Discovering God’s Love through Bible Study at Christmas

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 NIV)

Isn’t it marvelous to see Christmas through the eyes of a child? Children seem to take it all in like a sponge! They want to hear the Christmas story, see the lights, sing the Christmas carols and participate/watch the live Nativity. Yes, they are going to want to see Santa Claus, watch the traditional Christmas programs on TV and expect candy and presents as well.

Though these traditions may add to the experience, Christmas is the perfect time to witness the love of God through Bible study in Word and deed. Children, youth and adults need to grasp the depth of God’s love. We cannot fully grasp God’s love simply by witnessing the birth of the Christ Child. We must see the adult Jesus as well who chose to reach all whose heart was open to his message. We must see Jesus’ ultimate goal to follow God’s will even if it meant a cross. We need to grasp the manger along with the cross and the empty tomb.

Along with discovering God’s love through Bible study at Christmas, find ways to demonstrate Jesus’ love for others. It is when we give during the time that we get closer to abiding and see God’s love for others.

Encourage quality family time to talk about the birth of Jesus and implications of his life as well as time to serve others in the community. Some of my greatest Christmas memories have been serving with my family. Here are a few ideas:

Take your class/family to the hospital or nursing home. Be the presence of Christ and share God’s love through caroling to persons who are lonely and in need of someone’s care.

Bring a meal to a shut-in. Don’t just bring them a meal. Call and set up a time that your class and/or members of your class can bring a meal to share. A shut-in will appreciate a good home-cooked meal, but will enjoy your presence even more.

Volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, give blood to the Red Cross or provide another service in the community. Show God’s love through deed and word.

The story of the birth of Christ should sweep across us and cause us to want to love others. Mother Theresa once put it this way:

Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your

children, to your wife or husband, to s next door neighbor…Let no one ever come to you

without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness

in your face; kindness in your eyes; kindness in your smiles; kindness in your warm

greeting.  

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Discovering “Joy” in Bible Study

4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
(John 15:4-5, 11 NIV)

It would be easy to allow despair and gloom to take hold of our small groups and Bible studies in light of the violence around the world. It would be easy to allow anxiety to paralyze us over the events in the past few weeks as we saw on the TV screen the tragic events in Ferguson and NY. I see Christians with different views of these events that prompted anger, hatred and verbal violence on Facebook. The same may be happening in some of your Bible study groups. Please hear me say that God always wants us to stand up for what may be injustices. We, however, should never allow ourselves to be overly focused to the point that we become less than what Jesus expects in our attitudes and behavior.
Galatians 5:22-23 reminds us that, 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. We have an obligation to the class to focus on abiding in Christ, bearing fruit and transforming lives. Here are some ways we can allow Christ’s joy be in us.

Bible study is about abiding in Christ. Let your focus be on your group and what Christ wants.

Pray for families on both sides of a tragic experience. When we pray for all people involved, we are less likely to make one group out to be villains. God may lead us to express in tangible ways God’s love to families on both sides affected by tragedy.

Focus on the lives of your group and lesson. Events in the news can monopolize your Bible study and you will miss out on what God is doing with individuals in the group. Acknowledge tragedy, pray for the families and see if God has a tangible way to help. Then move on to the lesson.

Recognize your attitude as the teacher matters. Dr. Joey Faucette and Mike Van Vranken in Faith Positive in a Negative World shares a wonderful illustration about our attitudes. Joey and his four year old daughter set up a bird feeder in their back yard in the winter to watch the pretty birds come to eat. Soon the squirrels began to take over the feeder. Soon Joey began reminding his daughter to look for the squirrels at the feeder, so he could get rid of them. Each day he would remind her. One day she said these wise words, “Daddy, we used to look out the window for pretty birds. Now we look for ugly squirrels.” Joey realized all of the joy of the bird feeder was gone. (If you want to know about this book and a special program for business professionals in your church, e-mail me at tony.brooks@vbmb.org.)

Last week I had the chance to teach the Roma Pastors in Romania. The Roma people have been marginalized by the Romanians. Many cannot find jobs. Most of the Roma pastors are not paid by their congregation, because their congregational members can’t afford to give much. Yet the Roma pastors are filled with joy. At every break they would pull out the guitar and accordion and play and sing praises to God. Our world’s state and life’s circumstances do not determine their joy. Their joy comes in abiding in Christ and sharing that joy with others.

May we grasp hold of this concept and let it spread!

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GROWING YOUR CHURCH: GROWING SUNDAY SCHOOL REVISITED

I will be on vacation next week and in Romania training Pastors the first week in December. I will send the next blog on December 9th. Here is a blog worth revisiting:

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37 NIV)

I don’t know of any Pastor or Minister of Education who wouldn’t like their church to grow both spiritually and numerically. As a former pastor, I wanted to see the church grow in both ways. The truth is many pastors and churches have bought into the myth that changes in worship style will be the answer. The truth is: Bible study is still the key to bring about spiritual and numerical growth.
The fact is that a new Bible study class for adults will bring ten new people to Bible study (whether it is in that class or adding new people to children and youth who come with parents.) As David Francis would say, “When Sunday School is done right—with excellence and with a missionary purpose—it continues to be a proven and effective way of reaching the lost in our communities, involving the saved in service, and mobilizing the local church for ministry.” Sunday School (people meeting in a small group for structured Bible study more than simply a worship service) works to bring people to Christ and/or helps new members stay involved. It begins with a recognition that persons called out to a new class are missionaries. They are trying to reach people for Christ and make disciples. So how do we begin a new Bible study class?
Identify target groups for new classes. Look in the pews during worship, persons in the community, special events like VBS or even a place like a community store (remember “Biscuits & Bible.) Keep in mind Bible study is a mindset and not a Sunday morning only experience. Look at inactive members, members who cannot attend on Sunday morning and prospects and decide which class to start and when the class should meet. Be in prayer as you consider a remnant group to start the class. Some of my most successful classes for reaching the lost and encouraging members took place on a Friday night at my house or on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. at a restaurant!
Begin to communicate a vision and plan as you consider teachers and a couple of members to start the class. Allow persons in the church to know what to be praying about and how they can help. People get excited about reaching people for Christ when they know there is a plan. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, every teacher should have an apprentice who is ready to start a new class. Be praying for persons who can be an apprentice to start a new class or take over an existing class. Enlist at least three persons to begin the new class: a teacher and two care group leaders. (Message me your e-mail about an organizational page for care groups, and I will send it to you.)
Begin preparing a list of prospects for the class. Set up a list of persons to begin inviting to the class as mentioned earlier. Set a date for the class to begin and an outreach/social event to kick it off a couple of weeks before. There may be an existing class willing to plan the social for you.
Have support to help the class grow. It is true that a class that is already two years old or older in existence will have difficulty in reaching new people. Encourage people in the pews and prospects/unchurched to try the new class. Existing classes may pick up a few new members along the way, but new classes provide the best venue for new people to bond in a community of faith. The church and staff should have the new class on their prayer list and find ways to encourage the remnant who will start it.
Prepare training opportunities for the remnant/missionaries who are starting the class. Medical professionals, lawyers, teachers and many other workers are expected to take continuing educational classes to grow and learn. Do we expect anything less from persons who are teaching the Bible…which has eternal implications? I am committed to helping you with ongoing training opportunities. E-mail me at tony.brooks@vbmb.org if I can assist you in training.
In the meantime, I will be praying for you as you seek to start new classes. Keep me posted on what happens, so we can share how God is working.

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Caring for members in the Hospital

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:13-15 NIV)

I am writing this early because I have a close family member having major surgery next week. In preparation, I thought about the importance of Sunday School/Bible study classes in ministering to persons in the group. As I have mentioned before: “Teaching the Bible is like gardening…cultivating and nourishing the soil is just as important as planting the seeds.” People need to see you care for them in order for them to be open to the Spirit and God’s Word in community. Here are some ideas:

Care Group leaders need to be sensitive to the needs of their group. (I have shared this organizational structure for care groups. If you don’t have the document, e-mail me at tony.brooks@vbmb.org.) Call and check on members who are absent to make sure they are okay. When you hear one is going in the hospital, here are some practical ways to help:

Pray! This is the most important thing we can do! Ask permission to share their name on the prayer list. Ask them what they would want you to share about the prayer concern. They may not want information shared. (Churches have been sued by members for adding them to the prayer list without permission.) If they are open to sharing the prayer concern, take time to pray with them, and have the class be in prayer as well. Start a prayer chain if you don’t have one already! If they are in class the week before the surgery, surround them at the end of the study and pray as a class. Share the concern with the Pastor and staff (with permission of the member.)

Provide care for their family. Line up meals to help the family during the crisis. See if they need help with childcare and/or transportation for children during the hospital visit. Don’t just say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” Give some practical ways you can help. They may need someone to take care of a pet as well. They may need some yard work done before they are able to do it themselves. If it is a large family and a long surgery, provide some snacks for them or money to cover a meal that day.

Start a class fund to help with care. A men’s class from a previous ministry would give a dollar every Sunday to a class fund to provide flowers, cards, financial help or meals for their members.

Go with your Pastor, staff or a deacon to visit them in the hospital. They need to see laypersons that care. They expect the staff to visit, but your presence can make a big difference to them!

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The Second Half of Life and Sunday School: Revisited

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)

I am very thankful for a mom who believed in this Proverb. She began teaching me in the cradle about God’s love, God’s Word and living for God. Many SS teachers, pastors, family members and other church leaders did as well. I memorized Scripture, participated in sword drills, learned Bible truths, and in my teenage years began reading the Bible through many times. The foundation was set and I am grateful!
Preschool, children’s, youth and young adult teachers have the potential for a lasting impression and impact on your students. You are building the foundation for your students to grow in faith, wisdom and knowledge that will last a lifetime. They learn about unconditional love from God, the importance of self-discipline as a disciple and their purpose in using their gifts for God.
So what do we teach persons about the second half of life? We have the foundation. Hopefully, we have been self-disciplined in living out of God’s Word. So what now? Is there a shift that needs to take place? If you are teaching persons who are Baby Boomers (Born between 1946-1964) or older persons, we may need to think about a new paradigm of what it means to be a disciple in the second half of life.
I have to admit that this is a lesson God brought to me by a layperson at FBC Altavista recently through his readings from Richard Rohr. It was timely as I considered the second half of life (I turned 50 today.) Here are some lessons to consider:

It is not what you know, but who God is that prepares you for the second half of life. The more I know about God’s standard, and my mistakes, the more I need to lean on God’s grace. Of course this requires me to be vulnerable to the truth, and have a willingness to confess my failures and naiveté. As I do, I begin realizing just how great God is. I see that God is more interested in a relationship with me than anything else. Like my children when they make a mistake, I want to encourage them, challenge them and inspire them to greater things, but mostly, I want to go deeper in a relationship with them as young adults. My relationship with them changes as they get older.

Letting go of the world’s standards and living a simpler lifestyle leads to true freedom in Christ. I can honestly confess that in the first half of life, I sought to fill a void with prominence with my competitiveness in athletics, academics, accumulating accolades, and things. I placed a lot of importance on Christmas presents, birthday presents and stuff. (Katrina is anxiously searching for a birthday present for me even as I am writing this blog. It is what we do for persons we love.) Though there are moments when I still wish for something, I am learning the value of letting go of things. These days I find real joy in giving things away. I honestly believe this is at the heart of what Christ would want. In the second half of life, we need to let go of prominence, power and control. We need to let go of things that we don’t need, and seek to help those who are in need (See Blog “Groundhog Day” for more.)
One of my professors tried to teach me this lesson just before I graduated from college, but I wasn’t ready. Dr. Bill Cowley, retired missionary from Nigeria, told me one day that his wife was so excited that she found bread at a day old bakery much cheaper than at the store. It wasn’t to save money for them and their wants. It was to send more to the mission field! They had learned to live in the second half of life. It is about letting go of things and investing in God’s kingdom.

Trusting and leaning on others is essential to live in the second half of life. Katrina and I have been discovering this lesson more each day with new health issues and living in a new place. I find this to be the most challenging one for me. We are taught to be self-reliant and make our way. There will come a day, like Peter, when:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18 NIV)

Unless we begin teaching older adults about the second half of life, they will be frustrated when the time comes to allow another to dress/lead them.

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Sunday School/Bible Study and Thanksgiving

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)

Gratitude to God and others in our lives is a way to open our hearts and move us past a focus on self. It allows us to see the big picture and recognize how God and others have made a difference in our lives. We will do well to give thanks to God and persons who have mentored us. Here are a few thoughts on how to do that:

SS Directors, give thanks to your teachers. The teachers are missionaries and disciple makers. This is a good time of the year to send them a thank you card to let them know how important they are in molding lives. Send them a card in the next couple of weeks.

Ask them how you can be praying for them throughout the year as well as remember their birthdays and other special occasions. Bob Dale once said, “You can’t make a bean plant grow by pulling on it.” Teachers need to know they are important. They are volunteers and sometimes need to see someone appreciates their ministry. You are the care group leader for teachers! Minister to them throughout the year and show them they are important.

Teachers, show appreciation for your outreach director, secretary and care group leaders. This is a good time to send them a thank you card for their ministry. Ask them throughout the year how you can pray for them. Offer words of encouragement for what they do to get people involved in Sunday School/Bible study.

Pastors/Ministers of Education, show appreciation for your SS Director, teachers and other officers in Sunday School/Bible study. You are the one to model the importance of Sunday School/Bible study. Use some of the ways above to thank and pray for your SS workers. It would be good to have one of your regular meals be in honor of your Sunday School/Bible study workers to show appreciation sometime this month as well.

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Sunday School: The Saving Arm of the Church

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (Luke 15:4 NIV)

I was reading this week the following book: What Every Pastor Should Know About Sunday School by Elmer L. Towns and Stan Toler. In it they suggest (and I would agree) that Sunday School is the Saving Arm of the church. Unchurched persons who attend an open small group Bible study are more prone to become Christians and stay active in a church. Here are their points:

Urge everyone to attend Sunday School. Sunday School is the best option for spiritual growth. As mentioned above Sunday School members are more active and tend to remain active more than just worship attenders. Give Sunday School prominence in your church. As they would say on page 19, “Organize it, advertise it and emphasize it.” Pastors should regularly encourage persons in the pew to be in Bible study.

Promote the use of Sunday School for evangelism. Teachers need to understand the evangelistic purpose of their ministry. I would go one step further and suggest we need to train teachers in how to share the Gospel in a manner that focuses on lifestyle and hospitality evangelism every day. I would also suggest they understand the “why” of Sunday School. Go back and look in my archives for the Why!

Celebrate Victories. Share with your leaders when one comes to accept Christ through Sunday School efforts. If you want to take it a step further than Towns and Toler, invite the teacher to be in the baptismal pool with the person coming to be baptized! This will inspire your teachers, classes and help them to recognize part of the “why” of Sunday School.

Of course I would take it one step further. We are to make disciples and not just converts! I have been amazed over my years of ministry when teachers recognize this fact. Children, youth and adults are mentored after they accept Christ, and the ministry is multiplied as new converts become disciple makers! Many have accepted their call to ministry in vocational and lay ministry because of teachers who are intentional about disciple making. I pray you will do the same!

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