The Adult Sabbath School Class

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Greg Brothers is an Adventist pastor in Oregon.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

With Jesus in the family . . .

The family that prays together, stays together.

Sometimes.

But sometimes, following Jesus means leaving your family behind.

And that’s one of the dirty little secrets that your Sabbath School lesson doesn’t talk about this week – the fact that religion can bring families together, but it can also split them apart.

Back in Roman times, after all, one of charges laid against Christians was the way they subverted “traditional family values.” Christianity undermined the authority of parents, people said. Christianity weakened the ties of marriage, people said. Christianity encouraged children to revolt, women to think for themselves, and men to lose all sense of honor, dignity, and even patriotism.

In short, Jesus would never have been invited to speak on Focus on the Family – not back then.

And sometimes, maybe not even today.

Disagree? Then check out these texts – and see what your class makes of them.

Matthew 8:21-22
In asking leave to “bury his father,” this would-be disciple may have been saying that he would follow Jesus just as soon as his elderly father no longer needed care – something that could take years! What would be a similar statement today? What did Jesus mean when he said we should “let the dead bury the dead”? How do you balance the needs of aging parents with the demands of following God? How would you know if Jesus called you to do something similar today?

Matthew 10:34-39
What kind of conflict did Jesus promise? Why is that – and whose fault is it? How do verses 37-39 amplify and explain verses 34-36? Why is Jesus so harsh in these verses? Is he right – or does Jesus ask too much from us?

Matthew 12:46-50
Mark 3 brings out the fact that Jesus’ family was there to take him home because they thought he was crazy! What are some of the ways you’ve seen families “get in the way” of following Jesus? What does Jesus promise in these verses? What does this promise mean today? Have you seen examples of this promise in your own life?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How do you teach an NC-17 lesson to a PG-13 class?

Sex, of course, is a wonderful gift that God gave us to strengthen the ties of intimacy in a marriage.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

And no, I’m not going to say, “been there – done that.”

But the fact remains that most of your class members don’t believe that sex is evil, nasty, and bad.

Embarrassing, yes.

But not evil, nasty, and bad. Not anymore. Not if daytime TV is any guide.

In fact, any poll I’ve ever read suggests that devout Christians are more (ahem!) happy, active, and “satisfied” than the general public.

This week’s lesson, in other words, is probably one in which you could just declare victory and move on to another topic.

And the alternative, to be honest, doesn’t bear thinking about. I mean – really, what kind of practical applications would you draw from the Song of Solomon . . . practical applications that you don't discussing with a mixed audience? (And no, don’t even think about using PowerPoint!)

You see, sex is like money – nothing wrong with it, but you have to really, really trust somebody before you discuss it with them.

That’s why I’m going to suggest an “indirect” approach – one that goes back to last week’s lesson in Proverbs. That way, you can bring up most of the topics from this week’s lesson in a way won’t leave your class feeling embarrassed or confused . . . or even wondering what you've been up to lately.

Read Proverbs 5 and Proverbs 31:10-31.
These chapters introduce two very different women.
  • Sum up the character of each woman in a sentence or two (and if you like, you might describe the typical appearance of such a woman today). In what ways are these two women similar, and in what ways are they different? How do you account for their differences?

  • What do men find attractive in each type of woman . . . and what do they find frustrating? Is there a male counterpart for each of these two women – and if so, what would they be like? What do women find attractive in men such as this . . . and what do they find frustrating?

  • There’s an old saying about marriage that “kissing don’t last – but cooking do.” Is that all these chapters are saying about a relationship, or is there more? What does Proverbs 5 tell you about relationships that Proverbs 31 leaves out . . . and what does Proverbs 31 tell you about relationships that Proverbs 5 leaves out?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Jacob and Esau (part three)

Friends may come, and friends may go . . .

But enemies endure.

So they tell me – and from what I’ve seen of families, it’s probably true. There’s nothing like a family, after all, to keep a grudge alive. And when it comes to family feuds . . . well, you’ve got your Montagues and Capulets. Your Hatfields and McCoys. Not to mention your two great-aunts, Beulah and Mabel, who haven’t spoken to each other since the Great Potato Salad Fiasco of 1973.

To be sure, you may want avoid this subject entirely – and to be honest, this week’s lesson in the quarterly really isn’t all that bad.

But if you want my advice, I’d save this week’s lesson on the Book of Proverbs for next week; that way you can skip the following week’s lesson on the Song of Solomon. (And trust me – you don’t want to spend an entire Sabbath School lesson discussing the Song of Solomon! There’s stuff in that book that is still illegal in the State of Idaho!)

Instead, I’d suggest you spend this week finishing-up the story of Jacob – the story of a family feud that just would not disappear on its own.

Genesis 25:21-34; Genesis 27:1-28:9
Quickly review the cause of Esau’s feud with Jacob – who do you blame the most? Notice the three ways people try to deal with this conflict:

  • Esau dreams of revenge.
  • Rebekah tells Jacob to leave until things “blow over.”
  • Isaac pretends that nothing has happened.

Which of these three strategies appeal the most to you? What has been the result in your life? What are the results in Jacob’s family?

Genesis 32
It’s been 20 years since Jacob saw Esau! What message did Jacob send? What does this message suggest about Jacob’s hopes? His fears? What message comes back to Jacob . . . and how does Jacob respond? What does Jacob’s prayer tell you about Jacob’s priorities? How did Jacob try to “buy” peace with Esau – and how effective was this? When have you tried something similar – and how did it work for you?

Genesis 28:10-22 and Genesis 32:22-32
Compare Jacob’s first vision (i.e. Jacob’s vision when he was leaving Canaan) with his second (i.e. Jacob’s vision when he was re-entering Canaan). How are they similar? How are they different? What has changed in Jacob’s life – and in his relationship with God?

Genesis 33
The Bible gives no explanation for Esau’s behavior in this chapter; obviously, something has changed in his life – but we don’t know what. (In some sense, forgiveness is always a mystery!) What does Esau do when he sees Jacob? How do you account for this? Has there been a real reconciliation between the two men – or is there still some wariness between the two? Why does Jacob refuse Esau’s offers . . . and was he wise to do so? Can you think of times you’ve had to do the same thing (or times you should have done the same thing!).

General reflection:
Who is the “Esau” in your life – and what are some of the ways you’ve tried to deal with this person? What hope do these chapters give you for your relationships? What guidance? What warnings? What would it take for there to be a reconciliation with the "Esau" in your life?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Jacob and his family (part two)

You can’t raise children in a vacuum.

For one thing, it’s illegal.

More to the point, it’s never just you and the kids. No, it’s you and the kids, and the grandparents, and all the aunts and uncles and cousins, and your brother-in-law’s ex-wife’s children (who created such havoc last Christmas), not to mention those bratty kids who live next door and have a mouth on them like you wouldn’t believe.

In short, the whole stinking village gets to help raise your child – whether you like it or not.

And what better way to talk about this than to study by studying the life of Jacob!

Genesis 29
“History doesn’t repeat itself,” said Mark Twain, “but it does rhyme.” Notice how this story “rhymes” with the way Isaac acquired a wife – and notice the way Laban’s actions “rhyme” with those of his sister Rebekah! What are some of the patterns that seem to keep repeating in your family?

Genesis 30
How do Rachel and Leah battle for their husband’s affection – and how do their children get drawn into this battle? Are there any similarities between their behavior, and that of Laban? Of Isaac and Rebekah? Who do you blame the most for what’s happening here?

Genesis 31
Why doesn’t Jacob trust Laban – and why do Laban’s daughters now share his mistrust? Do Laban’s actions justify their feelings about him? What are some of the ways that Laban’s daughters have shown that they are like him? Why do Jacob and Laban draw a “boundary” between them – and what do they hope to solve by this? (Note: “household gods” may have indicated property rights; in losing them, Laban may have lost his right to pass on his own property to his heirs!)

General reflection
Twice now, Jacob has dealt with family problems by leaving – the first time by leaving his own family, the second time by leaving his in-laws. How effective is this at solving problems? Is it ever justified? When have you used a similar strategy – and what were the results? With whom do you identify in this story, and why?