The Adult Sabbath School Class

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Greg Brothers is an Adventist pastor in Oregon.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

And may the Friend be with you.

This week, you’ll find that a number of people in your Sabbath School class actually believe in magic.

And no, we’re not talking about the Harry Potter fans (though there’s certainly enough of those characters out there).

We’re talking about the way they view the Holy Spirit.

At the heart of magic, remember, is the idea that the world is saturated with some kind of mystical “energy.” Call it anima. Call it mana. Call it The Force, or whatever you like – the belief remains that all this spiritual “juice” or “electricity” is there, just waiting to be used.

And if you know how to use it – if you’ve learned the right passwords, know all the proper access codes, and have figured out how to bypass the safety systems that are meant to protect mere ordinary mortals -- then you can this Force to do pretty much anything you want.

And that’s what witches (and wizards and shamans and medicine men and Jedi Knights) claim to do, remember. Take away the “woo-woo” stuff, and they’re basically just “spiritual electricians” . . . mystical technicians who think they’ve learned how to manipulate a special kind of energy – that’s all.

Now let’s be honest: how different is that then the way we often view the Holy Spirit?

And how different is that then the way we often try to use the Holy Spirit?

You’ve been to the seminars, after all. You’ve read the books. You’ve heard speakers talk about how we can “get” the Holy Spirit. Just say the right words, read the right texts, practice the right techniques . . . AND ALL THIS POWER CAN BE YOURS!


But if the Holy Spirit is a person (and not just some kind of magical, mystical, ethereal force that kicks in whenever Yoda can use a little extra help), then all these seminars on how to “get” the Holy Spirit are kind of like those books that promise to reveal the “secrets” of how to meet women (and get them to do what you want). They’re insulting, in other words. They’re ineffective. And they’re downright pathetic . . .

Because they forget that we’re talking about a real person.

So . . . my advice for this week’s lesson: don’t try to prove the “divinity” of the Holy Spirit. (And don’t get bogged down in a long, involved discussions of the Trinity!) No, just focus on the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person, and everything else will follow from there.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A real God for real people (part 2)

It's the end of the quarter, and time to apply some of the ideas you've been talking about. That's why I've adapted an earlier blog for this week's lesson -- see what you can do with it!

Click on the title, and read the article in The New York Times about the problem of battered women in a very traditional society. (If they ask you to register, go ahead and do it -- it's free.)

Now that you’ve read the article, imagine you’re a pastor in that part of the world. Several women in your church have asked you for advice on how to deal with this problem.

  • What kind of advice would you give – both short-term and long-term? How might this advice differ from that given to a woman living in the United States? Why?
  • How would the advice you gave church members in a traditional society differ from that given by Paul in Ephesians 5:21-6:9? How would it be the same? Why?
  • Does Paul spend more time talking about the duties of wives to their husbands, or the duties of husbands to their wives? Why? What does this suggest about his priorities?
  • How might you apply Paul’s advice to American families today – or is our situation so different that it is simply irrelevant? How much of Paul's advice in these verses is a "timeless principle," and how much of it is an application of that principle to a particular situation in a specific time and place?

In short, how do you follow Jesus in a family that is not ideal?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A real God for real people

On any given Sabbath, roughly three-fourths of the adults in church will be women.

Think what that means for a Sabbath School lesson on families.

If your church is like mine, as a matter of fact, the biggest single group of people in your church will be single women – widowed, divorced, or never-married.

Think what that means for a Sabbath School lesson on families.

In short, most of the people in your class this week will not measure up to the traditional “ideal” of a married couple with two lovely children (and a dog named “Spot”) who all go to church every week (and help out with Pathfinders on Wednesday night). And all through this quarter’s lessons, they’ve been wondering just exactly what God thinks of people in their situation.

Think of what that means for a Sabbath School lesson on families – and the chance it gives you to point out how God can work with us in any situation.

I Corinthians 7:8-9
What advice does Paul give to singles in these verses? What reasons does Paul give in verses 32-35 as to why might it be better for some to stay single? Can you think of other reasons why this might be the case? What reason does Paul give for getting married? Single or married -- what advice would Paul give to all believers?

I Corinthians 7:10-16
What advice does Paul give to someone whose spouse is not a Christian? Why might some think they should get a divorce? Why does Paul discourage this? What are some of the ways a Christian can “sanctify” (or make holy) the other members of their family?

I Corinthians 7:17-40
Skim these verses quickly, and notice how often Paul says something to the effect of “each one should remain as they are now.” What specific examples of this principle does Paul give? Is Paul saying that we should never do anything to improve our lot in life?

Many times, we like to daydream about all the ways our life could be better. “If only I had married somebody else,” we say. “If only I had a better job, or a nicer car, or children who really appreciated all I had done for them.” How helpful is this kind of thinking? What danger does it pose? What advice would Paul give to someone who is daydreaming like this – and what advice would he give to you today?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Teach your children well

As a rule of thumb, roughly two-thirds of all kids drop out of church just as soon as they get out there on their own.

Adventists, Baptists, Catholics – makes no difference; we all lose about two-thirds of our young adults.

But roughly half of those kids who left will end up back in church. And most of those who do come back will do so for one, simple reason: they now have children of their own.

No, most people want their children to grow up right. So they sign-up their children for piano lessons, and they drive their children to swim practice, and they work two jobs so they can afford to live in a place that has good schools . . .

And they even show up in church with their families in tow, willing to put up with the archaic music and the boring sermons and the incomprehensible doctrines if that’s what it takes to raise good kids.

So be careful with this week’s lesson. You may think you’re “just” discussing how we can pass along our values and beliefs to our children (and grandchildren).

But for some of your class members, you’ll actually be talking about the only reason they’re really in church.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
1. What command does God give in verses 4-6? Why is this important when it comes to passing on your values to your children? What are some of the ways in which your children reflect the “loves” (and the hatreds) they’ve seen in your life? What happens when you try to pass on values that aren’t really important to the way you live?

2. What principle does God give in verse 7 – and what are some the examples given in verses 7-9 of this principle in action? What are some of the ways that you can demonstrate your beliefs and values to your children in everyday life? What are some of the advantages of sharing your faith in this way . . . and what (if any) are the weaknesses?

3. What kind of help do you need in putting Deuteronomy 6:4-9 into practice? Where can you go in finding this help? What kind of help does your church provide – and how can it be more helpful?

Note: some of your class-members will be grandparents, trying to pass along their faith to grandchildren whose parents will have nothing to do with church. How does Deuteronomy 6:4-9 speak to their concerns?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

When bad families happen to good people

As a rule of thumb, I won’t do a wedding for any couple unless they’ve had at least one big fight.

That’s because I don’t think you really know anyone until you know just exactly what it is that really, really irritates you about them.

And if you can still love someone who really, really irritates you . . . well, then you have a marriage.

Or for that matter, a church.

That’s why I’d suggest you spend some time discussing I Corinthians 13 with your class. Paul did not write this chapter to people starry-eyed in love and happy to be with each other. No, he wrote this particular chapter to a church full of people who were hostile, ambitious, and bitterly divided by envy.

Kind of like some families I know.

And if you can figure out how Paul would bring these people together, then maybe you can do the same for some of the families in your class.

I Corinthians 13:1-3
Every group has certain expectations – and in these verses, Paul lists some of the behaviors that would be highly valued in any church, i.e. speaking in tongues, prophecy, faith, generosity, and martyrdom. What kind of behavior is expected (and valued) in your group? In your family? Is it possible to do these things without love? What is the result.

I Corinthians 13:4-7
What does Paul say love is? Which of these characteristics do you have the most trouble practicing? Why is that? What does Paul say love is not? Which if these characteristics do you have the most trouble avoiding? Why is that?

I Corinthians 13:8-12
Paul says that prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge are not our ultimate goals, but merely means to an end. Why is that? What does he say should be our ultimate goal? How can we avoid confusing “means” and “goals”? Why does Paul suggest that humility is important?

I Corinthians 13:13
Paul ends this chapter with a list of there “ultimate values” for a Christian. Why are these three all important to a healthy family? To a healthy church? How can you encourage these values in your family? In your church? And of these three values, why did Paul focus on love?

General reflection
If "love never gives up," does that mean you should never give up on a relationship? If "love endures all things," does that mean you should put up with anything and everything in a relationship?