There are roughly eight billion people on earth, and that number is growing. As a result of improved economies, cleaner water, more productive farming, stabilized governments, and better medicine, the world’s birthrate has increased, and infant mortality has decreased. Not all countries have increased birthrates, however. In the United States, for example, the population is increasing, but ever so slowly. One would think, with the wealth of the United States, the population would be burgeoning. Yet parents have smaller families than in the past, and hundreds of babies are aborted each day.
A book I read recently suggests that, given the increased use of electronic media (television, cell phones, social media, iPad, the internet) our collective attention span has shrunk. Although we might like short commercials, the fifteen-second ads of recent years have decreased our ability to remain focused on a particular point. News briefs move from one to another at lightning speed. The internet moves information across our computer screens as quickly as we can absorb it. This ease of access to information has also affected our capacity to recall information because our brains are in a constant state of saturation.
I am weary, but God never tires.
In March, our congregation reached the one-year anniversary of making ministry changes in light of COVID-19. Recently, we have relaxed some of these changes after more than ten months of online worship, Bible study, and devotions. Our school was online-only for quite a while. All of this has been in addition to social distancing, masks, and damage to the economy. Even as we move close to “normal,” there is palpable, shared exhaustion. It is physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.
Jesus was cast out that sinners would be welcomed in.
After illness and death, perhaps the greatest COVID-related challenge is isolation. People living normally social lives have sequestered themselves in their homes to avoid the illness. Those in hospitals and nursing care facilities have endured months without visits from family and friends. Some have passed away without the comforting presence of loved ones. Beyond COVID, isolation remains troubling. Criminals are housed in prison. Spouses divorce. School children bully and reject each other. Teachers place unruly students in detention. Each of these examples illustrates a disquieting, but ultimately comforting concept in Christianity.
Everyone knows what it’s like to be thirsty. Maybe you’ve just come in from working in the yard all afternoon. Perhaps a five-kilometer run left you parched. Your child gets up in the middle of the night for a glass of water after eating too many cookies at dinner.
The Israelites had a powerful thirst. They were traveling in the dry wilderness, with very few natural sources of water. As we explore Exodus 17 in relation to teaching Sunday School, it is important to keep in mind what has happened to the people of Israel. God has been faithful. He delivered them from slavery, led them out into the desert through the sea, and provided food in the form of quail and manna. Nevertheless, the people complained and distrusted God.
To get the most out of Genesis 3, it is important to recognize what happens prior to the events of this chapter. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then God created light with a mere word. He followed with the creation of the lights in the heavens, plants, and animals. He topped this creation with Adam, formed of the dust. God made man in His image and breathed life into him, both physical and eternal. Adam was His greatest creation. Because Adam did not have a suitable partner, God created Eve using a rib from Adam’s side. Adam and Eve were perfect for each other. Despite all these blessings, Adam and Eve listened to the serpent. They chose of their own free will to disobey God.
The importance of the blood on the doorpost and lintel likely “passed over” the Israelites the night before the Lord freed them from centuries of slavery under Pharaoh. Being of desperate mind, we can guess they regarded the act as nothing more than a divine hoop through which to jump to reach liberty and safety. Yes, God did intend the physical, present liberation of His chosen people. Yet in doing so, He inaugurated a process that would culminate at the death of the Lamb and be effectual at every baptism. Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, we connect the doorpost to the cross, and both to the baptismal font. The themes of provision, sacrifice, liberty, and restoration tie all three together.
Jesus in the Old Testament?
This month begins a new series of materials for teaching Sunday School. Christians often view the Old Testament as intimidating, irrelevant, evidence of God’s judgment and wrath—a long, boring history of a people long gone. Far from this, the Old Testament prepares us for the New Testament or, more precisely, Genesis through Malachi points us to Jesus Christ.
In the final blog regarding Jesus’ twelve apostles, we finish with James the son of Alphaeus. Scholars often refer to this student of Jesus as “the Lesser,” in relation to James, one of Christ’s inner circle along with Peter and John. Although James the son of Alphaeus enjoys a smaller role in the recorded ministry of Christ, we take care not to minimize his contribution. Notably, Jesus gave him power to heal diseases and cast out demons, and he was present for the feeding of the five thousand, the Great Commission, the ascension, the selection of Matthias to replace Judas, and early outreach ministry as recorded in the Book of Acts. I will present lessons in relation to James and a suggestion for teaching in the Sunday School classroom.
The Gospels reveal little regarding Simon the Zealot. It is important to distinguish Simon the Zealot from Simon Peter. As “Simon” was a common name in Jesus’ context, it is not surprising that the Twelve included more than one. Regarding this Simon’s name, “Zealot,” there are possibilities. Either “Zealot” is about the apostle’s passionate faith, or his membership in a New Testament group called the “Zealots,” or both.
Given that details of Simon are so spare, I will address a couple of issues related to Simon’s zeal.