White Rock Baptist Church Blog

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Thursday, November 29, 2018

29Nov

The Call of Abram

Read: Genesis 9.1—12.20

Then the LORD told Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's house, and go to the land that I will show you.”

Genesis 12.1 (NRSV)

Genesis 12.1-3 has been called the fulcrum of Genesis, if not the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). From this point onward there is a change in content and style. We go from short, focused stories explaining why thing are the way they are (Why does everyone speak a different language?—11.1-11), to long narratives chronicling the story of one family, Abram and Sarai, and their descendants.

Genesis 11.31 says that when God called Abram, he was living on Haran with his wife, Sarai (who was barren), his brother, Nahor, and his family, and his nephew, Lot. However, Genesis 15.7 reveals that God was calling when Abram’s family was in the city of Ur. It was Abram’s father, Terah, who set out for Canaan. God was calling before Abram was aware. And consider: did Abram know who was calling him? It could have been any of the many gods of Mesopotamia. Consider further: this god’s request was unusual and unreasonable. Terah journeyed with his family. Abram was being asked to leave his country, relatives and his father’s house. They left Ur, a center of culture and high technology in its day, and now Abram was to separate himself from the best support and security of the ancient world—his family. The Lord spoke many promises to Abram: a land, a great name, many descendants, blessings for his family, and, to be a blessing for all nations (vv. 2-3). All Abram had to do was go.

There is no other way to explain Abram’s response except to recognize it as faith. It is not yet the faith that will enable him to consent to sacrifice his only son, Isaac (Genesis 22), but it is faith. In the years to come, Abraham and Sarah both will grow their faith walking with God, trying to be faithful, trying to hear and obey. Consider finally: How many of God’s promises did Abram and Sarah see? The greater part of God’s blessings were for their children. What an indictment it is for believers to tie faith to some immediate, material reward. Though he did not live to see it, the world benefited from Abram faith.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Tuesday, November 27, 2018

27Nov

The Righteousness of Noah

Read: Genesis 6.1-22; 8.19

So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created-- people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.

Genesis 6.7-8 (NRSV)

Genesis 6.6 tells us that God saw the wickedness of humankind and responded not with anger but with grief and regret. Instead of destroying everything, God chose to preserve a remnant and start again. The head of that last and first family was a blameless man named Noah.

We can see the evidence of Noah’s faithfulness because he dutifully carried out all God’s plans: he constructed the ark, filled it with the required animals and collected food for the animals and his family to eat (Genesis 6.15-22). Obviously nothing on the ark could be allowed to eat anything else on the ark! )Take note that Genesis 6.19-20 mentions the two pairs of each animal and Genesis 7.2-3 mentions seven pairs of clean animals. This is not a contradiction but a clarification; clean animals were taken for the purpose of sacrifice.) Noah was obedient and faithful but he was not perfect. His righteousness did not mean he was flawless. He was like other human beings (his drunken episode is evidence of that 9.20-23). Noah and his family were not without sin. God admitted that the inclination of the human heart is toward evil continually (6.5; 8.21). The flood punished evil but it did not remove it.

Look closely at the account of the flood in Genesis 6.5—9.16. There is a brief summary (not a detailed description) of the carnage and death it brought (7.21.23). In contrast, there are many verses describing God’s gracious actions. The Lord intended to destroy but God also carefully planned an escape. The Lord was grieved that corruption had overtaken the world but the rain did not come until the ark was finished and fully boarded. It rained for 40 days and nights but for another 150 days God remembered every living creature on that boat. This story is not just about God’s judgment; it is also about his salvation.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Monday, November 26, 2018

26Nov

The Birth of the Promised Son

Lesson and Read: Genesis 18.9-15; 21.1-7

“Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son” . . . Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.

Genesis 18.14; 21.2-3 (NRSV)

The birth of Isaac is a high point in the Abraham narrative. Yet the verse that describes it is simple and straightforward-- Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son (Genesis 21.2). For a moment, let us think back and reflect on the twists and turns this covenant couple experienced before their day of joy.

Twenty-five years passed between Abram’s call (Genesis 12.1-3) and Isaac’s birth (Genesis 21.2). Sarai has been in jeopardy in Pharaoh’s harem (12.10-20); Abram’s life was at risk when he fought the five kings to rescue Lot (14.1-16); and the birth of Ishmael complicated the Lord’s promise of an heir. Throughout the ups and downs of their journey, God continually renewed the promise of a son. Both Abraham (17.17) and Sarah (18.12) laughed at that impossible prospect, first, because Sarah had been barren throughout their marriage (11.30) and later, simply because they were both too old (Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 at the birth of Isaac). Before Isaac’s birth, Abraham had not yet seen any of God’s promises come true. No Land, no fame and no descendants. Isaac birth was the culmination of a test of faith because Isaac’s birth was the result Abraham and Sarah’s ongoing, intimate relations and the Lord’s miraculous power. Sarah’s pregnancy is like Elizabeth’s, not like Mary’s (Luke 1.13, 35). God fulfilled his promise and all Abraham and Sarah had to do was keep loving each other.

The Lord’s covenant promises describe our future but require our present participation. We may stumble or even fail along the way but God’s power will always find a way through to God’s promise.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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Thoughts

Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2018

20Nov

The God of Creation is both above and beyond his works and below and among them.
The Gist of the Church School Lesson - Rev. Steven Lawrence
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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Monday, October 29, 2018

29Oct

God Creates People

Read: Genesis 1.26—2.7

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them . . . then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Genesis 1.27; 2.7 (NRSV)

There are two creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. In the first, we watch from a distance as God creates with the spoken word. In the second, we watch up-close as God shapes the creation by hand. The God of Creation is both above and beyond his works and below and among them.

In the first account (Genesis 1.1—2.3), the sixth day description is an announcement that reinforces the “Who” of creation: God is the sole creator who makes man, male and female, in the image of God (1.27). The word “man” in Genesis 1.26-27 is the Hebrew word “adam.” Here it is a generic term that is better translated as “mankind” or, to be more inclusive, “humankind.” Note that it takes both genders to reflect God’s image. Note also that it is people who look like God, not that God looks like people. We often describe God with human characteristics (God’s heart, eyes, hands) but those anthropomorphic approximations are for our benefit; God is more than human beings enlarged. In ancient times, the “image” referred to a stamp or seal that indicated ownership. Humans carry God’s image in the creation. They are commanded to “be fruitful and fill the earth” and to have dominion, i.e., to rule in God’s name. Humanity is not to waste or abuse the earth but to be stewards of it.

In the second Creation account (Genesis 2.4-25), we get a little “how” added to our ‘Who.” In this up-close, personal look at creation, God alone forms (or fashions or crafts) the man from the ground and then breathes God’s own breath (spirit) into him and Adam comes to life. Note that “adam” here is both the personal name for the man, “Adam,” and the word for the ground/clay/dirt out of which he is made (adamah, (2.7). Adam comes from adamah. Humans are not above the creation, we are an inexorable part of it. We were created to live in harmony, not discord, with everything that God made.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Wednesday, October 24, 2018

24Oct

God Creates Lights and Life

Lesson and Read: Genesis 1.14-25

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years”. . . And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”

Genesis 1.14, 20 (NRSV)

On the first three days of Creation, God made an environment for everything that would be in the creation. In this lesson we will learn what the sky and sea will contain.

The Hebrews believed the firmament or sky was a dome above the earth. It held back the waters that were once on the earth (Genesis 1.6). The sky was blue because there was water behind it. Later, when God opens the “windows” of the dome, water falls to earth (Genesis 7.11). The Hebrews saw the dome as a solid structure and on the fourth day, on that dome, God placed the greater light (which ruled and separated the day) and lesser light (which ruled and separated the night) and the stars. Though we call these luminaries “Sun” and “Moon,” the Genesis story refrained from naming them, knowing that other cultures named and worshiped them as deities. For Israel, those lights were God’s creations to set seasons, days and years; they brought the measurement of time to heaven and earth. On the fifth day, God commanded the waters to bring forth “breathing things” (nephesh) to swarm the seas and fill the air. Fish and sea creatures and fowl of every variety were further commanded to multiply and fill the waters and earth. And it was so, and it was good.

Days four and five provide the hearers and readers with more awesome pictures of God creating a world and then filling it with living things. Once more, the “who” of creation is unmistakable—God speaks and it is so! The “how” of creations is even more mysterious and thus open to inquiry from science and religion. The “Light” of Day One is other than the “lights” of Day Four. God’s role in the creation is at once logical and ineffable. God will not share the glory or even the “credit” for was has been done. The Lord God has done it all and owns it all. The earth is the LORD'S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. (Psalm 24.1-2).

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Thursday, October 18, 2018

18Oct

God Creates the Heavens and Earth

Lesson and Read: Genesis 1.1-13

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 1.1-3 (NRSV)

Though it is often at the center of many conversations (and arguments) about the origin of the universe, the Book of Genesis was never intended to be a scientific book. The stories of creation in its opening chapters were offered for theological reasons. Genesis declares “who” created all things but does not give the details of “how” that creation was accomplished. And God’s motive for creation, the “why,” will not be clearly stated until we hear the stories of God’s covenant with humanity.

Through the centuries, the Hebrew story of creation has been mixed with our own thoughts and theories. If we read Genesis chapter 1 carefully and thoughtfully, we may encounter a fresh understanding of why this story is told in this way. The story of creation begins with the words, “In the beginning, God . . .” The first theological lesson of the Hebrew creation story is that God is present before anything—God is the creator and there is no other. The Hebrew word “create” (bara’) is a verb that is exclusively used with God as its subject. Human beings can “make” things but only God can create. The creation account in Chapter one is organized and poetic, making it easy to remember. Genesis 1.2 says the earth was a formless void covered by water and darkness. God commanded light to shine (vs. 3) and, in the following verses (4-13), God transformed the chaos into an ordered environment. Genesis 1 gives us a view of creation from God’s perspective. We watch God form a dome that separates the waters. The water above is called sky or firmament, the water below is further separated into earth and sea (vv. 6, 10). The dry land produces grass and vegetation. All these actions create the space and support for later creations (see the following lessons).

Each day is set apart by a poetic, perhaps even musical refrain, “and the evening and the morning were the first . . . second . . . third day.” God is the sole and sovereign creator who speaks and all things respond. All is as God desires it to be: “Good, very good.”

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Sunday, October 14, 2018

14Oct

Practicing Justice

Read: Ephesians 4.25—5.2; Colossians 3.1-17

In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Colossians 3.11 (NRSV)

Colossae was a town in Asia Minor, not far from Ephesus. Paul was not the founder of the Colossian church; it was probably his associate Epaphras (Colossians 1.7; 4.12). Paul wrote to this church to counter a false teaching, which he did not name but only characterized. It had a strict asceticism often found in some Greek philosophies (2.20-21); and it taught a strict observance of ritual like that found in Jewish traditions (2.16). The central theme of Paul’s letter was unity in the Christ: If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (3.1).

In the practical section of this epistle, Paul sought to teach the Colossians how to steer clear of the false teachings they were exposed to. He contrasted human philosophies and traditions to the teachings of Christ. Since Christ is seated at God’s right hand, Paul urged them to seek the things that are above, not the things limited to the earth. “Put to death” or “render impotent” the evil desires, passions and impurities of the earth because they result in such things as anger, slander and malice (Colossians 3.5, 8). Paul suggested that they take off the practices of the “old man” like a garment and put on the clothes of the “new man”: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . and above all, . . . love (3.12-14). In Christ, all believers are renewed in the image of the creator and in that renewal, there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Colossians 3.5-17 is similar to Galatians 5.19-23. In each of these sections of the epistles, Paul provided two behavioral lists back to back—a list of vices (things to avoid) and a list of virtues (things to do). In all these lists the Apostle is not just describing ideals or feelings, he is noting behaviors and actions. As the title of this lesson states, justice is not just an idea or a hope, it must be a practice. And it must be extended to all of God’s created peoples, without distinction and without prejudice.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Monday, October 08, 2018

08Oct

Loving and Just Behavior

Lesson and Read: Romans 12.9-21

No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12.20-21 (NRSV)

In Romans Chapter 12, we have another of the Apostle Paul’s famous lists. In verses 3-8 we have a recitation of Spiritual Gifts (see also First Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 5). Then in Romans 12.9-21 we have a detailed list of behaviors. These behaviors (the way we treat one another) should be manifest in any Christian community that claims those Spiritual gifts.

No matter how long Paul’s lists may be, they are never exhaustive. Often his lists are appropriate for, even specific to, the congregation he is writing to. There are perhaps as many as 25 individual behaviors described in Romans 12. They are detailed and specific, addressing the needs of the church in Rome but also are open to a wider interpretation. However, that wider interpretation was not intended for the world. Just as the Ten Commandments were given to Israel, these instructions are for the church. The Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day had its own codes of conduct; sometimes they are honorable and sometimes cruel. Paul expected the believers in Rome (who had come out of that world) to adopt a new ethic, a new behavior. Let love be genuine, . . . outdo one another in showing honor, . . . be ardent in spirit, . . . patient in suffering, . . . bless those who persecute you, . . . do not repay evil for evil, . . . live peaceably with all (12.9-18). If the followers of Christ could live in that new way and hold up that example to the world, the world would take note. Soon, the world would ask, “How can you show such love for each other? You are Jews and Greeks, circumcised and uncircumcised slaves and free born, barbarians and civilized, male and female.” And the Church could reply, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And you’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

When we practice loving and just behavior, we can overcome evil with good.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence

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The Gist of the Church School Lesson

Posted Sunday, September 30, 2018

30Sep

God Confronts Sin

Lesson: Genesis 3.8-17, 20-24 Read: Genesis 3.1-24

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Genesis 3.6-7 (NRSV)

The story of Adam, Eve and the serpent is well known. The man and the woman did not trust God’s words. Instead, they were swayed by the serpent’s words and ate the fruit from the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. This lesson focuses on God’s response to their tragic fall.

Humanity’s fall seems to be a simple tale of crime and punishment (Genesis 3). We are prone to interpret Adam and Eve’s actions with words like failure, disappointment and disobedience. But consider this: God’s mercy is evident throughout this passage. First, after eating from the tree, the man and the woman became aware and ashamed of their nakedness and attempted to hide from God. (It is futile to think they could hide themselves or their thoughts from God). We can imagine that God was aware, yet God called to them (Where are you, v. 9) and questioned them (Have you eaten from the tree, v. 11). God knew the answers to those questions; God was not seeking answers, but searching out their attitude. Was there regret in their response? Shame? Deception? The Lord would have been justified to render judgment immediately, but instead, God engaged in conversation. That was mercy. Second, and most profoundly, God chose to punish rather than destroy. The penalty for eating of the tree was said to be death (2.17; 3.3). Yet God chose not to cut them off but to continue his relationship with Adam and Eve. Men will toil, women will give birth in pain, and they will be cast out of the Garden, but God will still be their God and they will be his children.

There are severe consequences for sin but there is also mercy. And mercy is a sign of God’s love. Love is the reason for the creation. Love is the reason that God always confronts sin.

Reverend Steven B. Lawrence