were to run a race would you run it in a bathrobe? Would you run it in a formal evening gown?
What would you wear to run a race? What makes that a better garment in which to run a race than an evening gown?
What does the author say about these weights and sins?
How do children learn to run?

Tonight’s study is all about contentment and complacency. How are we to be content where we are, and yet not become complacent? Let’s look at what “The Letter to the Hebrews” has to tell us.
According to the “Letter to the Hebrews” what are Christians called to do?
How are we to do it?
What is the manner in which we are to do it?
What is the best way to figure out what these weights and sins are in your own life?
We can sit here and talk about the sins in life which must be avoided, but perhaps we should be more focused on the race.
What is the goal of the race itself?
What does it mean for us to run the race? What does it look like in practice?
Here is an opportunity to learn from each other.
What ways have you been disciplined for the race?
What ways do you discipline yourselves?
When is it hardest to persevere? When is it challenging?
What cloud of witnesses do you rely on for support?
Who is running the race with you?
What does it mean to run the race with someone?
What do you offer to those with whom you run the race?
What does “the peaceful fruit of righteousness,” which comes from being disciplined for the race look like?”
Would someone please share a time when they have tasted that fruit?
Has there been a time in your life when you were hungry for that fruit?
What were some of the things which caused you to be hungry?
Would you please share a time when someone in this room has offered to you, “the peaceful fruit of righteousness”?
As we leave here tonight, and after hearing so many wonderful examples, what are some ways you can be a better running mate to those in our churches?

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Epiphany

Just a little illustration for the bulletin over Christmas. I love the image of the candle and the light with the bells ringing for Christmas so I thought I’d post the doodle here. Happy New Year to all, and may the light of Christ shine in your heart and been seen in your lives.

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Happy Halloween

I’m sure there are loads of you out there who are gearing up to take little ones out for the biggest candy night of the year, and I hope you all have fun. Halloween has been vilified and demonized by churches and Christians for so long I won’t bother going into it here. The thing about Halloween which has struck me this year is its proximity to “All Saints Sunday.” Traditionally “All Saints Sunday” is a big deal in the church, but this year it has been kind of a big deal for me. This has been my first year to preach an All Saints Service, and while I have attended this kind of service before this year was different. I am serving two small churches. When I attended a large church I did not notice so much when someone became upset in the pew. There were so many people it was hard to tell. This year, when people became visibly upset it was painfully obvious to all. All Saints Service at my churches became a morning for compassion, and support.

Matthew 23-22 is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees who did not believe in the Resurrection. They asked Jesus about a woman whose husband had died before they could have children. Under Mosaic Law the woman was married by her husbands brothers until they all died. The question was in heaven whose wife would she be? They had missed the point. Relationships in heaven are not like relationships here. People are not something to be had, and God is not the God of the dead. Our God is the God of the living.  The Sadducees were thinking about the resurrection as if it were about what you get when you get to heaven. Jesus was pointing out heaven is about living with God.

Sometimes in life we get caught up in stuff like ol’Garfield here. On Halloween night Garfield is all about “Candy! Candy! Candy! Candy!” This Halloween consider those who have passed out of this life. Consider those who are no longer caught up in the struggle from the womb to the tomb. Try to make a little time to consider the impact those who have passed on had in your life, and give some thought to the impact you are having in the lives of others.

In His Peace,
Richard

 

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Keepin’ It Clean

“You are to distinguish between the  holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”
                                    Leviticus 10:10

Most of us are like this cat. We have our own ideas about what it means to be clean. God uses words like clean and holy to describe a state of being more than not having dirt on your body. Here in Leviticus God is specifically talking about staying away from idolatry. Today idolatry could be anything from spending all of your time worrying about who is going to be kicked off of the Bachelor, to being more focused on earning, and getting money than on spending time with family. Maybe your idolatry is being more concerned with books and learning than the people in your life who love you. John Wesley once said,

“Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge”

The cleanliness and holiness God requires is the love of God which becomes more important than everything else in our lives. When we love God we will love others because God loved the world so much God sent Jesus to die for us. When we love others we will have a care about what we say, and the way we act because we do not want to do anything to cause our brother or sister to stumble. When we love God first above all things our self love will be held in check. Tina turner once asked, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” It seems to me, from God’s perspective, Love is the reason for living, and Love is what makes living worth while.

In His Peace,
Richard

 

 

 

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Missing the Signs

Have you ever been driving and missed a road sign; taken a wrong turn; or just wound up lost all together?    Before I answered God’s call to go to seminary I was working as a courier for Raven Express Courier service in Charlotte, North Carolina. The first four months or so I just tried to follow the directions I was given over my Nextel. Which meant I had a notebook to keep the directions I was given for how to get from point A to point B, and I’ve gotta tell ya it didn’t work for me at all. I made a lot of wrong turns, and unfortunately made my boss pretty angry.

In Matthew 21:23-32 the Pharisees have made a similar mistake. They thought they were coming to challenge Jesus. The Pharisees quickly found themselves trapped by their own challenge. The Pharisees had missed the sign – John the Baptist. John came with a baptism of repentance, which is a fancy way of saying if you promised to turn from your old ways, and to do your best to serve God John would dunk you in the water as an outward sign of something you promised to do. God had often called prophets to call the people to change the direction of their lives. In this way John was following a call from God. It is by God’s authority John called the people to repentance. The Pharisees missed the importance of John the Baptist. The Pharisees were more focused on power and authority than on the truth of Jesus’ message. You might even say they were like a horse wearing blinders. The Pharisees couldn’t see the blessing of John the Baptist right in front of them, and because they couldn’t understand what John was doing, they misunderstood Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus’ teaching corrected their error pride became an issue. The hurt pride of the Sadducees and Pharisees was part of the reason they offered Jesus up to be crucified. To put it mildly, they made a wrong turn because they misunderstood the sign of John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance.

I did finally get pretty good at being a courier. To do so I had to buy a map book of Charlotte. Really good map books lay out the streets by grid so you can look up an address pretty easily. Since I am a visual person it helped me to have an image of the street layout so I could find the quickest route from point A to point B without having to drive my boss nuts. Do you know what the grace of God offers? God’s grace offers us the ability to ask for forgiveness when we make a wrong turn, and then turn around and go back so we can try again. Turning around so we can try again is the definition of repentance.  God wants us to come home so God is constantly calling us to repent in love and grace. It’s okay to make a wrong turn every now and then so long as the goal is always to be as close to God as we can. Pick up your map book for life today. It’s called the Bible.  When you read the Bible it’s like looking for the road signs of life so you don’t make a wrong turn.

In His Peace,
Richard

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Bible Belt

I am blessed to live in the American South East. As such people have a number of assumptions about each other. For instance it is assumed you grew up on Sweet Tea (a.k.a. sugar water: tinted). Any kind of soft drink; Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi is at first generally referred to as a coke.

As in, “I’m going to the fridge to get a coke do you want one?”
Reply, “Yeah. What are you getting?”
Host, “I’m grabbing a Dr. Pepper, but we have Coke and Mountain Dew as well.”

The other common assumption is everyone is a Christian. What we’ve ended up with is a lot of people who are nominal or perhaps even non practicing Christians. They can sit on their couch and tell quote enough Scripture to be dangerous to themselves and others, but they aren’t walking the Christian Walk.

I think I’ve mentioned I’m preaching on Matthew 20:1-16 this week, and this morning (of course after I’ve finished this week’s sermon) something really hit me. The land owner has gone out four times to hire workers to tend his vineyard. The fifth time the land owner goes to the square there are people there idly mulling about. The land owner asks, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” Their response is, “Because no one has hired us.”

That slaps me silly because I’ve heard people say just this week the area where I am serving has been evangelized so much, and there are so many Christians there’s no sense trying to evangelize in the community. As I read these verses I cannot help but think there are people out there who have not hired on to do the work of Christ. There are people in this community who are not yet Christians. Just because I live in the Bible Belt doesn’t mean there are no people in my community who either do not know Christ or are living in a nominal relationship with the King. Just because I am serving a rural community that has had churches in it for over a hundred years it doesn’t mean it is okay to go on auto pilot. Is it okay for you to go on auto pilot when it comes to your faith?

In His Peace,
Richard

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