Matthew 18:20 Mondays – Becoming a Woman Who Loves – Chapter 6

I apologize for the tardiness of this post.  Between a teething baby who has kept me up for the past few nights and the need to catch up on some housework, I never got around to writing this post yesterday.  Now it is 4am (I’m not awake entirely by choice), and I have been provided with some very quiet time to write and reflect.  🙂

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Loving the Saints

When God was merciful, when He revealed Jesus Christ to us as our Brother, when He won our hearts by His love, this was the beginning of our instruction in divine love.  When God was merciful to us, we learned to be merciful with our brethren   When we received forgiveness instead of judgement, we, too, were made ready to forgive our brethren.  What God did to us, we then owed to others.  The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more meager our brotherly love, the less were we living by God’s mercy and love.  Thus God Himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ.  -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This chapter met me right where I was, again.  I got up early, feeling good about myself, sat down to do this study in the quite of the morning, and then, my husband came downstairs to eat his cereal.  A few people know this about me, but I despise eating noises, especially crunchy things.  I tried to continue to study downstairs, but eventually had to continue my quiet time in our bedroom. I’m not sure what is necessarily correct when it comes to pet peeves, but I know that my heart response to my husband was not godly (and therein lies the problem with pet peeves).

And, so, we continue our talk with the difficulty of loving the saints.  I still have parts of chapter 5 floating around my head, especially how radical the “most excellent way” of Biblical love is in our time and culture.  There might be fleeting thoughts of, “okay, loving like God isn’t so hard” until we are faced with the first challenge – loving the people who should be easy to love: other Christians.  Raise your hand if you are thinking of someone right now.  Yep, me too.

The Body of Christ

I believe that loving the saints is so difficult because we were created to be in community.  Just as our Triune God exists has a mystical example of community, so we too were created to be in constant relation with Him and with the body of Believers.  So, why is it so hard?  Because God desires our hearts over sacrifice, over acts of service, because he calls us to work together for His Kingdom, Satan’s first attack is going to be through our relationships.  And we are sinful people.  Sinful person + sinful person = strife unless we have the conviction of the Holy Spirit urging us to put aside our selfish ways.

What is the purpose of the body?  I think that Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 4:11-16 exemplify it well.  I was really struck by the wide varieties of gifts we can be given as a group so that we can work together for the common good.  I also noticed, in the Ephesians passage, that Paul makes a point to include persons of the prestigious and lowly states as necessary members of our ministry on earth.

Christians are not independent of each other: they should not seek to be so.  We are not the body of Christ individually, but we are collectively.  We are not set to stand alone but with others.  We can help others and be helped ourselves.  Another’s work may be needful for the success of ours, ours for the success of another’s.  One supplies just what the other lacks.  So that if all supply what they can, the body becomes perfect in working.  -H. Bremner

Love for the Body

How, then, do we embrace our need for community?  First, we need to recognize that there is only one Body and it is vital to our spiritual growth and maturity.  Therefore, we must approach the community with which God has gifted us with an eagerness to maintain unity through peace.  Love and peace from above will force us to bear all things, hope all things, and believe all things through the power of the Holy Spirit, because, if we cannot love our brother, then we cannot love God.

The body of Christ is such an amazing thing.  It is a group of sinful people, choosing to love one another, succeeding only through the power of the Holy Spirit, and using their God-given gifts to serve one another and help spread the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the greatest challenge of my life, to love, but I must remember that Jesus has commanded us to love with a sacrificial love.  I must remember that I, along with each and every other brother and sister in Christ, am vital to the purpose of the Body and to never withhold the talent that was given to me for the common good.  I must remember that my all of my brothers and sisters, including my husband, are sinners, and if I try, through my own might, to maintain our relationships, then we will fail.  But, if I choose to love the Body, relying on the strength and character of God, then we will remain unified.

Discussion

This is a Bible study, so we need some discussion!  I have written some of my reflections; now share what ideas or verses resonated with you in the comments section below.  Please feel free to be a part of the discussion even if you are not doing the home study!

This week’s memory verse:

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Matthew 18:20 Mondays – Becoming a Woman Who Loves – Chapter 5

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The Character of Love

Love is the badge and character of Christianity.    -Donald S. Whitney

When I first saw that this chapter was all about 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, I’ll admit that I groaned a little bit.  Some people might be appalled; I know that this is a favorite passage for many, but we all do it with some piece of scripture.  You know what I’m talking about, that story, parable, or teaching that you have heard ad nauseam.  But, leave it to the Holy Spirit to show me, yet again, that all scripture is living and active (thank you for the conviction from my most recent memory verse, Hebrews 4:12).

Love Defined

Just read the passage and dwell on it for a moment.  How is this definition of love so radically different from how Hollywood distorts love?  What is love?  What is not love?  (Make a chart; it helps.)  What characteristics of love (or not love) show up in your relationships?  What about in your marriage or with your children?  I’ll tell you what I thought was really prominent in the ways I “show” my husband love – irritability.  I thought I was done; quick answer, I know what’s wrong.  Let’s move on.  Wrong.  I felt it impressed upon me to ask my husband to read over the Corinthians passage and tell me which specific quality of love needed the most work.  I was just waiting for him to say irritability.  I had to fight a little hurt when he, after some thought, said arrogance.

Love suffers for a long time.  Our modern “throw-away” society encourages us to get rid of people in our lives who are difficult to get along with, whether they are friends, family or acquaintances   Yet this attitude runs in complete contrast to the love described by Paul.  True love puts up with people who would be easier to give up on.    -from The Nelson Study Bible notes on 1 Corinthians 13

The Most Excellent Way

After my husband’s brutal honesty, I could have gotten offended, picked a fight, told him what exactly he needs to work on, but, thankfully, I did not.  (And let me defend him for a minute – he told me this in the most gentle way possible, being fully aware of my feelings.)  I was the one who asked, and, obviously, I needed to hear it.  As valuable as my “work” is and as beneficial as my spiritual disciplines can be, Paul makes it very clear that these are all temporary.  Love is the only characteristic that transcends this life – it is the most excellent way.  There is no better characteristic or discipline for me to put all of my time and effort into than to love as Jesus loved – to love my husband in ways that show him honor and respect, to love my children ways that demonstrate God’s grace and mercy, to love others in ways that make me completely transparent so that the love of God is the only thing visible.

Discussion

This is a Bible study, so we need some discussion!  I have written some of my reflections; now share what ideas or verses resonated with you in the comments section below.  Please feel free to be a part of the discussion even if you are not doing the home study!

This week’s memory verse:

1corinthians13

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A Greater Plan

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Theme: The meaning of Baptism &God’s plan for us

Scripture: Luke 3:15-22

Materials: baptism gown (or other white garment), oil, water, construction paper, glue, markers, ribbon or string for hanging

Opening: Have children sit in a circle. Introduce yourself. Light the candle and say, “We can’t see God, but we can see his light in the world. This candle reminds us that God is here with us.” Say a quick opening prayer for your time together and lead the Lord’s Prayer.

Lesson: Today is a special day – does anyone know what we are remembering today? Today is the day when we remember the baptism of Jesus. Let’s read about his baptism from the Beginner’s Bible. Read pages 303-307. Comprehension questions: Who baptized Jesus? What was John’s life like – what did he do? What happened after John baptized Jesus?

We too, like Jesus, get baptized. Who can tell us a little bit about what happens during a baptism service and what baptism means? Allow time for answers. Okay, that was great! I’m going to fill in some of the gaps. There are three major symbols in baptism – a white outfit, oil, and water. The water and the white outfit mean similar things: that we are washed clean from our sins and that we have gotten rid of our “old selves” and put on Christ – the changes of new life. The oil is used to mark your forehead, to anoint you, and the words “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Amen.” are spoken over you.

Our baptism is very similar to, symbolic of, Jesus’ baptism, and it means that we are adopted into His family. When you are part of a family, you are a part of all of the plans of that family. God has a special rescue plan for His people, and we are all part of that plan. Everyone, together and individually, has special roles in this plan, but we are all called to live like Jesus and spread the good news of the Bible. And one day, maybe even in your life, Jesus will come back to earth and bring His family to His Kingdom.

Closing prayer: Dear God, thank you so much for the gift and sacrifice of your Son. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your great plan and including us in the baptism of Jesus. Help us to live out a life that brings you glory and serves as a shining example in this dark world. Amen.

Closing activity: Help children trace their hands on construction paper. Before helping them cut out their handprints, have them write their name on their hands. Glue (or attach in some way) the handprints together to form a wreath with a banner in the middle that says: “I am part of God’s plan!” Make enough hands to fill the wreath. Hang the colorful wreath in a prominent area.

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~ Family Study Guide ~

Luke 3:15-22 

Monday – verses 15-16

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

  1. John was a prophet and a cousin of Jesus, but he says that not even he is worthy enough serve and be near Jesus.  What makes Jesus so great, and why is it miraculous that we have been adopted to be his brothers and sisters?
  2. John could only baptize with water and tell people to ask for forgiveness from God.  Jesus could do much more – how did the effect of baptism change after Jesus was baptized?  What does that mean for you?  Close in prayer as a family, and specifically ask for the Holy Spirit to be present in your life.

Tuesday – verse 17

His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

  1. Why does Jesus have the supreme right and ability to separate the “good wheat” from the “chaff” (His people who have served His purpose from those who do not know him).
  2. We, as God’s people, are on the earth to serve a purpose, to be a part of his great rescue plan.  What does he call all of us to do in this life.  What has he called you to specifically do?  As you close in prayer, ask God to bless your ministry and/or to show you how you can serve him this week.

Wednesday – verse 18

So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

  1.  John was a popular preacher – many came to listen to him.  What do you think made him so popular?  What made people listen?  (Remember, he did not preach an easy message, but always taught the truth.  Look back farther in the chapter to see who was in the crowds listening.)
  2. You do not have to be a prophet or preacher to share Jesus’ message with people you know.  Is there someone in your life who needs to hear a specific message this week?  As a family, find pieces of scripture that might help with the situation.  Then, ask God to guide you as you speak with this person, that you will show nothing but the love of Jesus in your speech and actions.

Thursday – verses 19-20

But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done,added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.

  1. Why did Herod lock up John?  (If you need to, read the NIV translation for help: But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done…)
  2. Herod concluded that the only way he could get John to be quiet was to lock him up in jail (but I am willing to bet that John still preached to his jailers and fellow inmates).  Oh! that this would be the only way someone could unsuccessfully get us be quiet about Jesus!  Is there something holding you back from sharing the good news?  Why?  Read Hebrews 13:6 for assurance.  Ask God to give you strength, wisdom, and discernment as you live out the Gospel and share Jesus’ message with the world.

Friday – verses 21-22

 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

  1. How is the oil that our heads are anointed with at our baptism symbolic of the dove descending on Jesus?
  2. Jesus was hated by many in his life for the message he taught.  You too will share in this discomfort others have for our faith. But, like Jesus, God will one day announce the we are his sons and daughters, he will bring us to His home.  How does that make you feel?  How might this comfort change the way you live your daily life?  As a family, thank God for the assurance He gives us of His love and provision in this life and in the next.  Ask that you will never turn away from His message and that you will keep Him as your rock and foundation.

Saturday – Prepare for Worship

Together, review and reflect on this week’s lesson from Luke 3.  Did anything profoundly affect you?  Did any verses stick with you?  Did any of the discussions or prayers affect your bond as a family?

Preview the reading for Sunday, John 8:15-21.  This reading cannot be found in the children’s Bibles, but you may consider using the NIV or The Message if you have younger children.  It may be helpful to find a picture of Jesus teaching to give them something on which to focus.  Ask them if they have any questions.  Help clarify where you can, and write down any questions to which you do not know the answers.  It would be wonderful for you to take those questions to church and see if they are answered in the sermon.  If they are not, have your child ask your minister after the service.  I can guarantee that he will be thrilled!

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Reading and Leading Through the Parables

Men, let’s face it. Being the spiritual leader of our families is a daunting task… and it should be. For most of us, there is no higher calling, so feeling a little overwhelmed is only natural. It is a good thing because it shows we understand the significance of the task. But we can also be intimidated for some other, not so good reasons. Not the least of these reasons is a feeling of personal, spiritual inadequacy. It is that lack of confidence that I hope to address with this series, “Reading and Leading”, which will provide a framework for studying the Bible both on your own and with your family. To begin, we are going to lay a foundation for how to read and study the Bible in general. Then in the coming weeks we are going take a closer look at how to approach specific books (or types of books) of the Bible in particular. To break things up, I will also periodically post on other topics related to being a father/husband.

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Parables were one of Jesus’ favorite modes of instruction (Mark 4:2).  Therefore, we need to understand how to read and interpret them if we are going to read the Gospels and lead our family through them in Bible study.  So what exactly are parables?  Parables are stories from everyday life that are used to convey a deeper spiritual truth.  Therefore, if we are going to understand the parables of the New Testament, we need to have a basic understanding of Parabolaeveryday life in 1st Century Jewish culture.  Don’t be scared!  Just pick up a commentary (like this one) and Bible dictionary along with your Bible.  But parables are more than just stories, they are sort of tricky.  The Greek word for parable means riddle or puzzle, and so we immediately know that we should be looking for an underlying meaning as we read them.  Generally speaking, each parable has one underlying point; they are not allegories.  They were intended to be heard and immediately understood, albeit with an obfuscatory element.  To get the meaning, we have to find the inflection point.  If you look at the picture of the parabola (same Greek root, plus the bad memories of high school Algebra) you will see there is a point at which the line changes direction.  That is the inflection point, and in this case we are looking for it in the story line.

Continue reading

Matthew 18:20 Mondays – Becoming a Woman Who Loves – Chapter 4

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Bearing Fruit

Welcome back!  I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s!  Were you able to keep up with your quiet times?  I wasn’t, and the first quote of this chapter hit me right where it needed to.

His purpose is not that you will do more for Him but that you will choose to be more with Him.  Only by abiding can you enjoy the most rewarding friendship with God and experience the greatest abundance for His glory.

To abide means to remain, to stay closely connected  to settle in for the long term.  Wit this picture Jesus is showing the disciples how an ongoing, vital connections with Him will directly determine the amount of His supernatural power at work in their lives.

Bruce Wilkinson

Obviously, this chapter was written for me today, and what better way to start the New Year than talking about the fruit we produce?

The Flesh & The Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit is another one of those Christian phrases that can be carelessly tossed into conversation and leave a listener a little baffled.  What does it mean?  First, give Galatians 5:16-26 a read.  I would encourage you to read it even if you know it, have memorized it, because I guarantee that there will be something in that list that you (and I) need to work on.  Here are a few of works of the flesh that made me cringe a little because of how prevalent they have been in my life lately: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, idolatry.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.  And then, to read the fruits of the Spirit, yikes!  Patience?  Trying, kind of.  Self-control?  No way.  Kindness?  Maybe on a good day.

Fortunately, Cynthia immediately directs us to verses that are a little more uplifting.  Romans 8:1-5 is a favorite of mine (one that I need to recommit to memory).  When compared to Jesus, to his innate characteristics, we all fall short, we all fail.  It would be so easy to wallow in our sinfulness and give up.  But, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to lift us up and to teach us.  To, yes, convict our hearts but also guide us on our path to God.  He keeps our hearts pure and our eyes Heavenward.  One of my favorite songs from camp is Light the Fire.

I stand to praise You,
But I fall to my knees.
My spirit is willing,
But my flesh is so weak.

Light the fire
In my soul,
(In my weary soul)
Fan the flame,
Make me whole.
(Make my spirit whole)
Lord, You know
(Oh Lord You know)
Just where I’ve been,
(Where I’ve been)
So light the fire in my heart again.

The Vine & the Branches

We wrap up with reading John 15:1-17.  I am not a gardener (in fact, I tend to kill all of my plants), so maybe you could provide more insight on this passage.  But, I do understand that we, as the branches, would die apart from Jesus, who is the vine.  Branches that produce no fruit or bad fruit are cut away from the vine to wither and die – remnants are cast into the fire.  Those branches that are left are pruned so that they may produce more abundantly.

Until a few summers ago, I did not have a good understanding of pruning.  Pruning occurs when there are dead branches or overgrowth that hinder the production of a plant.  Hmm, read that again but rather than thinking about a plant, think about your life.  Are there dead things, things of this world that are holding you back, weighing you down, keeping you from growing to your full potential in the Holy Spirit?   And, conversely, but equally hindering – are there areas where you have over-invested yourself, areas where you have spread yourself too thin?  For “yes” people and over-enthusiastic people, like me, that is such a problem.  Pruning is a cutting away of the unnecessary in our lives.  Notice that it is still a cutting away – it may be difficult or painful, but the goal of pruning is for our betterment.  It helps us to becoming stronger branches, more deeply connected to the vine.  All that is asked of us is to continue to abide, set aside intimate time for God, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest through our weak hearts.

This is a Bible study, so we need some discussion!  I have written some of my reflections; now share what ideas or verses resonated with you in the comments section below.  You can also share your answers to this week’s questions:

  1. Has there been a time in your life that you have tried to bear the fruit of love without abiding in Christ?
  2. Where any new truths revealed to you when reading John 15 or about the fruits of the Spirit?

Please feel free to be a part of the discussion even if you are not doing the home study!

This week’s memory verse:

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Matthew 18:20 Mondays – Becoming a Woman Who Loves – Chapter 3

This is the last post of the Becoming A Woman Who Loves online study series for the year of 2012! We will pick up with Chapter 4 – Bearing Fruit on Monday, January 7, 2013. Take the time to catch up, dive in deeper, or complete the study! Thank you so much for being a part of this community.

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The Source of Love

The springs of love are in God, not in use.  It is absurd to look for the love of God in our hearts naturally; it is only there when it has been shed abroad in our heats by the Holy Spirit.

-Oswald Chambers

I felt a little overwhelmed last week learning about the new commandment to love like Jesus.  How is that even possible?  Even when I try to put all of my effort into serving and loving selflessly, I find myself gripping about something else or tearing down my husband or friends in my heart.  And how am I supposed to love everyone like Jesus if I cannot even extend that same grace to my husband and family?  Fortunately for us, Scripture has answers for us and Cynthia Heald helps us find these verses that may change our outlook (and particular efforts) in our pursuit of loving like Jesus. Continue reading

A Song for the Father

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Theme:  Mary Sunday and making our lives a song dedicated to God

Scripture:  Luke 1:26-56

Materials:  A simplified translation of the story of Mary, pictures or a slide show to pair with the reading, paper and coloring/writing supplies

Opening:  Have children sit in a circle.  Introduce yourself.  Light three candles in the Advent wreath (including the pink one) and say, “We can’t see God, but we can see his light in the world.  These candles remind us that God is here with us and remind us to prepare for the birth of Christ!  We are lighting the pink candle today because today is the Sunday when we remember Mary.”  Say a quick opening prayer for your time together and lead the Lord’s Prayer.

Lesson:  I would like everyone to think of their favorite song and share it with the rest of us.  Why is it your favorite song?  One of my favorite songs is called “I Get to Be the One” by J.J. Heller.  It is about a mother singing to her new baby and telling the new baby all of the things they get to do together.  Can anyone guess why that is one of my favorite songs?  That’s correct – I just had a baby and I sing that song to her all of the time! Continue reading