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What’s in the Bible about Life Together?
What is the Bible is all about? What's in it? Why is it so important for Christians? Is it really relevant for people in the 21st century? Should I care about what's in the Bible? Why? What difference will it make in my life? The study series, What's in the Bible and Why Should I Care? offers opportunities to explore these questions and others by opening the Bible, reading it, prayerfully reflecting on ...
What’s in the Bible about Life Together?
What is the Bible is all about? What's in it? Why is it so important for Christians? Is it really relevant for people in the 21st century? Should I care about what's in the Bible? Why? What difference will it make in my life? The study series, What's in the Bible and Why Should I Care? offers opportunities to explore these questions and others by opening the Bible, reading it, prayerfully reflecting on what the Bible readings say, and applying the readings to daily life.
The title of this unique and exciting Bible study series points to the two essential features of meaningful Bible study: reading the Bible and applying the Bible to life. First, we read the Bible to discover answers to the question What’s in the Bible? and second, we reflect upon what we read in order to discover answers to the question, Why Should I Care? and apply these answers to our lives.
What’s in the Bible about Life Together? is one of the study books in the series, What’s in the Bible and Why Should I Care? What’s in the Bible About Life Together? will help readers explore how living God’s way contributes to whole and holy life together as God’s people. Chapters include: The Law Reveals God's Way of Life, The Prophets Challenge Us to Return to God’s Way, Jesus Teaches God’s Way, Jesus Invites Us into God’s Kingdom
Each chapter contains the following features:
Bible Readings - Each chapter explores specific readings from the Bible.
The Questions – Each chapter begins with focus questions that will be explored in the Bible readings and the chapter information.
A Psalm – Each chapter begins with verses from a psalm. These excerpts from the psalms give readers the experience of using the Bible for personal and group devotion.
A Prayer – A brief two or three sentence prayer at the beginning and end of each chapter
What's in the Bible? Participants will read and reflect upon key Bible readings in each chapter and use the space provided to write personal and private reflections.
Reflection Questions – These questions are related to the chapter information and are designed to help the reader consider key ideas that emerge from this information and from the Bible readings.
Bible Facts – Additional related information about the Bible readings.
Here's Why I Care – This activity near the end of each chapter contains questions that invite the readers to grow in faith as they prayerfully reflect about what they have learned
The Law Reveals God's Way of Life
Exodus 20:2-17; Leviticus 19:17-18; Deuteronomy 5:6-21; 6:4-13; 10:12-22
We all live by laws, rules, and expectations. What does God expect from us? How are God's laws related to God's love? How do God's laws help us love one another?
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
Psalm 119:103, 105
Lord, your laws are wonderful and give us understanding. Guide us like a light so we may grow in love and wisdom; in Christ we pray. Amen.
Spiritual Growth and Life Together
How is your self-image as a Christian? When I was young, I felt close to God while praying, reading the Bible, and thinking about my morning devotions; but my faith didn't seem strong and confident when I was out in the world with exasperating people, everyday conflicts, careless drivers, my own self-doubts, and a variety of challenges. I felt quite inadequate by day's end. I thought, Maybe I'm not even saved!
I had two misconceptions. First, I didn't realize I needed time to grow. God doesn't tap us on the head and make us into mature Christians for the rest of our lives, though people might expect that from us. Our faith typically grows as we meet our daily responsibilities, fail in our faith, try again, grow, and experience God's help over the "long haul." My other misconception was that I could grow as a Christian more or less privately. That old hymn "In the Garden" is one of my favorites; but our faith is never only a private, comforting relationship with Jesus, because he calls us to reach out to others in a Jesus-like way (1 John 3:14-16).
Our love for one another is itself a gift from God; but even divinely supplied love isn't easy, for we encounter unlovable people, we're tempted by circumstances, and we encounter problems that don't have simple solutions. The more seriously we pursue spiritual growth, the more we discover our own need for God's grace, healing, and guidance. We also discover that our life with others changes. God's laws are all about guiding our individual and communal spiritual growth, that is, our relationship with God and our relationship with others.
How do you perceive your own spiritual growth?
(1) Pretty good at the moment
(2) One step forward and two steps back
(3) Better some days than others
(4) What spiritual growth?
Love the Lord
Deuteronomy 6 contains the heartbeat of Judeo-Christian faith: placing one's trust and love in God. It calls us to complete allegiance to God in every aspect of our lives. Several years ago I visited a rabbi at his synagogue. Although my Hebrew is rusty, I recognized the Hebrew words above the ark portion of the sanctuary: Verse 4, which is translated, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone" (New Revised Standard Version) or "The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (New International Version) or "The LORD our God is one LORD" (King James Version). This statement is known as the Shema, the Hebrew word for "hear" or "listen" that begins this verse.
Since Hebrew has no verb (other than the imperative listen), the words can be understood in different though complementary ways. The statement affirms God's oneness: "The Lord our God is one Lord and not several gods." The statement could be emphatic: "The Lord, and only the Lord, is our God." It could be a statement of praise: "The Lord our God is an incomparable and unique Lord. "The statement also implies no separation between one's everyday life and one's religion: "The Lord our God is Lord over the whole of our lives."
The phrase "the Lord our God" does not mean that Israel (or anyone) can control and possess God or use God in order to gain status. Mistreating others and advancing ourselves in the name of God are always wrong. If I can paraphrase the pronoun our, it would be: God is "our God" because God adopted us through God's own choice, love, and initiative. We have a wonderful responsibility to help one another learn, grow in religious devotion, and serve together.
What's in the Bible?
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-13. What challenges you about God's commands? Does God seem loving or demanding or both? How do you respond to the command to love and serve God alone?
Verse 5 says, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." How do we love God? The Bible speaks clearly to showing love through our actions: through acts of worship and through acts of mercy, justice, and kindness toward one another. This instruction seems simple on the surface; but if we think a little more deeply, we can see that it contains challenges.
Expressing our love for God is not always easy. We may have to deal with things in our lives that make loving God difficult. Perhaps our father or mother (or both) fell short, and we aren't sure how to relate to God as a loving parent. Perhaps a tragedy causes us to feel bitter toward God. My grandmother died in a fire when I was young, and I didn't realize how much anger I harbored toward God until years later. Those were years, I should add, when God was doing wonderful things in my life in spite of my buried bitterness.
When you read the Psalms, you will discover all kinds of emotional feelings directed toward God, including disappointment in God's apparent absence or slowness to respond. Such feelings often affect our motivation or ability to act in loving ways, yet these psalms assure us that God's love is steadfast in spite of our feelings.
What experiences have helped you draw closer to God or made you feel more distant from God? What do you think about honestly expressing to God feelings such as anger, bitterness, or disappointment?
God also calls us to grow our faith by living and teaching our religious traditions and by passing our faith to others (verses 7-9). I had a friend who said she was not instructing her young son in religion because she wanted him to discover faith for himself. She was half-right; children cherish things best when they decide for themselves. I was raised in church and yet didn't embrace an active faith until I went to college and made my own decisions. However, my friend was missing an important opportunity to introduce her son to religion and thus lay a foundation for him that would be meaningful later on (verse 7). As Christians, we have inherited our faith from those who came before us; and we are called to pass that faith to those who come after us.
What was your childhood experience with religion, if any? Did your experience hinder or help your adult efforts at faith? Who has been an important teacher or model for you in your life of faith?
God doesn't wait until we're sufficiently spiritual to relate to us and to help us. God helps us love through our prayers, our Bible reading, through worship, through other people, and through our life experiences of God's help and faithfulness. God also helps us when we fall short. In this session, God calls the Israelites to recall the amazing things God did for them, even as they grumbled and were disobedient (verses 10-12). While we may be inconsistent in our expressions of our love for God, God's love is steadfast. We can count on God's love to be there for us, to empower us, and to restore us even when we fail in our own expressions of love.
The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21
When I was little, religion seemed all about rules: Don't play cards, drink, swear, or mow your lawn on Sunday. I later learned that being a Christian is not about rules and performance. Nor is being a Christian primarily about virtue and character. A Christian is one who has accepted the free gift of God's grace through Christ. A Christian relies upon God's power and not upon his or her own goodness. I stress this before we read the Ten Commandments because we're apt to put the cart before the horse and believe that we earn our salvation through keeping the commandments. Actually we keep the commandments out of love as a response to God's love; never, ever do we keep them as a way to earn God's love. The Ten Commandments are a gift from God that guides us in our life together as God's people.
What's in the Bible?
Read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. How are these readings similar? How are they different? Do some commandments seem more difficult to keep than others? Which ones? Why? What do they say to you about life together as God's people?
The Ten Commandments are also known as the Decalogue, meaning "ten words" or "ten statements." They are timeless ethical principles; but even more, they're a crucial part of God's covenant with his people and guide our great responsibility toward God and one another.
In Exodus 19, God offers a covenant (agreement) to the people of Israel; and the Ten Commandments specify the obligations of the people who would choose to enter into the covenant with God. They brought the Israelites, a disparate people, together by defining ways to love God and one another. The first four—have no other gods besides the Lord, do not worship God through an idol, do not misuse the Lord's name, and keep the sabbath holy—have to do with our relationship with God. The remaining six—honor your parents, do not kill (the Hebrew word means "murder"), do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie or testify falsely about others, and do not desire what someone else has—have to do with our social relationships.Obedience to the laws reveals our identity as God's people and assures healthy relationship to God and to one another.
Notice the similarity and difference between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions of the sabbath commandment. Both recall and celebrate the Creation narrative in Genesis 1. Deuteronomy 5:14-15 adds a focus on the responsibility for social justice by recalling the Exodus.
Love Your Neighbor
Leviticus 19:17-18, 33-34
We've looked at the Ten Commandments; but did you know about the two commandments that, according to Jesus himself, are the greatest of all? (Mark 12:31). We read one of them earlier, Deuteronomy 6:5, which calls for love of God. Jesus also emphasized a second great commandment, our next Scripture reading, Leviticus 19:17-18.
What's in the Bible?
Read Leviticus 19:17-18, 33-34. How does this Bible reading speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do you have about loving your neighbor as yourself? about loving the alien?
"Who Do You Love?" is the title of a classic Bo Diddley song, but it's also a classic religious question. As we'll continue to see in these sessions, the Old Testament and Jesus challenge us to love fully and completely. In my opinion, the ending of Leviticus 19:18 is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD." In verse 34, God instructs, "The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (verse 34).
In Leviticus, neighbor implies fellow Israelites; but as we see from verse 34, the love God instructs also extends to non-Israelites. When I was in Sunday school as a child, I remember learning the answer to the question "Who is my neighbor?" The answer: everyone! How do we show love to everyone? It can be challenging to love people whose choices we dislike, whose lifestyles we disapprove of, those who are "out to get us" at our workplace, or who just annoy us. When we encounter people whose race, culture, or religion is different from our own, the challenge to love them increases. God, who created and loves all people, calls us and empowers us to love one another.
How do you answer the question "Who do you love?" Who is easy to love? Who is difficult or impossible to love? Why? Your answer might include specific individuals or types or groups of people.
Christian love can come across hypocritically if we say we love someone but do not express that love in our actions. Notice that the Ten Commandments and the two great commandments in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 go together. We love God with our whole selves, and one way we love God is to love one another. However, love isn't just a favorable disposition or an emotion. People can sincerely say they love you yet treat you shabbily. Love for one another is an active process of refraining from behaviors that harm others and actively seeking the other person's benefit.
Why do you think actions might be a better indicator of love than feelings?
As I wrote earlier, God helps us grow in love for God; and God also helps us grow in love for one another. I have a friend who says, only half joking, that when she prays for patience, she hits all the red lights on the road. We can pray for love, and God may very well introduce annoying persons into our lives. The scary thing is that we do show people how much we love God by the way we love other people. It is good to know that God gives us the capacity to grow in love of neighbor.
As a private prayer exercise, write on a separate sheet of paper the names of people toward whom you don't feel much, if any, love. Go down the list, and talk to God about your feelings concerning each person: why you find them difficult to love, what happened, and so on. Be truthful to God. Then give your feelings to God, and ask God to help you concerning these people. Destroy your list to symbolize your trust that God hears your prayers.
When we're serious about following God in our lives, God's will is an unavoidable issue; but knowing God's will can be difficult.
What's in the Bible?
Read Deuteronomy 10:12-22. What connections do you make between this Bible reading and the will of God? What does it say to you about God's will for our life together?
God wants us to walk God's way of love. Walking is a metaphor for life. We speak of "walking the straight and narrow" and those who "get off track. "In the religious life, walking with God is living according to God's will and guidance. If we live only by God's moral code, we haven't gone quite far enough because God also wants a loving relationship with us. We walk with God by seeking to live our lives according to God's will. Deuteronomy 10:12 asks, "What does the LORD your God require of you?" and the answer quickly follows:
to fear God
to walk in God's ways
to love God
to serve God with the whole heart and soul
to keep God's commandments and decrees
All around, an excellent model for how to live!
Two aspects of walking are its slowness compared to driving a car and the ability to be attentive to surroundings. How do these aspects make walking a great metaphor for our religious life?
What does it mean to fear God? The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 10:12 means more than simply being afraid. It means respect and awe.
Although we're called to fear God, we shouldn't view God as some kind of unstable parent or demanding authority. God gives us the Bible so we can have plenty of assurance and assistance in understanding God's love and following God's will. Deuteronomy 10 reminds us that God is the Lord of all creation, who declares love for the people. God is just and merciful, especially to those who are most vulnerable: widows, orphans, and strangers. God provides. God keeps promises. God's people are called to be just and merciful in the same way that God is just and merciful.
HERE'S WHY ICARE
Here's Why I Care
What insights have you gained from this chapter? What new things have you learned about God? about love? What can you do this week in order to live according to God's commandments?
God, your laws light our pathways and give us understanding. We thank you that you help us understand your love and the importance of love for one another. Help us perceive your presence in our lives, and help us grow; in Christ we pray. Amen.
Excerpted from What's in the Bible About Life Together? by Paul E. Stroble. Copyright © 2008 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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