Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Thoughts on "Solo: A Star Wars Story"

The thoughts I had after seeing "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

Friday night I was retweeted by Ron Howard, and frankly that's the best Star Wars moment I've had, right up there with meeting Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) when he visited the TV station I worked at.

SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SERIOUSLY! SPOILERS!!!!!!!!

All the way home from the theater my Darling Valerie and I talked about how much we enjoyed the movie:

- Alden was good. I never suspected he wasn't a real Han Solo.

- The end of the Kessel fight sequence before boarding to leave was one of the most important in the movie. It's where each character's true character came out. When Han went for Lando everyone saw that he was a genuinely good guy. Lando went for L3 and showed he was more than a playboy. Chewie showed he was loyal. Qi'ra showed she was not anyone's damsel in distress.

- Han getting his Solo name was weird. He later talks of spending time with his dad, so why wouldn't he use his family's name?

- It was great seeing how they explained why Lando says Han with a long A in Empire when everyone else says "Hahn."

- Exactly how many deserting troops did Chewie eat before Han showed up?

- It's 12 parsecs if you round down, LOL. So maybe Rey is right about closer to 14 in TFA. In New Hope he brags it's less than 12, so the legend keeps getting lower.

- I can't say that Beckett or Qi'ra were bad. Everyone was a scoundrel out for themselves. It's just the life.

- My dad gives Qi'ra more of a heroic intention: "I do not think Q’ira betrayed Han. I think she was protecting him. She knew he was a good guy and would not be able to accept her past. And she knew he would not survive as a member of the Syndicate, because he would always end up helping the underdog."

- Han learned to shoot first.

- Enfys Nest needs a book or comic.

- L3's accidental droid revolution was great.

- Val reminded me that Warwick Davis' character is the same as we see at the pod race in Phantom Menace.

- Finding Clint Howard is always fun in a Ron Howard movie.

- Han wins the Falcon in the second Sabacc game, only after he turned it into a hunk of junk in the Kessel run.

- Remember the trailer where Han is flying the Falcon and says "It's fine. Everything is fine." and everyone screams to watch out for the tentacles? That wasn't in the movie, was it?

- I wonder how many are super confused about Darth Maul, never having seen Clone Wars and Rebels?

- "I hate you." "I know."

- So L3 is now the Falcon computer, so all the times in the original trilogy that Han talks about talking to the Falcon, and says "hear me baby? Hold it together," he's referring to L3!

- I expected Rio to be a background character who rarely talked. I was surprised just how rat-a-tat-tat he talked and talked.

- I've been listening a lot to the score. I don't remember noticing anything different while watching it, but listening to it separately I do. John Powell did the scores for the "How to Train Your Dragon" movies and Solo sounds like something you'd hear in one of those movies. I don't dislike it, just getting used to it, which I need to see the movie a few more times to do. The Enfys Nest theme with the choral part is the most memorable so far, and best. The Kessel Run sequence is just one long Best Of score from Han Solo throughout Star Wars and piles it on.

- It sounds to me like the scores used in the NBC Olympics closing credits music, which I always look forward to every two years, using themes from "Dragonheart" and "Remember the Titans."

Why Are We Even Here?

My Life Group lesson for June 3, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

One of the things that makes me a Star Wars uber-fan is that even as I watch the movies over and over – including the new Han Solo movie – and they never fail to amaze me, like a seven-year-old watching Return of the Jedi on the big screen for the first time.

Likewise we can look up at the stars in our own galaxy that’s not so far far way and think, “That’s amazing, but why am I even here?”

When we discover God’s intent for our lives, we move from merely existing to truly living—living with purpose.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** Genesis 1 introduces us to Almighty God—the Eternal One who is beyond time—and summarizes how He brought order out of emptiness at the beginning of history.

*** This opening section of the Bible reveals God’s original intent for His creation, which includes not only the purpose, order, and harmony of everything that exists, but also the original perfect fellowship of God with the crowning glory of His creation: human beings.

*** The Bible is clear why we’re here. In fact, the Bible begins with the explanation of our existence. God created us with design and purpose.

Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning— the first day.

*** First things first.

--- First days are important. The first day of school. The first day of a new job. The first day a newborn comes home from the hospital.

--- The Bible begins with the first day of creation. We see that in the first five verses of the Bible, God’s name is emphasized six times.

--- You can see His greatness and power in these verses: “God created … the Spirit of God was hovering . . . God said . . . God saw . . . he separated . . . God called” (vv. 1-5).

--- These opening verses teach us some important truths about God:

--- God existed before there was a universe. God appears in the very first sentence.

--- God created the heavens and the earth. Although science has attempted to explain the origins of both the earth and the universe, the Bible declares that God is the One who brought everything into existence.

--- God created the heavens and earth simply by speaking them into existence. Scholars refer to this as creatio ex nihilo, or “creation out of nothing.” God did not take existing matter and form the earth; He simply spoke it into existence.

--- God created order, separating light and darkness.

--- God showed His authority by naming portions of His creation. In Hebrew culture, naming someone or something was a sign of authority over it (Deuteronomy 3:14; 2 Kings 23:34). God declared His lordship over creation through the act of naming it.

*** QUESTION: What does it matter what we believe about the origin of the universe?

Genesis 1:26-27
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

*** A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.

--- We’re going to spend a lot of time the rest of our lives determining how we treat artificial intelligence. One of the things that made the movie “A.I.” so freaky was that Haley Joel Osment was a robot, but also a little boy, and how easy would it be to discard a boy without a soul?

--- Humanity is special, and that’s real.

--- The great theologian G.K. Chesterton wrote that “it is absurd for the evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into anything.”

--- We all stare up at the stars and wonder. Are we here because of an accident? No. Are we the product of millions of years of evolution? No. We are here because God chose to create. We are here by His design.

--- People are made in God’s image. The image of God has been understood in a variety of ways, and most commonly in a spiritual sense: we were created to have a relationship with God. Since these verses focus on the role of humanity over the rest of creation, we can also understand the image of God to mean we are meant to be His representatives.

--- People are made to rule over animals. Humans made in God’s image are capable of thinking, discerning, and making choices as God’s ruling representatives as we govern the earth. In caring for God’s creation, including its creatures, we should seek to use—not abuse or misuse—what God has provided us.

--- People are made to rule over the earth. God has blessed the use of the planet’s renewable and nonrenewable natural resources. God gave all of us the responsibility to care for the earth; at the same time we are to use the earth’s resources for the betterment of humanity.

--- Every aspect of creation—including who we are as males and females made in the image of God—is not merely good. God concluded “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Does anyone here have a green thumb?

The planting process is a reflection of the partnership God has with us in His creation.

God ultimately makes the seed grow into something bigger, but He invites us to plant, water, and tend the seed.

After pronouncing a blessing over them, God gave Adam and Eve five commands to obey: be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue the earth, and rule over all the creatures on the earth. (Gen. 1:28-31)

These commands did not go away after sin entered our world. We are still to take charge of the earth, but it requires hard work.

You don’t have to wonder or guess why you’re here. You were created to live in fellowship with God:

*** Remember your Creator. Ecclesiastes 12:1 encourages us to “remember your Creator.” When you gaze at the night sky this week, remember that God spoke every star and planet into existence, and thank Him for His creativity and power.

*** Memorize Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” God’s love for you is real. Repeat this verse when you’re tempted to think He’s no longer on your side.

*** Begin a relationship with God. God created you for a purpose and to relate to you. His Son, Jesus, died for you.

Keep Standing

My Life Group lesson for May 27, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate?

Think of the all the celebrations you’ll be attending this year, from graduations to weddings to baby showers, etc. We love to celebrate, and why not?

During Xerxes’s reign in Persia, the Jewish people achieved a great victory through the prayers and efforts of Mordecai and Esther. One great victory, yes, but their work was not complete. They had addressed one injustice, but another still loomed ahead. There was no time to settle into complacency! We see in the lives of Esther and Mordecai great examples of persistence against injustice.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** At a second banquet with Xerxes and Haman, Esther revealed her request that the king spare her and her people’s lives. When Xerxes learned Haman had devised the plot against the Jews, the king left the banquet in anger.

*** Haman fell at Esther’s feet to beg for his life. When Xerxes returned, he interpreted Haman’s act as an attempt to violate the queen. Xerxes ordered Haman impaled on the pole he had built for Mordecai.

*** Xerxes gave Esther the estate of Haman and Mordecai was given great honor in Xerxes’ kingdom.

Esther 8:3-8
3 Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews. 4 Then the king extended the gold scepter to Esther and she arose and stood before him. 5 “If it pleases the king,” she said, “and if he regards me with favor and thinks it the right thing to do, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, devised and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces. 6 For how can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?” 7 King Xerxes replied to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Because Haman attacked the Jews, I have given his estate to Esther, and they have impaled him on the pole he set up. 8 Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring—for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.”

*** Constant vigilance!

--- Just as “Mad-Eye Moody” told Harry Potter to stay on guard against the threat of Voldemort despite their many victories, Esther and Mordecai couldn’t celebrate the death of Haman for long. They couldn’t rest until their people were safe.

--- Haman was dead, but his edict was very much alive. The king could not simply overturn his previous decree. Xerxes could, however, propose a new law that would counteract the previous one.

--- Esther and Mordecai’s boldness paid off. Permission still stood to kill the Jews, but the Jews were now given the right to protect themselves.

--- If anyone wanted to attack the Jews, he would think twice because (1) what started as a one-sided genocide had been changed to a fight; and (2) the king and his Jewish queen stood on the other side!

*** Our work can be ongoing of standing in the gap for others, but Esther and Mordecai remind us that:

--- We must persevere in our work of justice. It’s not enough to make a few statements on social media. It’s not enough to vote every four years.

--- We must continually intercede before our King. As Esther went before the king and interceded for her people, we should do the same before the throne of God.

--- Consider our own motivations. Esther and Mordecai sought to use their platform to serve God’s people for many years. (See Esth. 10:3.) We must do likewise.

*** Question - How would you describe the role of persistence in the Christian life?

Esther 9:20-22
20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

*** Esther and the Deathly Hollows.

--- For the first six books everyone in the wizarding world was fine with Harry, Hermione and Ron taking on Voldemort by themselves, but by the Deathly Hollows they had to step up and fight for themselves in the Battle of Hogwarts if they truly wanted to be free.

--- Esther was able to get the king on her side, but it wasn’t until Mordecai sealed the new decree in the king’s names that the Jews were able to defend themselves.

--- They stood up to everyone who hated them, and as a result “No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them” (v. 2). The Jews were fighting for their own protection.

--- Once the fighting stopped, the Jews could finally celebrate their freedom. This celebration became known as the Feast of Purim. Purim is the plural form of Pur, the Hebrew word for the lot that was cast before Haman to determine which day he would carry out his massacre of the Jewish people. (See 3:7.) But what was intended for destruction became just the opposite, and the Jews still celebrate today.

--- Mordecai and Esther’s story is our story, for out of the Jewish people came our Savior. Although Christians do not celebrate Purim, we do have a celebration of deliverance; through the Lord’s Supper, we remember the deliverance Christ brought to us through His death. Once alienated from God, we are all now invited to dine at the King’s table. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14).

--- We still have much to do for the kingdom. Our work will not be complete until Christ returns—but we have much to celebrate! We will have opportunities to stand up for others in the face of injustice. Through our words, actions, and prayers, people can find hope no matter what injustice they face.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

The royal wedding last week of Harry and Meghan was a spectacle seen all over the world. How many of you were up at 6 a.m. to watch the ceremony?

The celebration cost millions of dollars, with 600 guests invited inside the church to see the “I do’s” and enjoy an organic lemon and elderflower wedding cake covered with buttercream and decorated with fresh flowers.

When we get a chance to celebrate something we usually go all out. When we stand up for others and for ourselves in pursuit of God’s work, He blesses with opportunities to celebrate.

The story of Esther gives us three take-away points for today:

*** Express thanks. Reflect on how God has rescued you from death through Jesus Christ. Pray and give thanks to God for the victory you have in Christ.

*** Stay vigilant. If you have previously committed to helping an organization fight injustice, stick with it. Continue to look for ways you can help and make a difference.

*** Celebrate together. Plan an event when your group can celebrate together the work of God in your lives. Use this event as an opportunity to invite others to participate and learn why you are celebrating.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Stand Up and Speak

My Life Group lesson for May 13, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

How would you describe your experiences with public speaking?

Believe it or not, about ten percent of us actually look forward to public speaking. At the other end of the spectrum, about ten percent of us dread it to the point of great anxiety. The eighty percent of us left in the middle would rather not speak in public, but we’ll do it if we have to.

Boldness in speaking does not come easy. Courage to do the right thing in a risky situation does not come easy either. Yet in Esther, we see a woman who did both. Lives were at stake. If she didn’t speak and act boldly, thousands could die, but if she acted courageously yet blundered it—well, she could make matters worse.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** Haman convinced Xerxes to slaughter all the Jews in his kingdom. Xerxes signed off not knowing that Esther was Jewish.

*** Haman constructed a pole to hang Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, but then Mordecai saved the king from an assassination attempt and was to be honored.

*** Esther prayed and fasted and prepared to ask the king to save her people. She arranged a banquet during which she would tell Xerxes what Haman was doing. Esther’s boldness is an example for us when it comes to injustice.

Esther 7:1-6
1 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, 2 and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.” 5 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?” 6 Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen.

*** One shining moment.

--- The events of the last few days came down to this moment, the ultimate act of courage.

--- It was time to expose all, and Esther did just that, revealing both her Jewish identity and Haman’s evil plans.

--- She appealed to the king to act, even as she had prayed, fasted, and appealed to God to act.

--- God already had been at work. The night before, King Xerxes had spent a sleepless night. Surely this was not mere coincidence, but insomnia brought about by God.

--- In that moment of sleeplessness, the king had daily reports read to him and he heard of Mordecai’s unheralded acts of heroism. (See Esth. 6:1-3.)

--- Perhaps shamed by his failure to properly reward Mordecai, the king instructed Haman to honor Mordecai—the very person Haman despised! (See vv. 4-11.)

--- Now at the banquet, the king learned that both his wife and the man he had just honored were scheduled to die—and the man at the table was the one who had manipulated him into devising the scheme.

--- Esther could have caved to fear in that moment. She could have simply kept silent, turning a blind eye to the injustices in Persia against the Jewish people. But she used the opportunity before her to give a voice to her people.

--- In the process, she gave us a great example of living out Paul’s words: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11).

--- Christians also have opportunities to speak up against injustice. We find times we are to lend our voices in speaking up for those who are too often neglected: the unborn, the immigrant, the minority, or the underprivileged. We can be a voice to advocate for the most vulnerable among us.

*** Question - What injustices would you like to take a stand for?

Esther 7:7-10
7 The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life. 8 Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining. The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?” As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.” The king said, “Impale him on it!” 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

*** The jig is up.

--- The best part of a good crime drama is when the crook gets his comeuppance.

--- Haman really had it coming, and needed to be knocked down from his self-made pedestal.

--- Now that Esther had planned, prayed, fasted, and finally spoken up, what was next? She could do nothing but wait. But she wouldn’t have to wait long!

--- King Xerxes had a history of rash decisions and a cruel temper, but in this moment, he made the right choice. He put this enemy of the people to death, and soon he would empower the Jews to stand against those who sought to harm them.

--- Although the king had no human advisors to lean on, the sovereign Lord of the universe was not absent on that day. “In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him” (Prov. 21:1).

--- The saying “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” applies to Haman. He was giddy when he woke up that day, thinking Mordecai would be killed on a giant pole as an example to all of Haman’s power. Instead, Haman was impaled on that pole.

--- Seeing people who are hurt, abused, or taken advantage of pulls at our hearts. We want to see the wrong righted, punishment delivered, and justice served. We do what we can on behalf of others, but we must leave any vengeance in the hands of God.

--- God’s justice will come—and not just against the Hamans in this world. In reality we are all like Haman; at our core, we are dead in our sins and given to the temptations of power, lust, and greed. We are not the good and noble people we think we are. We are all sinful people deserving death. (See Rom. 6:23.)

--- Unlike Haman, we have Someone who was willing to stand in our place and face the judgment for us. Jesus went to the cross so that we could receive the mercy of God. What’s more, by His resurrection, Jesus defeated the corruption that infects human hearts. As a result, we have life!

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

On Mother’s Day we remember our moms and reflect on their importance in our lives. And as parents we have new insights into the challenges our moms faced, but we didn’t appreciate as kids.

Moms have an important voice in how we turn out, whether it’s a booming voice using our entire names when we get in trouble, or a small still voice when they’re fixing our boo-boos.

All of us have been given a voice that God wants us to use to be salt and light in this world. Be bold, but leave the results to God!

*** Pray. Ask the Lord to reveal ways you can use what He’s given you—your time, possessions, influence, and position—to speak out against evil and injustice in society.

*** Look. Do some research into opportunities in your community to help fight injustice.

*** Act. As a group, prayerfully consider what you can do either through your local church or a trusted local organization to help make a difference in the area God is calling you to serve.

Stand With Humility

My Life Group lesson for May 6, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have you ever fired off an angry email or made a call to someone, then immediately regretted it?

Were you able to repair the relationship after?

Years later you surely still cringe at the memory of something you wrote or said in the heat of the moment.

Esther faced a far more serious injustice than hurt feelings. We learn from her careful, deliberate process that fighting injustice takes wisdom, patience, and humility. Grace-filled approaches build bridges that can lead to change, but hasty moves almost always lead to worse outcomes.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** We’re still in the book of Esther during King Xerxes’s reign in Persia (486-465 BC).

*** In the previous verses Xerxes’s adviser Haman plots to destroy the Jews, which Mordecai discovers and tells Esther.

*** Esther acted courageously for she knew she faced the death penalty if the king did not extend to her his gold scepter.

Esther 5:1-4
1 On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. 2 When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. 3 Then the king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.” 4 “If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”

*** Genocide? D’oh!

--- Every Homer needs a Marge. As much as Homer is instinctive and does things without thinking, Marge keeps the family and their castle running as the moral center.

--- Most Christians know the saying that the Bible makes the man the head of the house, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.

--- Esther made her decision. She would use whatever influence she had and approach the King Xerxes about the impending genocide of her people.

--- As the Queen of a ruthless King Esther had to be very brave, calculated and rely on God’s providence.

--- Esther was willing to risk her life, but she did not approach her task lightly. She and her people fasted for three days before she entered the king’s presence. (See Esth. 4:16-17.)

--- Esther didn’t enter the king’s presence in sackcloth and ashes. She entered wearing her finest royal apparel, fit for the king to remind him just how gorgeous she was.

--- With permission to talk to him, Esther showed wisdom in her approach and won over the king with her humility.

--- She didn’t insist on things being her way because she was queen.

--- Esther’s approach was a wise one. Jesus would later encourage His disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

--- Doing the right thing isn’t just about being right on the issues; it is about using our intellect and relational skills to achieve the maximum impact for good.

--- It does not do our cause any good if we simply rage against evil without working to build relationships with people who can bring about change.

--- As a result, Xerxes is all in on Esther’s “hard to get” approach. It is not until 7:2-6 that Esther finally answers the king’s question. Esther’s delaying tactics not only demonstrate her wisdom and sense of control, but also raise the suspense in the story.

--- A Christian’s life calls for humility, but it’s not always easy. It’s easier to let our anger and pride lead the way when dealing with a problem.

--- As Solomon said, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

*** Question - What can we learn from Esther’s approach to a stressful situation?

Esther 5:9-13
9 Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. 10 Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home. Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, 11 Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. 12 “And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. 13 But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

*** Pride comes before Haman’s fall.

--- The opposite of Esther’s grace and humility is Haman’s pride. He’s a real jerk. He apparently has a temper like Kylo-Ren in Star Wars, but thankfully he doesn’t wield a lightsaber.

--- After setting in motion an order to kill every Jew in the region, Haman decided to make an example of Mordecai, who refused to stand or show fear before Haman.

--- Mordecai was like a pebble in Haman’s sandal. Everyone else bowed to Big Deal Haman, so what’s up with this guy?

--- Mordecai and Esther lived for something—and Someone—greater than themselves, but Haman was all about Haman.

--- But we see something terribly sad about Haman. Despite his wealth, power, and privilege, Haman was deeply unsatisfied. His self-worship was so pervasive that he could not find happiness until every last person acknowledged his greatness.

--- We like to think we have none of Haman inside us, but the sad truth is we all tend toward selfishness and narcissism.

--- We’ll see in the next session that Haman’s self-centered worldview was not only unsatisfying, it was disastrous. As Solomon said, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

--- We are all hardwired with the desire to be noticed by others. It’s part of our old, sinful human nature to seek approval, power, wealth, and/or status.

--- We should learn from both examples: Esther’s humility and Haman’s pride.

--- We should ask Jesus daily to remove any bitterness in our hearts, break down any tendencies toward pride and narcissism, and keep us humbly content in Him.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Like the Avengers in "Infinity War," you really find what your made of when your whole universe is on the line.

In the Avengers’ case, Thanos was threatening to randomly kill half the population of the universe. In Esther’s case her entire race of people is being threatened with extinction.

Esther risked much for her people and she displayed wisdom, patience, and humility in fighting the injustice she was standing against.

Be like Esther, not Haman, who thought everyone should do whatever he commanded.

Often standing up for others requires a humility that can only come from God.

We all have countless opportunities in a day to act rashly without considering others. Let’s do the better thing—the Christlike thing—and act with wisdom and humility.

*** Reflect. Reflect on your own tendencies toward selfishness, bitterness, or the desire to seek power at others’ expense. Confess and give these sinful attitudes and actions to God. Trust Him and thank Him for His forgiveness.

*** Review. Create a list of your current obligations and priorities, and evaluate how any of these might feed pride or self-centeredness. Prayerfully consider withdrawing from or eliminating anything that nurtures pride or narcissism.

*** Reconcile. If pride in the past has caused a problem in a relationship or stirred up enmity toward another person, prayerfully consider moving toward reconciliation. Ask the Lord to help you forgive and/or ask for forgiveness.

Be Ready to Stand

My Life Group lesson for April 29, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

History often turns on seemingly small events.

I enjoy reading “What if?” scenarios that could change the world, for better and worse.

--- What if Pickett’s Charge had worked and the South not only won Gettysburg but won the Civil War?
--- What if the Red Sox didn’t trade Babe Ruth to the Yankees?
--- What if Elvis hadn’t died of a drug overdose in 1977 and is still alive? (This one may actually be true.)

Our lives also often turn on seemingly small events. A lot of people chalk up these moments to “coincidence,” but could it be more than that?

Christians often can look back at certain moments in their lives and see that, although they may not have been aware of it at the time, God had His hand on them and their circumstances.

Esther could attest to that. Esther was a young Jewish girl in a strange land, and God was at work in her life, putting her in the right place at the right time.

She may not have been aware of it at the time, but God was working behind the scenes to put her in a place of power and significance.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** The events in Esther occurred during the reign of King Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus. He ruled the Persian Empire from 486-465 BC.

*** In the third year of his reign, this king convened a royal banquet at Susa, his winter capital located in modern Iran. When Queen Vashti refused to appear at his command, the king dethroned her. In his search for a new queen, Xerxes appointed commissioners to assemble beautiful young virgins from the various provinces.

*** God worked through this situation and through Esther to take a stand and make a difference.

Esther 2:5-7
5 Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, 6 who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. 7 Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.

*** We live in a world of injustice:
Over twenty million people are victims of human trafficking.
One in nine people in the world suffer from chronic malnourishment.
Racism abounds on all fronts.

--- The history of mankind is a sinful one. Almost everything we take for granted today – technology, prosperity, medicine, human rights, the rule of law – is unnatural for humans.

--- It was normal for the Israelites to be taken over, brought into slavery, and abused by the vanquishing armies of Assyria and Babylon.

--- That’s just the way life was back then, and still is for millions around the globe today.

*** Along comes a woman.

--- Esther was a Jewish girl who had been adopted by her cousin Mordecai.

--- Living in a strange land under a despot, King Xerxes, she was forced to participate in the king’s unseemly beauty pageant. She had few choices and few options. Yet, as her story unfolds, we witness her dramatic rise to power.

--- How did a Jewish girl end up in this foreign place? In 586 BC, the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, just as the prophets had predicted.

--- God was fulfilling His promised judgment on the rebellious nation of Judah. Then, in 539, the Persians defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jewish exiles to return home. (See Ezra 1:1-4.)

--- Many Jewish exiles made the return trip, but others like Mordecai and Esther chose to stay in Persia.

--- Before we go any further with the events in Esther’s and Mordecai’s lives, note that God was active in what was happening.

--- Nothing about God is mentioned in the Book of Esther — not even His name! However, the lack of any theological language does not mean God was distant or inactive. God was working to keep His promises to save His people and He was using the unlikeliest of people in the process.

--- God has placed each of us where we are in this moment in history to speak up and speak out, to spread the good news of His deliverance, and to stand for Him wherever possible.

*** Question – When have you noticed God’s hand working even in this world of injustice?

Esther 2:15-17
15 When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

*** The “silent” hand of God at work.

--- Have you ever found yourself in a place you didn’t expect to be? It happens to all of us in one way or another:
A job transfer to another state.
A “surprise” pregnancy and birth of child number three.

--- When we use these unexpected events to seek to please God—no matter where we find ourselves— He will open doors we could never imagine. The opportunity is there to honor Him in our circumstances and do great things for Him.

--- The whole theme of Esther is the invisible hand of God in using flawed men and women at just the right moment to save His people.

--- It was God who endowed Esther with her attractive character and physical traits, and it was God who allowed Esther to gain extraordinary favor in that moment for purposes she didn’t yet fully understand.

--- The Book of Esther begins with the account of Queen Vashti’s treatment of the king and her subsequent loss of position. But now the king was without a queen, and he set out to change that by choosing from a number of eligible young women. Hundreds of women were uprooted from their families and communities to live in relative isolation in the king’s harem—and that included Esther.

--- Esther gained the favor of Hegai, the overseer of the king’s harem. Out of hundreds of young women, why did Esther get noticed? Verse 7 tells us she was physically attractive, but surely other aspects of her character also caused Hegai to be pleased with her.

--- Esther surely didn’t realize its full impact, but God was behind her story, putting her in a place of influence. Her position would benefit her, her own people, and ultimately, we would all benefit, for Jesus’ family linage came from the very people she helped to save.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Pastor Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina pastor with Memphis ties, is in jail in Turkey for spreading the Gospel. He has lived in Turkey for two decades, but after the failed coup in 2016 he was jailed on trumped up charges of spying and faces 35 years in prison. In the meantime he sits in a jail with 22 men crammed inside in a cell big enough for just a few to live comfortably.

We’ve seen great injustice played out on the world stage, but we also know injustice on a personal level. It’s easy to ask: “Where is God in the midst of the injustice I see?”

The same God who worked through Mordecai and Esther is working in the world today, calling ordinary people to an extraordinary mission—His mission.

God is at work—even behind the scenes. What will you do with that truth? Choose one of the following applications.

*** Look back. Reflect on your walk with Christ. What events has God used in your past to bring you to Him—or bring you closer to Him? Consider those events that may have even seemed minor or inconsequential at the time. Thank God for His faithful work in your life.

*** Make a list. List the gifts, skills, or attributes God has given you. Ask God to show you how you can use those to honor Him, even in unfavorable situations.

*** Encourage others. You may know someone facing circumstances beyond his or her control. Offer your support and encouragement. Help the person see that God is present—and He is at work even if it is not yet evident.

Your personal history is no doubt filled with many forks in the road where things could have been otherwise. But it’s good to know that we have a God who works things out for our good—and His glory!

God is ... Our Righteousness

My Life Group lesson for April 8, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have you ever played a board or card game against someone who always seemed to change the rules in order to win?

For those who enjoy altering the rules, Hasbro is releasing this fall a Monopoly Cheaters Edition. Players will get extra money for successfully cheating, like skipping spaces, avoiding rent, or stealing money from the bank.

Obviously it seems unfair, but hey, who said life was fair?

It’s frustrating when we see people with poor character and questionable morals seem to get ahead in life; meanwhile, those who seek to do right often fall behind. Such events might cause us to think that God is not fair. Why doesn’t He punish the unrighteous and reward the righteous?

We are not the first ones to raise that question. God showed us much about Himself through the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 33, God revealed Himself as Our Righteousness; in so doing, He helps us deal with those “unfair” moments.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** Unfortunately, many people today think we’ve become so clever and inventive that we no longer need God.

*** In Jeremiah’s time the people of Israel had decided they no longer needed God. They abandoned Him to worship idols and, as a result, God turned His back on them. When the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, God was not willing to protect the Israelites as He had in the past.

*** Jeremiah warned the people of this coming judgment, but not all of his news was bad. Someday God would allow the people to return to their homeland. More importantly, God would someday send a Redeemer to Israel to restore the people to a right relationship with Him.

Jeremiah 33:4-5
For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword in the fight with the Babylonians: ‘They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.

*** “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.”

--- There’s a joke about a doctor talking to a patient that goes, “The good news is that you have 24 hours to live. The bad news is that I have been trying to reach you since yesterday.”

--- God went with the bad news first in these verses.

--- Nearly a hundred years after Assyria had taken the ten northern tribes of Israel into captivity (see 2 Kings 17:6-18), the southern tribes of Judah also stood on the brink of being taken over by the Babylonians.

--- Jeremiah was God’s spokesman during the latter part of these years of moral decay and oppression. He was even punished for speaking God’s truth.

--- The people of Judah wouldn’t understand Jeremiah’s message. After all, God had promised to establish David’s throne forever. (See 2 Sam. 7:10-16.)

--- Yet the people brought this on themselves through their own disobedience and sin. They had abandoned the true God and He was no longer hearing their prayers (Jer. 2:26-28; 7:16).

--- God disciplines us just as He disciplined the people of Judah, but His purpose is to bring us back to Himself—and even into a closer walk with Him.

--- God invites us to call to Him. We find the answers we seek and the hope we need when we call to Him.

*** Question – If you had the ability, what injustice would you work to eliminate first?

Jeremiah 33:6-8
6 “ ‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. 7 I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. 8 I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.’ ”

*** And now for the good news.

--- Having heard the bad news, the Israelites may not have been in the mood to hear the good news, especially since it was decades away and they’d be dead.

--- The truth is, many times God works in the long term. After their punishment, God now would extend mercy to them—mercy that would result in health, healing, and an abundance of peace and truth.

--- Both Judah and Israel would be brought back from captivity and reunited.

--- But the very best news of all was that God would deal with their sin.

--- God Himself would bring health and healing, and the past sufferings of the people would be replaced by “abundant peace and security.”

--- God also promised His people would return to their land and rebuild the nation as it was before the two kingdoms were divided.

--- While God’s judgment of sin is just, His mercy and kindness are abundant. His restoration of His people would be complete.

--- Despite the rebellion of God’s people, His desire was to forgive and restore.

--- The problem of our sin and rebellion is one that runs throughout the Bible, but alongside it is the testimony of God’s desire to redeem and restore.

--- The depravity of humanity is clear, but equally clear is God’s solution. We want things to be just and right. We want life to go well—and so does God!

--- Yet in those moments when it doesn’t seem that life is either just or right, we should remember that God is at work!

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie in which the heroes were in such a perilous situation that you would sneak a look at the last chapter to see what happened? Then you can read the rest of the book, or watch the movie without any worries?

The good news is that you can skip to the end of the Bible and see that God’s Word assures us that he will prevail.

Life may be unfair in the short run, but we don’t need to worry. We’ve read the back of the Book, and we know who’s going to win!

How will you let that truth make a difference in your life?

--- 1. Confess. Because God is righteous, He stands apart from sin. Enter into a relationship with Him, or restore your fellowship with Him, by confessing any sin in your life.

--- 2. Trust. Life is not always fair. Even when it feels like the wrong side is winning, God will have the final say. In the meantime, trust Him. He loves you, and in His righteousness, He will make things right.

--- 3. Stand. The trend in our culture is to believe we can each have our own definition of righteousness. Instead of becoming a standard to ourselves, Jesus is the standard for righteousness. Stand with Him and stand for Him in doing and proclaiming what is right.

God is ... Our Banner

My Life Group lesson for March 18, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Earlier this month a female passenger was taking a selfie on the top deck of a Norwegian Cruise ship in the Bahamas when she fell over, couldn’t be dragged back, and fell 15 stories into the water. A life vest was tossed down and she held on in the dark until the ship could dispatch a search boat to get her. Thankfully she survived.

You know she hung on to that life vest with all her might, screaming for the searchers in the dark.

We rely on a lot of things for protection, such as life vests, locks on our doors, air bags in our cars, etc.

This week we’ll see how we are always covered by God’s protection.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** The past two weeks we’ve talked about who God is, as our provider and our restorer.

*** The Israelites were delivered from Egypt, where they grumbled against Moses, but in spite of this the Lord provided for their needs.

*** In one moment of Israel’s history, they were vulnerable and under attack. But God Himself showed that He was on their side; He was their Banner, standing over them with His sovereign protection.

Exodus 17:8-10
8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.

*** Our flag was still there.

--- Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814 when he was inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying the morning after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry outside of Baltimore.

--- The United States flag represents a lot of things to its citizens: freedom, democracy, justice, and home. Seeing the flag unfurled inspires a feeling of patriotism in many of us. For so many who served in the military or who lost a family member in war, the flag reminds them of courage and sacrifice.

--- For American citizens abroad needing assistance, the American flag also represents protection. When an American citizen steps onto the grounds of the U.S. embassy, the stars and stripes remind them they are now under the protection of the United States.

--- In biblical times, armies often carried banners. These banners were usually just long poles, but as long as soldiers could see the banner, they knew the army was still intact.

--- When the Israelites fought in their first battle as a nation – against the Amalekites – they discovered a new kind of banner: the Lord Himself. As long as He was with them, they were guaranteed victory over their enemies.

*** Who are the Amalekites?

--- The Israelites and the Amalekites had been enemies for generations.

--- The Amalekites were the descendants of Amalek, a grandson of Esau. (See Gen. 36:12.)

--- Even though they were direct descendants of Isaac, they became enemies of Israel, a constant threat to their spiritual and national life.

--- Forty years after the events in Exodus 17, Moses still described the Amalekites as people who “had no fear of God” (Deut. 25:18).

--- It was obvious how the Amalekites’ viewed God because they attacked His people all along the way after they left Egypt.

--- Clearly, however, God was with the Israelites. He had performed miracle after miracle in His work of delivering the people from slavery.

--- God’s hand was on the Israelites, but the Amalekites didn’t care. They still attacked.

--- Thankfully, we are not left on our own in our struggles and battles. As we will see in the next few verses, the Israelites were not alone—and neither are we.

*** Question - What daily challenges can make us feel like we’re in a battle?

Exodus 17:14-16
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

*** Band of Brothers.

--- The battle plan to defeat the Amalekites may seem a bit unorthodox but it was certainly effective.

--- While Joshua was leading the troops, Moses, Aaron, and Hur stood on the top of a nearby hill. Moses had God’s staff in his hand.

--- As long as Moses held up the staff Israel prevailed.

--- Ultimately, Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ hands “so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” As a result, “Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.”

--- God promised He would one day wipe out the Amalekites.

--- Israel continued to have war with the Amalekites for many years.

--- King Saul was commanded to wipe out the Amalekites, but he failed to do so (1 Samuel 15:1-9).

--- King David later subdued them (2 Samuel 8:10-12).

--- The Amalekites were finally destroyed during the reign of King Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:43).

--- In response to God’s work, Moses built an altar and called it “The LORD is my Banner.”

--- God had shown Israel yet another aspect of His character. Israel had already discovered that God was their healer (Jehovah Rapha).

--- Now they understood He was also their banner of protection—their Jehovah Nissi.

--- The staff or banner in Moses’ hand was a visible image of the protection and the power of God, who provided the victory over Amalek.

--- The Israelites were to understand that their victory was because God was a banner over them. He was their protection.

--- Today, Jesus is “Our Banner” who provides forgiveness of sin and eternal life. He “covers” us with His protection and victory.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest, most brutal battles during World War II against the Japanese.

This famous scene of soldiers raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi wasn’t the end of the battle. Many more days passed before the island was secure.

(And John Wayne was killed. Oh wait, that’s the movie "Sands of Iwo Jima.")

However, when American Marines saw the flag waving on Mount Suribachi, they knew that the final victory would be theirs.

Likewise, those of us who follow Jesus face our battles in life, and sometimes they seem to drag on forever.

However, God has given us a sign of victory, and that’s the cross of Jesus.

As awesome as it is to look up to the flag of the great country in which we live, there is something even better when you trust in Christ. You can live a victorious Christian life as you stand under Jehovah Nissi, God Our Banner.

*** Trust. Have you accepted Jesus as your banner of forgiveness? If not, commit your life to Him and trust Him for salvation.

*** Pray. Specifically pray for individuals this week to experience the presence and protection of Christ in their lives. Pray also that these people would be keenly aware Christ is the One who goes with them.

*** Be bold. If you’re facing a difficult relationship or assignment from God, step out in trust because Christ goes with you. Rest confidently in His presence and protection.

God is ... Our Healer

My Life Group lesson for March 11, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Does anyone recognize this art restoration that went laughingly wrong?

No one knew what The Ecce Homo (translated as Behold the Man) was, a fresco of Jesus painted on a church wall in Spain in 1930.

In 2012 an amateur art restorer, 82 year old Cecilia Gimenez, tried to fix it, and it became a world joke.

But a terrible art restoration has turned into a town’s restoration instead.

More than 160,000 visitors have flocked to the Sanctuary of Mercy church since the botched restoration, scooping up “Ecce Homo” souvenirs from pens ($2) to mugs ($7) to wine featuring Jesus’ tragically altered face on the label (approximately $4 to $11 a bottle). 51 percent of the proceeds from souvenir sales go to the nursing home, while 49 percent go to Giménez, who uses the money to care for her 56-year-old son, José Antonio, who has cerebral palsy. The global curiosity has led to a boom in tourism that’s allowed restaurants and museums in Borja, population 5,000, to remain stable during Spain’s crippling recession. Restoration is needed when we want to return to the artist’s original design.

But restoration is also needed in our Christian lives, when we drift from God’s original plan and design for our lives.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** We continue our spring study of who God is. Last week we looked at God as our provider. This week we look at God as the One who restores His people.

*** In the Book of Exodus, the Israelites lost their focus, even as God was saving them from centuries of slavery in Egypt.

*** As God displayed His might in their exodus and then in the wilderness, He called the Israelites into a covenant relationship with Himself, a relationship demanding both trust in and obedience to Yahweh.

Exodus 15:22-24
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

*** Want some cheese with that whine?

--- Why is it more fun to complain about things than to praise them? (As a movie lover, it’s easier to be a critic than to praise a movie, for example.)

--- The miraculous parting of the Red Sea and Israel’s delivery is a prime symbol of God’s salvation in the Old Testament.

--- The Israelites are reminded a lot, including in Isaiah, who wrote “Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?” (Isa. 51:10)

--- The Israelites had seen a clear demonstration of God’s great power.

--- When they reached the other shore, the Israelites sang a song of celebration praising God for His deliverance. (See Ex. 15:1-18.)

--- As we’ll see, however, those songs didn’t last very long.

--- In fact, the Israelites’ rejoicing turned quickly to grumbling when they were confronted with the reality of their freedom from Egypt.

--- Only a few days into the journey, the people of Israel began to grumble and complain, frustrated by the lack of water.

--- When the Israelites saw Marah in the distance, they thought it was an oasis and likely believed their problems were solved. But their hope was dashed to pieces when they discovered the wells contained “bitter” (non-potable) water.

--- Many artesian wells are bitter and unpleasant because of mineral salts. This one was not simply unpleasant; it may have been dangerous to their health.

--- What was true of the Israelites is often true of us today.

--- The Israelites responded the way we typically do when things don’t go our way: they complained. They demanded of Moses, “What are we to drink?”

--- How quickly a hero can become a scapegoat!

--- While their grumbling was aimed explicitly at Moses, it was implicitly directed at God, who had appointed Moses as their leader.

--- Moses made this connection clear when Israel grumbled later about the lack of food: “He has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD” (Ex. 16:8).

--- The apostle Paul used the grumbling nature of the Israelites to warn believers in Corinth about such behavior, along with craving evil things, idolatry, immorality, and more. (See 1 Cor. 10:6-11.) We tend to treat grumbling, griping, and complaining as minor issues, hardly worthy of mention since “everyone does it.” Yet Paul treated grumbling as a major offense and insisted it must be avoided.

--- Sadly, God’s people are described as complaining over twelve times during their wilderness wanderings.

--- We often find that a testing of our faith will follow moments of spiritual victory.

--- The question is whether we can still sing of God’s glorious holiness even when we face moments of spiritual drought.

*** Question – Is it OK to be a disappointed Christian?

Exodus 15:25-27
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink. There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” 27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.

*** Trading Spaces.

--- Think of your favorite home improvement show (could be Trading Spaces, which is returning with the same cast this spring.).

--- What impresses you most about the host’s ability to restore a house and create something new?

--- Spiritually, God is the only one who can restore us and make us whole.

--- God mercifully sustained the people at Marah, but there’s more to the story.

--- God led them from Marah “to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.”

--- God once again provided for the Israelites in a miraculous way, showing that He’s not only powerful to deliver His people, but can and will sustain them.

--- However, God’s promise came with instruction.

--- If they obeyed Him, He would not afflict them with plagues.

--- His blessing depended on their obedience.

--- As we are under the new covenant, God still blesses obedience and promises healing for your pains, disappointments, sins and your past.

--- The most important way Jehovah Rapha (“the LORD, who heals you”) heals: through Jesus Christ.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

The new Roseanne TV revival is coming u later this month. It was a show in which the cast definitely didn’t pull punches when it came to verbalizing their frustrations and opinions.

In real life, it’s hard, but it’s possible to grumble inwardly without verbalizing it.

(Seriously, it is. The older I get, the more I do this. Negativity begets negativity, and I don’t have time for that. This is why the stereotype of old men is true, they just don’t talk much anymore.)

When we allow struggles and doubts to cause us to blame God for our circumstances, we’re falling into the same pattern of behavior as the Israelites did in the wilderness.

When we allow anxiety to rule our lives, we’re focusing on circumstances rather than God’s provision.

You may not feel like a work of art right now, but the Bible assures each and every one of us that we’ve been created in God’s image. If you want to move away from a place of bitterness, turn to Jehovah Rapha, the God Who Heals.

How should we respond when we find ourselves drinking from the bitter wells of Marah? Consider taking one of these steps this week:

*** Listen. Listen earnestly to the voice of God. What is He trying to teach you in your present circumstances? What have you learned about God from these events? Change your perspective by seeing what God is doing on your behalf.

*** Obey. Look to see if there are areas of disobedience in your life. Repent and turn from any disobedient actions or attitudes. Turn to the One who desires to heal you. Obedience flows from an accurate understanding of God’s character.

*** Encourage. Encourage someone you know who is drinking from bitter waters. Point them to Christ who offers healing, hope, and abundance.

God is … Our Provider

My Life Group lesson for March 4, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

Think back to college, or even after college, to a time when you really had to scrimp just to get by. What kinds of things did you do to meet your needs?

(For example, in college there was an ATM that let you withdraw $5, and it was my favorite because many times I was under $10 and needed Taco Bell money.)

(Do you shop at Aldi instead of Kroger? Do you buy generic products instead of brand names? Do you borrow money from parents or family?)

Think about your faith during these times. Did you trust and let God provide? When you look back do you see God’s hand at work?

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** God called Abram (Abraham) to leave his homeland, with the promise that God would bring him to a new land and make from him a great nation.

*** Despite God’s promise, for many years Abraham’s wife, Sarah, remained childless. Finally, at the age of 100, Abraham was able to see the fulfillment of God’s promise when Sarah bore him a son they named Isaac.

*** God provides what we need, when we need it. Abraham knew this too. God truly is our Provider, and Abraham saw God’s provision as he trusted Him during a great test of his faith.

Genesis 22:1-2; 9-10
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” … 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

*** Do as you’re told.

--- We’ve all made decisions to take on a daunting task, but it can be especially difficult when someone else makes that decision for you: The soldier who is “volunteered” for an assignment. The employee who is transferred to a new task or city. The student who is called on by the instructor to show the rest of the class how to solve “x.”

--- In those moments, how do you resolve in your mind to do the task?

--- Abraham is commonly seen as a great example of someone who exercised strong faith. (See Heb. 11:8.)

--- In his fear, though, Abraham claimed Sarah was not his wife—twice! (See Gen. 12:12-13; 20:1-3.)

--- In his doubt, Abraham attempted to “help” fulfill God’s promise through having a son by Sarah’s slave Hagar. (See 18:1-3.)

--- Abraham eventually did have a son, Isaac, although it took 25 years for God’s promise to be fulfilled. (See 21:1-7.)

--- Abraham would soon face his greatest test of faith. Abraham was to take his son to Moriah and ”sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” (22:2).

--- We can hear Abraham’s faith in his instructions to the young men: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (emphasis added).

--- Abraham had arrived at a point in his faith journey where he was confident he could trust God with his most valued possession: his only son.

*** QUESTION: What are the different ways Abraham could have responded to God’s command?

Genesis 22:11-14
11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

***Rain, rain, go away.

--- February was a month of record rainfall in the Mid-South, so we can be thankful that we’ve been provided homes and vehicles to keep us dry.

--- So how did Abraham know that God was going to provide during such a test?

--- The command is certainly perplexing at first. It seems to contradict what we know about God and the commandments.

--- As we understand now, however, Abraham knew that God was going to keep His promise that “through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

--- A dead Isaac could not continue his line.

--- Abraham’s secret is revealed in Hebrew 11:19: “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”

--- Abraham didn’t know how his need was going to be met when God told him to sacrifice his miracle son.

--- But the moment Abraham started up one side of that mountain with Isaac, on the other side, a ram started up – the ram that was going to be the substitute for Isaac.

--- Abraham never saw the ram, but God did. God knows a way for you, has a plan to provide for you.

--- Before creation God had vision of our sinful natures and provides redemption through a lamb of sacrifice, Jesus, like Abraham His “one and only Son.”

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Think of ways our faith could be tested:

--- You receive the job offer you’ve been praying about, but you have to take a hefty pay cut.

--- You accept a missionary assignment to a Third World country where your children are exposed to a disease that is killing thousands.

In the ultimate test of the Bible, Abraham passed.

You can experience a breakthrough in your faith walk when you are willing to trust God with those things you hold most precious.

Thinking about today’s lesson, choose one or more of the following options to carry out this week:

*** Identify your Isaac. What circumstance, person, or thing are you having the most difficulty placing in God’s care? Pray this week for the faith necessary to let go.

*** Place your Isaac on the altar. Abraham had to first gather the resources necessary to make a sacrifice before he could find God’s provision. Identify concrete steps you can take to place your “Isaac” in God’s care.

*** Look for God’s provision. Write down the ways God provides for you this week. Make known to others the good things God is providing in your life.

Made for Something More: I am just Passing Through

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 18, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What place feels most like home to you? (A building, a community, a city, whatever.)

How many houses have you lived in throughout your life?

When you move a lot, it’s difficult to determine where “home” really is.

But whether you’ve lived in many places or if you were born and raised in just one place, Peter reminded us that Christians are all just passing through; this world as we know it is only temporary.

In other words, we all have another big move in our future.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** Peter was writing to believers in modern Turkey.

*** In another sense, Peter’s readers were foreigners in this world and to this world’s system. They faced many pressures and temptations in their culture. They needed to know how to live with integrity as good witnesses whose lives would glorify God and reflect their eternal home with Him.

*** For followers of Jesus, when we place our faith in Him, we become citizens of heaven. Though we live in the world, it’s not our permanent home. As we grow to be more and more like Jesus, it won’t take people very long to see that we’re different.

1 PETER 2:11-12
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

*** Strangers in a strange land.

--- In the summer of ’94 my Dad was working for an extended time in Venezuela. I went to visit him in Caracas, and then we were flying off the coast to Margarita Island, using a local airline. We never seemed to fly over the ocean, but we landed and were surrounded by mountains. We assumed we were on the island, but no one spoke English and we didn’t try to figure it out further. Once off the plane and in the tiny airport terminal we realized that the plane had made an unscheduled stop at a little town, so we had to re-board the plane, feeling like idiots, and took off again for Margarita Island.

--- Our brief stay was a temporary layover. Our focus was on getting to our final destination.

--- As Christians, this current life is a layover until we reach our ultimate destination of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).

--- That’s why Peter called us “foreigners and exiles.”

--- Since the world is not our true home, Peter told us not to be seduced by the Dark Side of “sinful desires.”

--- We are to avoid living in sin, which is living as if this world is our home.

--- We may be followers of Christ, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t affected by the old sin nature that pulls us down. In fact, Satan is constantly enticing us to listen to the sin nature.

--- But in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”

--- Obviously we do this for personal holiness, but it’s also a testimony to those who don’t share our faith.

--- We can’t live like them. We need them to see our lives – our selfless, self-denying, love-filled lives - as a testament to glorify God.

*** QUESTION - When you go on vacation, how do you change how you live as temporary residents, versus how you live in your permanent home?

1 PETER 2:13-17
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

*** Respect my authority!

--- Who are the some of the earthly authorities to whom we are called to submit?

National government. (President)
Local government. (Governor, Mayor)
Your community. (Police officers)
Your church. (Your pastor)

--- With which of the authorities do you struggle to show respect?

*** Question - What makes it difficult to submit to authorities?

--- Even though this world is only a temporary dwelling place for Christians, it still matters how we live while we’re here.

--- Our future hope and home should dictate our current conduct and attitudes.

--- Peter gives four actions that show our submission to authority as God’s slaves:

--- 1. Show proper respect to everyone. Our true home is in heaven with God, but we must take care how we represent our Lord and ourselves while in this world. That begins with respect.

--- 2. Love the family of believers. God is love (see 1 John 4:8); therefore, as imitators of Christ, love should embody all we do—especially our relationships with other believers.

--- 3. Fear God. When we bow before God, we can stand before anyone. Living in proper awe and reverence toward God helps us be discerning in how we act toward others. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).

--- 4. Honor the emperor. Whoever is in a position of leadership, whether it be a mayor, a president, or a king, this principle remains the same. As believers, we are to respect and honor those who have civil authority over us. God calls us to be good citizens.

*** Question - Which of the commands in these verses do you find easiest to obey? Which are difficult?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

--- When we start thinking this way, we need to remember that Peter recorded these words while Nero was emperor of Rome.

--- Nero was one of the most ungodly men to ever live on planet Earth. While still only a teenager, Nero murdered his stepbrother who stood in his way. He had his wife killed because he didn’t like her. He married again and then supposedly killed that wife by kicking her while she was pregnant. The next year he married his third wife after her husband was driven to commit suicide. Because Nero’s mother plotted against him, he likely had her killed, as well.

--- Nero was also the first of the Roman rulers to persecute Christians. He had Christians arrested, punished in horrific ways, and murdered. Yet, it was during his reign and under his leadership that the Holy Spirit led Peter to write these words—and he specifically mentioned submission to the emperor!

--- Paul also wrote to the Romans during the reign of Nero and addressed the believer’s responsibility to authority: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2).

--- Why such an emphasis in the Scriptures on submission to earthly authorities? Because when we submit to authorities, we are really submitting to God.

*** Set a reminder. Place something in your home to remind you this world is not your final destination. Remind yourself that you were made for heaven.

*** Take inventory. Evaluate your life in light of the four statements in 1 Peter 2:17. Ask yourself, “How am I doing in showing proper respect to everyone, loving the family of believers, fearing God, and honoring the leaders in our city, state, and nation?”

*** Serve. In our freedom, we’re called to serve God and others. Write down ways you can intentionally serve God and others this week. Make this a matter of prayer and commitment as you seek to live your life in a way that honors the Lord.

Made for Something More: I am a Priest

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 11, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

If you could have a direct line to a notable figure in our society, who would you choose?

A celebrity? A politician? A religious leader?

Have you ever met someone famous? How did you get access?

Most of us will never have direct access to someone like the President, the Pope, or even better, Harrison Ford.

But as followers of Christ, we have direct access to the creator of the universe, the Lord our God.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** We continue our lessons on finding our identity in Christ.

*** At one time in biblical history, only certain people had special access to God; they were called priests. Even today, when we hear that word “priest,” a specific image of what a priest looks like comes to mind.

*** But as we’ll see in 1 Peter 2, Peter called all believers priests.

1 Peter 2:4-5
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

*** Chip of the old block.

--- We refer to someone as a “chip off the old block” because they share the nature of their father.

--- In a sense, every child of God is a chip off that Block.

--- As a Christian we may be just the one stone. One stone may not mean much. You can’t build a house out of one stone. But if you put a bunch of stones together you can build a strong home. The body of Christ can do a lot when unified.

--- Paul writes in Ephesians (2:19-22) that as Christians we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”

--- We build our lives on the One Peter describes as “the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him.”

--- When we build our lives on the strong foundation of Jesus Christ, we function as “living stones” that make up “a spiritual house” and “a holy priesthood.”

--- By “holy priesthood” we mean that we have access to the throne of God, something that only priests did in the Old Testament.

--- Also, our words and actions represent Christ to the world.

1 Peter 2:6-8
6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

*** Cornerstone.

--- The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy is famous because it has been slowly tilting over for 800 years and was at risk of collapsing until a decade of work in the 90s.

--- The word “pisa” means “marshly land,” so it’s not like the builders didn’t have any clues as to why the tower began to lean before it was completed.

--- It’s very important for a building to have a proper foundation.

--- The prophet Isaiah wrote over 700 years before Jesus that He is God’s “chosen and precious cornerstone.”

--- In biblical times the cornerstone played a vital role in construction. The right stone placed in the right spot in the right way set the standard for all other stones.

--- When it comes to constructing our lives, we must start one way with Jesus as the cornerstone of our lives.

--- Peter quotes Isaiah that “the one who trusts” Jesus “will never be put to shame.”

--- Peter also quotes Psalm 118:22 that notes some people will reject Jesus as the cornerstone.

--- As a result, they will stumble because they disregard the truth, and will miss the blessings and benefits that come with making Him the cornerstone of their lives.

--- We get disappointed in so many things: how people act towards us, how others hurt us, when our kids disobey, etc. But there is no regret in following Jesus!

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Express thanks. Thank the Lord for saving you and including you in His royal priesthood. Thank Him for empowering you and equipping you to live on mission and in service to Him.

*** Pray for others. Interceding for others before God was a part of the priest’s duties. Contact family and friends and ask how you can specifically pray for them. Make a prayer list and regularly intercede for others in prayer.

*** Proclaim Christ. As a priest, you represent Christ to others. Identify one way you—or your group—“may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Made for Something More: I am a Minister

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 4, 2018, using Lifeway’s "Bible Studies for Life" curriculum.

FIRST THOUGHTS

How can we look at the same picture and yet see different things?

“Identity” is a buzz word in our world—that question of what makes us who we are. The world tells us our identity is determined by a bunch of different factors, including: How we see ourselves, How we feel, and, What others expect us to be.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** The month of February we are going to look at how our identity as Christians is reshaped into the image of Christ.

*** In these sessions, we’ll gain a deeper understanding of who we are in Christ, why we’re here in this world, and what our purpose is supposed to be.

*** Today in 2 Corinthians we see how Paul dealt with people who first questioned his ministry and authority, then embraced him.

2 Corinthians 3:4-6
4 Such confidence we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

*** I’m gonna need some help with this.

--- What are some of the things we outsource in our lives?

--- Hiring Daniel’s crew to cut down your giant tree? Getting someone to tutor our kids because Common Core second grade math is too confusing? Doing your taxes?

--- All of that can help free us up for other things. But one aspect of our Christianity we can’t outsource is ministry.

--- If you’re like me, you lack confidence when you feel ill-equipped or unprepared for any task, including the ones above.

--- We also may lose our nerve when we feel unworthy or unqualified, and that includes serving the Lord.

--- As Christians, God has called every believer to be a minister, which means helping or serving someone in the name of Jesus.

--- In this passage, Paul told believers we never have to lack confidence in our walk with Christ.

--- Why? Because we are equipped and we are prepared in Him. God has given us everything we need in the Spirit inside of us to be competent ministers of the gospel.

--- Because God empowers us, remarkable things can happen in the lives of other people through our ministries.

--- Remarkable things happened in the Corinthians’ lives through the ministries of Paul and his missionary team.

*** Question - When have you had the privilege of ministering to someone?

2 Corinthians 3:7-12
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

*** Be like Mike.

--- Michael Jordan was arguably the greatest NBA player of all time, but he had a humble beginning.

--- As a high school sophomore Jordan was cut from the varsity team.

--- He practiced, worked hard, benefited by growing several inches, and became a star in high school.

--- He didn’t settle for that high school glory. He then went on to win an NCAA title and six NBA titles.

--- But not even a career like Jordan’s can compare with the glory Paul described.

--- In these verses Paul recognizes that in the Old Testament people experienced God’s glory through God’s law and that was great.

(Moses literally glowed after being blessed by God’s presence!)

--- Paul knew, though, that the glory didn’t last. Nothing compares with the “ministry of the Spirit,” which endures.

--- Paul had been dogged by people were preaching the old covenant as a way to salvation instead of by grace alone though faith in Jesus.

--- There’s no necessary ritual to be saved. There is no ceremony or human works.

--- A sinner who is broken and humbled and comes to God for His grace, is forgiven and becomes righteous through Christ.

--- We can know no greater glory on this earth that to walk in His righteousness.

--- Bam! That’s the gospel. That’s glorious!

--- And because we now have the Holy Spirit we are equipped and empowered to minister to others.

--- The idea of talking to someone about Jesus can feel terrifying—but it doesn’t need to be. Our connection with Jesus brings a hope that can never be taken from us.

*** Question - What does it look like for us to be bold in today’s culture? Where is the line between boldness and obnoxiousness? What prevents us from being bold?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

What’s a job that others always look to you to complete?

Do you do it with a shrug, or do you do it the best way you know how?

We are called to serve and minister in the name of Christ and with joy and boldness, but how we carry that out will vary from person to person.

Mom, you are a minister – right where you are.
Nurse, you are a minister – right where you are.
Teacher, you are a minister – right where you are.
Fruit of the Loom Inspector Number 5, you are a minister – right where you are.

*** Pray - If you know Jesus, then God has given you His Spirit and the competence to minister in His name. Pray and ask God to give you a fresh dose of confidence so you can boldly minister to those around you.

*** Share - Ask God to give you an opportunity to put your faith in action. Look for an opportunity this week to share Jesus with someone else. Go in confidence and trust the Lord with the results.

*** Make serving others a habit - Like other habits in your life, the habit of serving is developed through intentional acts one day at a time. Make a practical list of ways you can serve and minister to others this week.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Last Jedi

I'm going to ignore the battles about The Last Jedi. I loved it, love it even more when talking about it, and will love it even more when then DVDs come out and I can watch it 50 more times this year.

Here's what I posted and loved so much after the first viewing:

Rey. She is wonderful.

Porgs.

Rose.

All the Force stuff we saw to interact Rey and Ben.

Chewie busting into Luke's hut.

R2-D2 talking sense into Luke

Yoda!

Poe being a cool flyboy blowing up the cannons.

The fight in Snoke's lair.

Holdo and her purple hair.

The shot when she flies into Snoke's ship in hyperdrive.

Luke at the end.

Not knowing where the story was going.

These were second viewing additions:

I adore Daisy Ridley unconditionally.

Holdo taking the helm and flying hyperspeed into Snoke's ship is the most bada** scene in all of Star Wars history.

I almost lost it this time during Luke and Leia's scene.

Porg fever!

Having seen it I wasn't unsure of how it would go and could settle in for the joy of it all.

The captain of the first dreadnought was really good and should have been in charge of the whole fleet, because Hux is a schmuck.

I thought Finn was going to die and blow up the cannon.

Captain Tallie was so cute and should have lived.

Paige, too.

The performances were all just spectacular. A+ acting.

Second time I noted how Ben said that Rey couldn't initiate the Force connection because it would kill her.

But at the end they have it without Snoke's help.

RIP Admiral Ackbar

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Jesus Teaches

My Life Group lesson for January 7, 2018, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

In "The Last Jedi," Luke is giving Rey lessons on becoming a Jedi, and at one point he tells Rey that "It's not going to go the way you think it's going to go."

When Jesus was on earth he was a master teacher that even the likes of Yoda would be amazed.

Non-Christians think they know who Jesus is as a good and moral teacher, but if they read the Bible it's not going to go the way they think it will.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** By the time we get to Mark chapter 4 there were great crowds following Jesus to hear Him teach.

*** Such a large crowd had gathered for His teaching that He had to get on a boat and push off into the lake so they all could see Him and hear Him.

*** Interestingly, we know these people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because it was unlike anything they’d heard before (see Mark 1:22), but we see no indication they acted on what He said.

Mark 4:1-9

1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” 9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

*** What’s the most fun you’ve had learning something new?

--- Think back to a favorite teacher: elementary school, high school, college, or on-the-job training. You probably enjoyed that instructor so much because he or she fell into one or more of these groups: teachers who know their subject inside and out, teachers who love the subject and are passionate about it, and teachers who truly care about their students.

--- Many of us got into a particular profession because just such a teacher motivated us to pursue that field. And many teachers became teachers themselves because other exemplary teachers inspired them. Learning isn’t always easy, but great teachers help us develop the desire to learn.

--- Jesus taught with all three of these characteristics.

--- During His earthly ministry, Jesus certainly knew what He was talking about, He taught with passion, and He genuinely loved those He taught.

--- But Jesus’ teaching has another vital element: His teaching is life-changing.

--- One key way Jesus taught was through parables, which are short stories designed to teach a meaningful point.

--- When Yoda taught Luke in Star Wars he didn't just seem to talk backward, his wisdom made your head spin. He had ancient wisdom teaching.

--- Similarly, the modern, Western mind thinks in terms of lists and logic, but the ancient, Jewish mind thought in images and examples.

--- Parables didn’t bury the truth; rather, the principle in a parable was “hiding in plain sight” in such a way that those who understood what Jesus was saying would understand exactly what He was saying.

--- At church when we read a parable it seems odd that Jesus always had to explain the parables, but we’ve had 2,000 years of revelation and explanation. The people at the time didn’t know what Jesus was talking about until the years after the crucifixion.

--- Interestingly, Mark recorded this parable of the soils before he wrote about Jesus’ other parables and specific teachings. This parable provides a key to Jesus’ other teachings because it addresses our hearts. It’s not enough just to know what Jesus said; what makes a difference is what we do with that truth.

--- God can do great things in our lives by making us fruitful and abundant for His kingdom, but it’s only life-changing when we obey.

*** Question - What’s the best way for you to learn new things?

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

"The Last Jedi" has divided people more than I care to think about. For reasons, many just didn't like it.

To me it's because they expected one kind of movie and director Rian Johnson delivered a movie that upends the saga. On a second viewing they can let go of that and just try to enjoy it.

Just as the audience of "The Last Jedi" has to let go of what they think they know in the Star Wars universe, we have to understand that different people will respond to God’s truth in different ways.

How will you obey God’s Word? Consider taking one or more of these steps in the days to come:

*** Weed. What in your life is hindering your ability to hear and obey God’s Word? Ask God to help you remove anything keeping you from fully trusting and following Him.

*** Water. Make Scripture reading a daily part of your life. Start a journal. Each day, note what God says in His Word and consider what you need to do to obey Him.

*** Sow. Create a plan for sharing what God is teaching you through His Word. Use social media to tell others. Meet someone for lunch whom you can encourage to read Scripture and obey God’s teaching.

The idea of teaching others about Jesus may feel intimidating or even out of reach. But if you are willing to hear God’s Word and obey His instruction for your life, He will guide you the rest of the way.

Jesus Calls

My Life Group lesson for August 6, 2017, using Lifeway’s “Bible Studies for Life” curriculum, as well as help from Bible Gateway, Lynn Pryor and Adrian Rogers.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What great adventures are on your bucket list?

What’s appealing about your adventure? What’s held you back from pursuing that adventure so far?

Following Jesus is a life-changing adventure, and you’re invited.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

*** We are starting a new study for the winter with the focus “Jesus changes everything.”

*** Mark’s Gospel is a fast-moving summary of Jesus’ earthly ministry. A brief introduction to the ministry of John the Baptist (see Mark 1:1-8) leads directly into his baptism of Jesus.

*** The focus fully moves from John to Jesus, including Jesus’ ministry of calling people—including His first disciples—to follow Him.

Mark 1:14-15

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

*** Jesus gets to work.

--- Brian is getting ready to start a new adventure as a teacher. Whether or not he teaches kids how to rock like Jack Black in “School of Rock,” he’ll chart a path of success for his students.

--- Now that He has been baptized and given the go-ahead from the Father, Jesus rolled up His sleeves and got to His mission of proclaiming the good news.

--- The kingdom, He was saying, is right here; it’s staring you in the face.

--- God’s kingdom is here and now. That’s a critical truth.

--- In fact, Jesus declared that this truth demands a response from those who hear it: “Repent and believe the good news!”

--- Repentance isn’t just feeling sorry about what you did. That’s only part of the process.

--- Belonging to the kingdom of God also means recognizing the standard God commands us to live by, acknowledging that we’ve come up short of that standard, and taking the necessary steps to get back on course.

--- Christ’s invitation calls us to an adventure unmatched in either history or fiction, and it affects us right here and right now.

--- Jesus’ instructions for entering His kingdom are simple: repent of your sins and believe the good news that the kingdom of God is not far off or unattainable, but right in front of you, waiting for you to enter.

*** Question - What have you left behind in order to follow Jesus?

Mark 1:16-20

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

*** Fishers of men.

--- In Justice League a group of superheroes teams up to take on evil. The tagline is “You can’t save the world alone.”

--- As He set out on His mission, Jesus began recruiting His disciples to help Him.

--- Note that Jesus does not recruit His disciples and “fishers of men” from the religious leadership but from ordinary walks of life.

--- When Jesus called Simon and Andrew to follow Him, He didn’t give them a new assignment that was unfamiliar to them; He equated it with something they knew well: fishing.

--- “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’”

--- Of course, this was still an invitation into the unknown— following a Rabbi who, at this point, had given them no instructions beyond “Follow me.”

--- For three years, these men followed Jesus and walked closely with Him. After Jesus ascended and sent His Holy Spirit, these four men—along with the other disciples—went in unique directions to do what God called them to do. But underneath it all was a common call: “Follow me.”

--- The call to follow Jesus has never been limited to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It’s a universal call to us all.

--- Jesus continues to reveal Himself to us every day in at least two ways:

--- Creation. Psalm 19:1 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

--- Scripture. We have something even more remarkable at our disposal: the Word of God. The Scriptures announce the majesty and lordship of Jesus Christ on every page.

REVIEW AND TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Steven Curtis Chapman’s great album “The Great Adventure” came out 25 years ago.

As I drove into the campus of Union University in Jackson in August of 1993 to start my college adventure, I put on “The Great Adventure” and my friend Steve and I sang loudly in my car, “Saddle up your horses!”

In the adventure Jesus calls us to, we won’t always know the direction we’re headed, but we’ll always know the One to follow. Following Jesus is an adventure that leads us straight to the arms of the Father.

How will you respond to Jesus’ call in your life this week? Keep in mind the following suggestions:

*** Consider. Spend a few minutes in self-reflection. Are you walking toward God or away from Him? As honestly as possible, weigh your actions to see if they align with Christ’s call to follow Him.

*** Correct. Identify something about yourself that needs to change, and then take intentional, specific steps to change it. Seek help whenever necessary.

*** Cast. Jesus has called you to fish for people. So fish as the disciples would have done: with a wide net. Cast it far and wide, leaving the results of your casting up to God.