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“In the World”

In the World—August 19, 2018

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Download In the World for August 19 here.

LIGHTING FIRES

Wildfires have been burning in much of the country for weeks. The “Holy” fire in Southern California (named for the creek near which it started) burned out of control for more than a week. It has threatened several communities, forced thousands to evacuate from their homes and businesses, endangered lives and property, and covered the region with smoke and ash. Authorities have arrested the suspected arsonist who lives in one of several cabins in the area—the only cabin which did not burn. Police said the suspect was feuding with neighbors. Just before the fire he had sent an email saying, “this place will burn.”

FIGHTING FIRES

The fires of the human temper can be as damaging as physical fires, although sometimes in different ways. In today’s text, Paul offers us several principles which, if put into practice, will help us fight those fires so they don’t consume us and others. Two of those principles summarize all the rest: genuinely love others and overpower evil with good.

  1. If the charges against the accused arsonist are true, what are some possible explanations for his act?
  2. Is it possible that his estranged neighbors might have calmed the situation down before it reached this point? If so, how? Explain.
  3. Tell of an experience you have had in which you were able to overcome evil with good attitudes and/or behavior.
  4. Which of Paul’s instructions do you find easiest to practice? Why? Which gives you the most difficulty? How do you try to overcome it?

—Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

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In the World—August 12, 2018

By | "In the World"

Download In the World for August 12 here.

THE LEAST ARE LAST TO PROFIT

Poorly educated workers are traditionally the ones most affected by layoffs in a declining economy. They are also usually the last to be hired when the economy begins to recover. Last week’s report on job growth in July put the unemployment rate at historic lows. Of special interest was the fact that people without college educations were increasingly among those being hired in America’s burgeoning economy.

THE LEAST SHOULD BE FIRST ON A CHRISTIAN’S LIST

As usual, the politicians are arguing about who should get the glory for the strong economy. More important is what the Bible says about Christians’ responsibility to care for their fellow Christians who may be suffering from economic difficulties. The biblical concept of aid doesn’t depend on a growing economy to create jobs and thus lift people out of poverty. Rather, it relies on individual Christians to follow the example of Christ in giving of himself for the sake of others.

  1. Should Christians be concerned about who gets the credit (or blame) for what happens to the economy? Explain.
  2. Since governmental agencies provide (to some degree) a safety net for people caught in economic troubles, do we have the same obligation to help others today as Christians did in Paul’s time? Why or why not?
  3. Does your church have a program that ministers to those in need? If so, give an example of how it has helped someone. If your church doesn’t have such a program, is there a need for it, and how might you help to get it started? What are some factors that inhibit us from being generous, and how can they be overcome?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—August 12, 2018

By | "In the World"

Download In the World for August 12 here.

THE LEAST ARE LAST TO PROFIT

Poorly educated workers are traditionally the ones most affected by layoffs in a declining economy. They are also usually the last to be hired when the economy begins to recover. Last week’s report on job growth in July put the unemployment rate at historic lows. Of special interest was the fact that people without college educations were increasingly among those being hired in America’s burgeoning economy.

THE LEAST SHOULD BE FIRST ON A CHRISTIAN’S LIST

As usual, the politicians are arguing about who should get the glory for the strong economy. More important is what the Bible says about Christians’ responsibility to care for their fellow Christians who may be suffering from economic difficulties. The biblical concept of aid doesn’t depend on a growing economy to create jobs and thus lift people out of poverty. Rather, it relies on individual Christians to follow the example of Christ in giving of himself for the sake of others.

  1. Should Christians be concerned about who gets the credit (or blame) for what happens to the economy? Explain.
  2. Since governmental agencies provide (to some degree) a safety net for people caught in economic troubles, do we have the same obligation to help others today as Christians did in Paul’s time? Why or why not?
  3. Does your church have a program that ministers to those in need? If so, give an example of how it has helped someone. If your church doesn’t have such a program, is there a need for it, and how might you help to get it started? What are some factors that inhibit us from being generous, and how can they be overcome?

—Charles R. Boatman

http://www.standardlesson.com/downloads

Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

 

In the World—August 5, 2018

By | "In the World"

Download In the World for August 5 here.

BEING JUDGES

Paul Manafort was then-candidate Trump’s campaign chairman in the 2016 election. He went on trial this week on charges of conspiracy, tax evasion, and bank fraud. Beneath the surface of those charges (to which Manafort has pleaded not guilty) lie the allegations by prosecutors that he worked as a paid advisor to the government of Ukraine which has ties to Russia. This may be relevant the Mueller investigation of alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Manafort has already been judged by many people in the court of public opinion, and the president’s lawyer has speculated that President Trump might pardon Manafort, if he is convicted.

BEING JUDGED

All of us are guilty at times of being judges, often without complete knowledge of the facts. In today’s text, the apostle Paul reminds us that we can be guilty of the same kinds of sins for which we condemn others. This places us under God’s judgment. In a way, our judgmental attitudes show contempt for God’s grace, a factor which should lead us to repent of our own sins rather than to judge the sins of others.

  1. Do you think we are quicker to judge others who differ from us (religiously, politically, racially, or culturally) than those who are like us? Explain.
  2. Is “hypocrite” too strong a word for our tendency to judge others for sins like our own? Explain. How does judging others show contempt for God’s grace, as Paul says?
  3. What has helped you resist the temptation to show favoritism in your relationships with others?

—Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—July 29, 2018

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Download In the World for July 29 here.

OUTSIDERS TAKING OVER?

The 2016 election shifted the ground under both major political parties. Donald Trump’s victory caused a split in the Republican party, with many of its members disavowing him. On the other side of the aisle in Congress, fifty-three winners in the 2018 Democratic primaries have been outsiders challenging establishment incumbents. For example, the June primary in New York saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an avowed Democratic socialist defeat Joseph Crowley, the number four Democrat in the House. Mainstream leaders in both parties are being replaced by a younger generation that is starting to take their places at the table.

OUTSIDERS DEFINITELY INVITED

It’s an axiom of human nature that the elite, the powerful, and the rich have always found ways to stay in control. When that control is threatened, the result can be anger, chaos, and even revolution. In Jesus’ parable, when the chosen guests refused the host’s invitation, the new invitees were people whom those invited first would have considered undesirable.

  1. Is the current phenomenon of outsiders challenging the political/cultural status quo something new, or has you seen it before? Explain. Have you ever seen similar struggles for control in the church? What happened?
  2. Should church fellowship be parallel to the great banquet of which Jesus spoke? . . . in what way?
  3. What lessons do you see in Jesus’ parable for the church today? What classes of people would be in the second group invited to the feast? Do you welcome outsiders into your congregation? Are there any changes that need to be made in this regard? Explain.

—Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—July 22, 2018

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Download In the World for July 22 here.

MEMBER OF A SMALL FRATERNITY

Modern modes of transportation enable us to speedily travel with ease from east to west and north to south. A week ago, President Trump had tea with Queen Elizabeth of England, giving him membership in a small fraternity which many people would be happy to join. This week, the president met with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, again a meeting of a small, elite group. This visit caused great “gnashing of teeth” from many sources. The media had a feast on their disagreements with Mr. Trump’s behavior and comments in his meetings with both leaders.

MEMBERS OF A WORLDWIDE FRATERNITY

When Jesus promised a great feast in heaven, he spoke of a few elite guests—the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament. But he also said that (without the need for modern technology) a great host of guests from all over the world would be present for the event. His promise should be reassuring to those of us who are “nobodies” that even though the world discounts our importance, God has reserved a place at his table for us.

  1. Why are people so interested in who gets to “have tea with the Queen,” so to speak? What does this tell us about the world’s values?
  2. Does the “narrow door” Jesus mentioned refer to limited access or the difficulty of entry, or both? Explain. On what basis will God refuse entry to “his house”?
  3. What is your reaction to knowing that you can have a place at God’s table? How can we be certain we will be invited?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

 

In the World—July 15, 2018

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Download In the World for July 15 here.

PRAY AND NOT GIVE UP

On Wednesday in Thailand, twelve boys and their soccer coach were rescued after having been trapped nearly two miles into Tham Luang cave. They had been there since May 23, when storms flooded the cave after they entered it. At one point, rescue seemed to be impossible. The head coach (who had not entered the cave) said, “All I can do is to send my prayers and support to the children and rescuers.” Those were the sentiments of people around the world. None of the boys were swimmers, and the rescue involved a six-hour trip via a dangerous underwater route.

PRAY AND THANK GOD FOR ANSWERS

The widow in Jesus’ parable must have felt that her situation was also impossible. But what we don’t know is how God may manage an “impossible” situation and how he may work on the recalcitrant hearts of oppressors. Another question is how God may work on the hearts of those who believe in him.

  1. In what ways are prayers effective in crises such as the one in the cave in Thailand? Does the fact that the coach led the boys in Buddhist meditation rather than Christian prayer make a difference in your thinking? Explain.
  2. Have you ever been in “impossible” circumstances from which God rescued you? Explain.
  3. What makes it most difficult for you to “always pray and not give up?”
  4. How would you answer someone who says, “I no longer believe in God because I prayed, and my prayer wasn’t answered?”

—Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—July 8, 2018

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Download In the World for July 18 here.

 “UNJUST” AT THE HIGHEST LEVELS?

The furor over immigrant families has been building for several weeks, but it gained new heat last week with calls to abolish ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Many are saying this, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call got the most attention. She is a young activist who last week overthrew a 10-term representative in New York’s Democratic primary. Her win was, in effect, a statement charging the leadership in both parties in Washington with being unjust in the way immigration policy is being enforced.

UNJUST IN PERSONAL DEALINGS

Many Americans find the justice issue perplexing in terms of what we want our leaders to do. However, Jesus makes the matter more real to us when he talks about how we as individuals must practice justice, whether we are leaders or citizens. Each of us can find some area of personal hypocrisy; each of us can admit that making justice, mercy and righteousness part of our daily conduct can be a challenge.

  1. What do you think would be the result of abolishing the agency entrusted with enforcing immigration laws? Can you offer a better solution to the problem?
  2. How do you understand the terms, “justice, mercy and righteousness” to apply to actions and attitudes in your personal life?
  3. Why do we find it so easy to tell others how to live their lives (as the Pharisees did), but so difficult to avoid hypocrisy ourselves?
  4. Why do we focus on simple outward acts to prove the validity of our faith, but neglect the attitudes of the spirit? What is the remedy?
  5. How would you apply Jesus’ teaching on this matter to church leadership?

—Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—July 1, 2018

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Download In the World for July 1 here.

IS MERCY DESERVED?

California Representative Ted Lieu and New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez played audio recordings of crying immigrant children in Congress last week. Their purpose was to persuade President Trump to change the federal policy that separated children from parents who are trying to enter the country outside of legal immigration channels. The call for mercy for the children was followed by the President’s act of rescinding the separation policy. However, demonstrations continued around the country as the current zero-tolerance policy for adults crossing the border illegally remains in effect.

MERCY IS NOT DESERVED!

The argument over how to deal with illegal immigration will continue indefinitely. When the question is whether we deserve mercy from God because of our sins, the answer is “No!” Yet, Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant reminds us that God has given us undeserved mercy in abundance. Considering that, we must not withhold mercy to others. How that plays out in the complicated scenarios of real life is where we often disagree.

  1. How can mercy be extended to immigrant children in American immigration policy? Should we offer forgiveness to their parents who place them in this situation? Why or why not?
  2. What are some other circumstances in which you struggle with whether to forgive someone?
  3. Tell of a situation in which forgiveness had a positive effect on someone’s relationship with another person. How has God’s grace to you affected the way you deal with difficult people and situations?

   —Charles R. Boatman

http://www.standardlesson.com/downloads

Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—June 24, 2018

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Download In the World for June 24 here.

DEMANDING JUSTICE

The #MeToo movement has drawn America’s attention in recent months. Women who say they have been the victims of a culture in which powerful men could, with impunity, treat women inappropriately have demanded justice. The movement has caused many men in the media, the entertainment industry, and business to lose their jobs. Many fell quickly, having been found guilty in the court of public opinion. Others denied their guilt, and the matter has moved slowly through the legal system.

JUSTICE RECEIVED

Often in this life, justice is never received. However, Jesus’ parable promises that God will eventually even the score. The long-suffering beggar’s death set him free and gave him blessed comfort. In death, the rich man found that his privilege and ease in this life were stripped from him, never to be returned. His lot was made even more painful by the fact that he could not warn his brothers to change their ways before it was too late to do so.

  1. Has the #MeToo movement performed a valid service? Has it, like many other social movements, been guilty of excess? Defend your thoughts.
  2. What other incidents of injustice do you see in our society? In what ways has the church been an agent for correcting injustices? Have Christians contributed to the problems of injustice in any way? Explain.
  3. What biblical principles have helped you to treat others justly, as Jesus would?

   —Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—June 17, 2018

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Download In the World for June 17 here.

CONFRONTING INJUSTICE

The world eagerly watched this week as President Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jung Un, met for several hours. The two leaders left the meeting with mutual promises to work for the resolution of differences. Some items on the table in this difficult, lengthy process will be the injustice and human rights violations which Kim has used to maintain control. He has kept his people in abject poverty, orchestrated the murder of relatives who threatened his power, and imprisoned numerous American visitors to the country. All the while, Kim was developing nuclear warheads with missiles capable of delivering them to the American mainland.

JUSTIFYING INJUSTICE

As Jesus said, evil people justify their injustice to others—including their own family members—by blaming others for their actions. They may even claim it is for a greater good, even twisting God’s Word to justify injustice. Such injustice is easy enough for us to see in our enemies such as Kim. It’s more difficult to recognize when we are the ones acting unjustly.

  1. What do you think will be the eventual results of the President’s meeting with Kim? What injustices in North Korea do you believe must be righted for an agreement to last?
  2. President Trump has recommended the adoption of a capitalistic economic system to make North Korea a more prosperous and just society. Do you see injustices coming from such an economic system in our own country? Explain. How do the words of Jesus help you to see the solution to such injustices?
  3. What is the relationship between spiritual purity (which the Pharisees claimed) and honoring God’s commands? Jesus’ words spoke to the personal vices of the Pharisees. What personal application can you see in his words for yourself?

—Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—June 10, 2018

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Download In the World for June 10 here.

PULLING UP WEEDS

Roseanne Barr is an often caustic and sometimes crude comedienne and television personality. The return engagement of her very-highly-rated ABC-TV sitcom, Roseanne, was cancelled recently. ABC pulled the show because Barr had posted a demeaning racist comment about a former top aide to President Obama on social media. Some people are calling this an example of leftist media censorship since Barr supports the current president, and the object of her scorn is a liberal. Regardless, the news media are predicting Barr will soon find a home on alternative outlets.

THE POWER OF YEAST

One might argue that ABC was acting in the spirit of the servants in Jesus’ parable who wanted to pull up the weeds—an idea Jesus rebuked. On the other hand, Jesus’ parable about the power of yeast could be applied to the coarseness that has overtaken both entertainment and conversation in our culture in recent years.

  1. Which of Jesus’ parables should we apply to the Roseanne controversy? Why?
  2. Is there any justification for Christians to support Barr for her political stance when her mode of expression has often been less than Christian? Why or why not?
  3. What elements of our culture do you think Jesus might call “weeds” if he were here teaching among us today? Explain.
  4. Suggest some specific ways in which Christians can act positively as yeast in our society.
  5. Is the crudeness of some public figures a cause or reflection of the growing vulgarity of society? Do Christians ever contribute to the problem? Explain.

   —Charles R. Boatman

http://www.standardlesson.com/downloads

Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—June 3, 2018

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Download In the World for June 3 here.

FREED BY TECHNOLOGY

DNA testing of evidence in crimes has given freedom to many falsely convicted people in recent years. Because of this fact, two weeks ago, California Senator Kamala Harris called upon Governor Jerry Brown to order DNA testing in the case of Kevin Cooper, convicted of a quadruple murder in 1983. Nine years ago, five federal appeals court judges signed an opinion stating that Cooper was “probably innocent.” Many people familiar with the case now believe Cooper was framed, but the sheriff’s office in the locale where the crime took place is opposing the test.

FREED BY COMPASSION

Sometimes the law works for good, sometimes not. Often, it is not the law which is at fault, but our interpretation and application of it. Such was the case when Jesus and his disciples were accused of breaking the Sabbath law. Jesus showed that compassion for people showed greater justice than a strict (mis)application of the law. To drive the point home, Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath who had been “imprisoned” by his crippled hand.

  1. In what way, if any, does DNA technology’s role in overturning convictions affect your view of the criminal justice system? Why might a sheriff object to DNA testing?
  2. Is there a place in the Christian system for close observance of scriptural requirements, i.e. legalism? Why or why not?
  3. In your understanding of the Bible, do you lean toward the law or the grace side? Why?
  4. What damage in the church have you seen caused by an overemphasis on either strict interpretation or on grace?

—Charles R. Boatman

http://www.standardlesson.com/downloads

Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—May 27, 2018

By | "In the World"

Download In the World for May 27 here.

RESTORED TO JERUSALEM?

On May 14, the U.S. government officially opened its embassy in Jerusalem. The move angered many Palestinians and their allies, who believe that Jerusalem should be the capital city of a future Palestinian state. On the other hand, many believe opening the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem simply accepts reality. Jerusalem has been recognized as Israel’s capital for 3,000 years, and Israel has long maintained its main government offices there. In 1995, the U. S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which required that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Presidents of both parties have pledged to do so, but it has not happened until now. Some (but far from all) evangelical and fundamentalist Christians believe that restoration of Israel’s capital to its biblical location has end times significance.

RESTORED TO JERUSALEM!

We’ve lived with occasionally misguided end time prophecies for thousands of years. So the theological implications of our government’s action are open to interpretation. What we do know, from today’s text and others, is that God is Lord over history and will protect and provide for his people even in times of great distress. The actions of governments may help or hinder Christians, but we look forward to the New Jerusalem God has promised where his order will be restored forever.

  1. Do you think the new American embassy in Jerusalem has prophetic significance? What is the scriptural basis for your opinion? Is Christian activism in Israeli politics good or bad? Why?
  2. How does hope for living in the New Jerusalem strengthen you?
  3. What practical advice can you offer about “taking refuge” in God in times of distress? How has God brought restoration to you personally, either physically or spiritually?

—Charles R. Boatman

http://www.standardlesson.com/downloads

Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—May 20, 2018

By | "In the World"

Download In the World for May 20 here.

GETTING AWAY FROM HOME

Many older Americans have fond memories of the road trip in the family car that was a staple of their childhood family’s summer vacation plans. Getting away from home and going back to the family homestead was the theme as they jammed themselves into the car and headed off to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Just 10 days ago, the travel industry announced the expected vacation destinations of Americans for Summer, 2018. Topping the list of domestic destinations is Orlando, the perennial favorite with its entertainment-oriented theme parks. These visits are typically for amusement purposes, and usually are not intended to be a meaning-filled visit to the ancestral home.

GOING BACK HOME

For ancient Israelites, every fiftieth year was a Jubilee Year, with a divinely commanded “vacation trip” in which the family would return to their ancestral home and their kin. There, they would be reminded of who they were as a family. Jubilee was also a time for the earth to get a rest: neither planting nor harvesting were allowed, so the Israelites could spend their time contemplating their nation’s historical relationship with God.

  1. What values might we rediscover it if were possible to observe a Jubilee Year in our culture?
  2. What factors would keep us from celebrating a Jubilee Year?
  3. What features of Jubilee might help Christians improve their relationship with God?
  4. Do you think the sabbath-rest commandment is for Christians today? Why or why not?
  5. How do you personally manage to implement the sabbath-rest principle in your life?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—May 13, 2018

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Download In the World for May 13 here.

EXPECTING SILENCE

Stephanie Clifford (aka exotic dancer/porn star Stormy Daniels) announced a few weeks ago that she and Donald Trump had an affair in 2006. The big news about the alleged relationship in recent days has been the $130,000 said to have been paid to her by Mr. Trump’s lawyer before the 2016 election. There are conflicting reports on whether the President did or didn’t know about the payment, when he first knew about it (if he did), or whether he perhaps authorized it. Regardless, nondisclosure agreements are a sort of “first fruits” offering, with the “harvest” being the silence of the recipient, a quid pro quo—if you do this, I’ll do that.

EXPECTING A BLESSING

A two-way expectation also existed when the Israelites made their first fruits offerings. First, God expected the best gift, one without defect, from his people. Second, the Israelites made the gift in expectation that a bountiful harvest would follow. This was also, to some extent, a quid pro quo.

1. What other kinds of quid pro quo arrangements exist in life? Are such arrangements necessarily bad? Explain.

2. What kind of offering might a Christian make to the Lord that would be comparable to the first fruits offering? How might first fruits offerings differ according to one’s life circumstances?

3. What has been your experience in being blessed because of your giving?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—May 6, 2018

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Download In the World for May 6 here.

A TARNISHED GIFT

Bill Cosby gave America a gift in the 1980s and ‘90s. As Cliff Huxtable, he was the affable father of an upper-middle-class African American family. In presenting this image, The Cosby Show intimated that the American dream was accessible to all regardless of race. However, in recent years, allegations of numerous sexual attacks by Cosby began to tarnish our memories of this gift. Last week’s guilty verdict in three charges of sexual assault further stained the gift he had given us.

AN UNSULLIED GIFT

The gifts God required of Israel were to be untarnished by ulterior motives. God wanted their gifts to be made willingly, by “hearts that were moved.” In a similar fashion, the New Testament reminds us that God loves for us to give willingly and cheerfully. Our gifts are not to be made to satisfy a selfish appetite of any kind.

  1. How can we evaluate the good a person has done when his other actions seem to invalidate it? Explain.
  2. Do we all have “skeletons in our closets?” If so, is it fair for us to criticize others’ sins? Can we be perfectly pure in any of our actions? Explain.
  3. Do you ever give from less than cheerful motives, such as when giving to a homeless person? Describe your feelings in such a situation.
  4. How do you make sure your giving is motivated by a willing, cheerful spirit?

—Charles R. Boatman

http://www.standardlesson.com/downloads

Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—April 29, 2018

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Download In the World for April 29 here.

SAVIOR OF HIS COUNTRY?

North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, announced last weekend that he was “retiring” his policy of nuclear weapons development, since he can now “defend his country.” From this point on, he says he will focus on rebuilding North Korea’s economy. He has agreed to talk with South Korea and America, raising hopes in nations with which he has long been at odds. Basking in the glow of his new-found status, Kim seems to be turning his back on China, his long-time source of political power and sustainer of his poverty-stricken nation.

SAVIOR OF THE WORLD!

Only time will tell whether the praise for Mr. Kim’s new initiative to save his people from the poverty he has forced on them will endure. All human praise is subject to that same uncertainty. However, as the apostle John describes what he saw in the heavens, there was no question about the honor the Lamb of God shall receive. Throughout eternity, innumerable hosts of angels will declare his praise as Savior of the world.

  1. What differences do you see in Kim Jong-un’s quest for temporary adulation and the reasons for which Jesus will receive eternal praise?
  2. What difference, if any, do you see between church worship today and the worship the angels will offer to Jesus? What changes, if any, do you think are needed in our worship?
  3. Do you think there be a difference in the power and dominion Jesus exercises in eternity and now? Explain. What do you think John means when he says that “every creature” regardless of location will praise the Lamb?

—Charles R. Boatman

http://www.standardlesson.com/downloads

Copyright © 2018 by Standard Publishing, part of the David C Cook family. All rights reserved.

Each download is for the use of one church only.

In the World—April 22, 2018

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Download In the World for April 22 here.

THE DESTROYERS

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has a history of using nerve gas to annihilate his opposition in the long-running Syrian civil war. The West has threatened, and sometimes attempted, to destroy Assad’s ability to conduct such activities. Last week, the United States, Britain, and France sent missiles to Syria, obliterating three of the facilities suspected to be crucial to Syria’s chemical weapons program. Humanity has great creative abilities, but we often use those abilities to create means of destruction, regardless of which side we are on in our various conflicts with each other.

THE CREATOR

Conversely, the Bible presents God as the One whose very essence is the Creator. In the beginning, he made all things (Genesis 1), and even today, he continues to sustain everything by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). Today’s text reminds us that even more amazing sights await us than those we can see in God’s present creation!

  1. What rationale might a leader have for using outlawed weapons on his own citizens? Can you think of parallels to Assad’s recent actions?
  2. Why do you think human creative powers are so often used for destructive purposes?
  3. When a human creation has the potential of being used for both good and evil (nuclear power, for example), on what basis should we decide to proceed with it (or not)?
  4. Can you think of biblical examples of God using his power for destructive purposes? How do those examples align with the view of God as Creator, not destroyer?
  5. What implications for everyday life do you see for us as the children of God to act as creators rather than destroyers?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—April 15, 2018

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A RELATIONSHIP TAINTED

Facebook promotes its service as a boon to relationships. However, its relationship with its subscribers became tainted with the news that 87 million of its users had their data shared with a political consulting firm in 2016 without the subscribers’ permission. Last week, Facebook admitted that the public profile information of “most” of its 2 billion users may have been “harvested.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, was scheduled to testify before Congress this week. He has already expressed contrition and taken personal responsibility for his company’s lapse in integrity. Whether this will restore the public’s trust is uncertain.

A RELATIONSHIP RESTORED

When Peter denied Jesus before a small crowd in Jerusalem, that act shared some personal data about his moral and spiritual character—that he was willing to compromise his convictions to save his own life. However, by repentance and the gracious forgiveness of Jesus, Peter’s relationship with the Lord was restored. The restored relationship demanded that Peter turn from self-preservation to a life of selflessness, nourishing the Lord’s sheep.

  1. If you’re a Facebook user, what are your feelings about your information being misused? What will it take to restore your faith in Facebook?
  2. Is our responsibility to forgive a corporation that has offended us the same as forgiving an individual? Why or why not?
  3. How has the Lord’s forgiveness changed your life? How has forgiveness (either offered by you or received by you) made a difference in your relationship with someone?
  4. In what ways has Jesus called on you to feed his sheep?

   —Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—April 8, 2018

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FROM EUPHORIA TO DESPAIR . . .

The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaked at 26,616 on January 28, but within little more than a week, it fell by more than 10%. From that January high, it’s been a bumpy ride for investors with multiple corrections up and down in the two months since. The last two weeks have seen continuing large fluctuations, with investors showing anxiety over the troubles of Facebook, Tesla and other tech companies. Fears of a trade war with China have also created uncertainty about the future. With the stock market, there are no guarantees.

 . . . AND BACK AGAIN

Jesus’ ministry peaked (at least by human standards) with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In the next few days, his “stock” crashed with his arrest, trial and crucifixion. Then came another high: the resurrection. But after that roller-coaster ride came another emotional low. Uncertain about their future, some of the disciples went back to their comfort zones—their careers as fishermen. But then Jesus appeared to them again. From that point on, they began to see the future more clearly.

  1. What parallels do you see between the turmoil in the stock market and everyday life? What are some highs and lows you experience?
  2. Why do you think the disciples vacillated between hope and despair despite the miracle of the resurrection?
  3. The disciples failed to recognize Jesus standing on the shore. Tell about a time of personal despair during which it was difficult for you to recognize Jesus’ presence in your life.
  4. How does recalling how Jesus worked in your life in the past give you comfort and courage during difficult times?
  5. What are some ways you can encourage a fellow Christian who is experiencing doubt or despair?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World—April 1, 2018

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TURNING LIFE INTO DEATH

Deadly school shootings have headlined the news in recent years. In February, a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The focus of this crime seems to have shifted, however, from the act itself to reaction to it. A week ago, crowds of people turned out at gun control demonstrations across the nation. Some proponents of the rallies called them spontaneous student-led events. Skeptics saw them as adult manipulations of youth whose opinions tend toward simplistic answers.

TURNING DEATH INTO LIFE

With human beings, life always turns into death, whether by natural causes, calamities, or by human violence. At the crucifixion, an anger-fueled crowd was demonstrating for death. In the resurrection, God was the only demonstrator, and he turned it all around. The resurrection of Christ is God’s statement that death can turn to life. New life is given to all who accept God’s redemptive action.

  1. Is demonstrating moved by grief and anger a helpful way to spur the government to action on this or other social problems? Name some demonstrations and marches of the past few years. What has resulted because of them?
  2. The disillusioned disciples on the road to Emmaus had hoped Jesus would redeem Israel. Why did they give up on that hope? How do political battles today reveal that we are often blind to how God is addressing problems in our world? Explain.
  3. Is saying that sin is the root of the problems in our society too simplistic? Why do you think responses such as stricter legislation, better education, or addressing financial disparity inevitably fall short of eradicating society’s deepest issues?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—March 25, 2018

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BREAKING FEDERAL LAW

California has declared itself a sanctuary state, officially taking a position against the national policy of deporting people who have entered the country illegally. Early this month, the mayor of Oakland warned residents of her city of a coming federal agency raid to arrest people living there illegally. California and other states have taken similar positions regarding marijuana laws. Such actions have heightened the level of anger on both sides of each issue and focus attention on the question of whether federal law takes precedence over state and local laws.

KEEPING GOD’S LAW

The divine promise to bless Solomon and his nation was based on whether they would keep God’s statutes and ordinances. Along with the promise came a warning that failure to be faithful to God would bring exile and destruction. As we know, Israel failed to obey God, and both national exile and destruction of the temple became historical fact. Failure to keep God’s law had dire consequences.

  1. Whether we are considering immigration, drug, or any other laws, should states and cities be free to ignore or violate federal law? Why or why not? What should be the consequences for such violations?
  2. Does God bless or punish nations today when they keep or violate divine law? If so, how does he do it? Give an example or two.
  3. Have you ever had the sense God was blessing you for keeping his commands? Explain.

   —Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—March 18, 2018

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CELEBRATING NEW JOBS

“The Economy Is Looking Awfully Strong” was a New York Times headline when the government’s February “jobs report” came out recently. The national workforce increased by 313,000 in February, and this year’s average job growth is nearly 100,000 over the monthly growth in all of 2017. The percentage of Americans in their prime working years (25-54) is at a ten-year high. So celebration seems to be in order, but we all know that economic trends such as this one will eventually reverse themselves, sometimes bringing great hardship to those who lose their jobs.

CELEBRATING GOD’S STEADFAST LOVE

As King Solomon dedicated the temple altar, the nation joined with him in thanksgiving, a celebration which had a more stable source than the ebb-and-flow-prone indicators of a nation’s economy. The Israelites thanked God for their national prosperity that had enabled Solomon to build the magnificent temple, but there was more to it than that. They thanked God not just for “being good,” but because “his love endures forever.”

  1. How should Christians react to news of the fluctuations in the nation’s economy? Why?
  2. Is it proper to thank God when economic indicators are positive? Should we blame him when they are bad? Why or why not?
  3. How do sacrifice and thanksgiving tie together for Christians?
  4. What sacrifices are a part of your relationship with God?
  5. What does it mean to you personally that God’s “love endures forever?”

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—March 11, 2018

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THE BEST FILM

The Oscars were awarded last Sunday. In a score of categories ranging from picture to director to editing, “the best” was named. This year’s best picture as judged by the Academy was The Shape of Water, the fanciful story of a romantic relationship between a woman and a fish-man. As often happens, box office receipts have told a different story. Voting with their dollars, the film-watching public flocked to see The Greatest Showman, a film panned by several critics.

THE ONLY GOD

In contrast, awarding the title of ruler of the universe is not a popularity contest. The God of the Bible is the only God. Solomon cited historical evidence that God—unlike any other god—is a covenant-making and promise-keeping God. This recognition is not based on what so-called experts say, nor even on what the public says. It is based on the testimony of Scripture in what it reveals to us about our Creator and Sustainer.

  1. In what areas of life beside the arts do we see critics and the crowd sometimes disagreeing? How does that affect your thinking?
  2. What is wrong with the view the Jews sometimes expressed in the Old Testament that their God was “the best God.” Do we sometimes advocate the Christian faith this way? Explain.
  3. Is it appropriate for Christians to find affirmation for their faith in the fact that Christianity has more adherents worldwide than any other religion? Why or why not?
  4. In your own life, how have you experienced the promise-keeping power of God? How has this affected your Christian walk?
  5. How would you explain to an unbeliever what a difference it makes to be in a covenant relationship with God?

In the World for March 4, 2018

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FAITHFUL

Last week, Billy Graham died at 99 years of age. He was confidant and counselor for most of the U.S. presidents in the last half of the 20th century. He preached to over 200 million people in 185 nations—more than any other preacher in history. He was on Gallup’s list of “most admired men and women” 60 times—every year the company conducted its poll. His career in ministry was characterized by faithfulness to the historic Christian message at a time when many high-profile Christian leaders were watering down the gospel. His faithfulness to Ruth, his wife of 64 years, stood in sharp contrast to many high-profile ministers who lacked such faithfulness.

FAITH-FILLED

Romans 4:11 calls Abraham “the father of all who have faith.” Our text today provides one of several examples that led to his reputation for being faith-filled. Whether answering the call to leave his homeland or to sacrifice the son of God’s promise, Abraham was faithful to what God asked him to do.

  1. Why do you believe Billy Graham had a high reputation, even among those who did not agree with his Christian faith? How do you think Graham avoided the moral failures of some of his contemporaries?
  2. What are the great challenges to faithfulness among followers of Christ today? How does faith in Christ help us be faithful in all areas of life?
  3. Review the lives of Abraham, Graham, and other faithful leaders of the faith. How do their examples help you to be faithful? Be specific.

   —Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—February 25, 2018

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AN EVIL FIGHT

Last week, the federal investigation into Russian interference in our 2016 elections resulted in the indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three companies. The individuals posed as American citizens, using stolen identities. Pretending to be (among other things) Christian political activists and advocates of various political perspectives, they used social media and other means to promote dissension among Americans and destroy trust in the American electoral process.

THE GOOD FIGHT

Political dirty tricks are nothing new. We should not be surprised by them. When Christians do good in fighting the good fight of faith, we shouldn’t be surprised by that either. However, that doesn’t always happen. That’s why Paul insists that Timothy set an example in pursuing what is good and turning away from evil and falsehood. In using the word “fight,” Paul implies what we all know: we sometimes must struggle against the temptation to do evil.

  1. How is Russian interference in our elections dangerous to America? How does this compare to American attempts to influence elections in various countries? Explain.
  2. In what ways do Christians sometimes fail in doing good in their public lives? How can this influence public opinion about the church?
  3. List some of Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Which of these can help us be a positive witness to our fellow citizens in public life? Which of these have you found to be helpful in your struggles against various temptations?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—February 18, 2018

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SENTENCED TO DEATH

The 2018 Winter Olympics has gripped our attention this week. Nevertheless, the Olympics has been in the news for months. In December, Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, was sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges. In January, more than 150 women and girls testified in court that, over the course of 20 years, he had used the privacy of the medical exam room to sexually abuse them. At the close of the abuse trial, the judge sentenced the 54-year-old discredited doctor to 40 to 175 years in prison, saying, “I’ve just signed your death warrant.”

RESTORED TO LIFE

When Peter came to the home where the body of Dorcas lay, he found her body surrounded by mourners. In that culture, grieving was often done loudly, so Peter sent the mourners out of the room. In the privacy of the now-quiet room, he prayed for her and then commanded her to arise. God answered his prayer and Dorcas was restored to life.

  1. What factors in society enabled Dr. Nassar to get away with his crimes for so long?
  2. Character has been described as how one behaves when no one is looking. Contrast the actions of Dr. Nassar and Peter in the private rooms where these stories unfolded. What does this say about their respective integrity?
  3. How should a belief in the future resurrection of the dead affect the way we grieve?
  4. Can we expect the Holy Spirit to use us today (as he did Peter) to raise the dead? Why or why not?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—February 11, 2018

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THE POWER OF THE OFFICIAL WORD

With 2:21 left in last Sunday’s Super Bowl LII, the outcome hung on the official word. Philadelphia Eagles player Zach Ertz caught a 12-yard pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Ertz took two steps before being tripped by the defender and then fell into the end zone. There on the ground, he bobbled the ball before gaining control of it. Was Ertz a pass receiver who did not have control of the ball when he crossed the goal line, or was he a runner who fumbled, but regained control of the ball? The play was reviewed, and the official word was that Ertz was a runner. The touchdown call stood, and the New England Patriots could not regain the lead.

THE POWER OF OUR WORDS

We may think our words are inconsequential, since most of us never speak in any “official” capacity. Yet when we say something hurtful or false or foolish, our words have power. We realize this when we are on the receiving end of such words, but we sometimes minimize their importance when we speak in ways we shouldn’t. James reminds us how evil our tongues can be. But the problem isn’t the tongue. It’s the mind and will that refuses to be led by the Spirit of God.

  1. Official review of football plays has changed the game; how might such a review change the way we speak? Be specific.
  2. Share with the class an example of how you have been hurt by the power of words. Share an example of how you have been helped by the power of words.
  3. What trends do you see in our society that demonstrate the power of words, either positive or negative?
  4. What is the difference between having self-control and being controlled by the Holy Spirit? How can you know whether your words are being directed by the Spirit?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World for February 4, 2018

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JUDGING OTHERS

We have recently seen political figures, show business and sports personalities, and media figures fall under charges of sexual immorality. Last week, it happened in another venue—Washington’s National Gallery of Art. The museum announced it would postpone indefinitely an exhibition of paintings by Chuck Close, one of the 20th century’s most honored portrait artists, because of charges that he harassed his models. Other museums in New York, London, and Paris are questioning what to do with his portraits. The problem for museums is that many great artists are reputed to have been harassers, rapists, even murderers. Should art be judged by the morality of the artist?

JUDGING OURSELVES

The current glut of charges being leveled against people who once held the public trust can make us smug. We say, “Look how bad they are,” implying that we are virtuous by comparison. James, however, wants us to turn the spotlight on ourselves. We must ask, “Does my public identity as a Christian align with my faith as I actually practice it?”

  1. One museum curator said, “If we removed the paintings done by immoral people, the walls would be bare.” Does an artist’s immorality invalidate his or her artistic gifts? Why or why not?
  2. There have been times when someone who has won many people to Christ is caught in immorality. Would a person who became a Christian because of that person’s preaching have a valid reason to question his or her own salvation? Why or why not?
  3. What are some ways that a Christian’s character flaws inhibit his or her effectiveness in presenting the gospel?
  4. What safeguards do you have in place to ensure that your actions do not contradict your profession of faith?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—January 28, 2018

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FAITH IN THE STOCK MARKET

On Monday night, the president signed legislation passed earlier that day, funding the government for three more weeks. This allowed federal workers to return to work after a three-day shutdown. For days, the news media projected a frenzied tone over the anticipated event, even though shutdowns have taken place dozens of times before. As if to demonstrate that the public has greater faith in America’s economic might than the media does, the stock market rose to record high levels day after day.

FAITH IN GOD

The strength of Daniel’s faith in God was of a different sort than the public’s faith in America’s economic might. For one thing, God’s strength never waivers and those who place their faith in him can take life’s ups-and-downs with assurance that God is faithful. On the other hand, the stock market in which Americans are currently rejoicing will occasionally crash precipitously, as we have all experienced.

  1. “If it bleeds it leads” is an axiom that explains media focus. Do you think that’s the case in the media’s concern about the government shutdown? Explain.
  2. Americans have traditionally been an optimistic people, but today many are pessimistic. What do you think are the reasons for either perspective?
  3. What was it in God’s words to Daniel that made him feel weak? What was it in God’s words that gave Daniel strength?
  4. What do you find in today’s passage (and elsewhere) that gives you a sense of spiritual strength?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—January 21, 2018

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A NEED FOR REPENTANCE

Recently, the moral failings of humanity have topped the list of bad news. The #MeToo movement has brought to light the problem of sexual assault/harassment, but now some women are saying it infantilizes women and causes an anti-feminist overreaction. On another front, political chatter is divided over whether President Trump is a racist based on a crude term he allegedly used to describe poor countries in a closed meeting last week.  Furthermore, a federal budget may not get passed because of congressional in-fighting over immigration issues. And so it goes!

A PENTINENT PLEA

Daniel was very much aware of the sins of his people. However, instead of stirring them to argue about who among them was worse, he prayed on their behalf. He confessed their corporate sinfulness and the shame they had brought on themselves and on God’s name. His heartfelt plea was that God would forgive his people for his own sake, if not for theirs.

  1. Do you think the sins of America bring shame on God’s name as the sins of Israel did? Why or why not?
  2. What might happen if Christians prayed as Daniel did? To what extent should Christians personally repent for society’s sins? How would you phrase such a prayer?
  3. In Daniel’s prayer, how did thankfulness tie in with shame and repentance?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World for January 14, 2018

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FIRE AND FURY

Discussion of Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, dominated the news this week. The book is aptly named. It generated a fury from within the Trump White House, including a legal move to prevent the book’s release. It fanned the flames of criticism from Trump opponents. Some of those foes even argued that the book provided evidence that President Trump should be removed from office due to inability to perform his duties. Furthermore, the truth of Wolff’s work itself was called into question. The “talking heads” on the news media and the chatterers on the social media argued all week about the authenticity of the book’s claims.

FIRE, BUT NO FURY

King Nebuchadnezzar was furious over the defiance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He wanted to do more than remove them from their government jobs. He ordered them to be thrown into a fire so hot that it consumed the soldiers who placed them there! But when the fire did not destroy his enemies, the fury of Nebuchadnezzar abated. For a time at least, the king’s hostility toward these three Hebrews and all that they stood for cooled.

  1. Do you think any of the very personal attacks against the president are directed against the policies he is seeking to implement? Explain.
  2. Can you recall times when disagreements about values and policies have degenerated into ugly name-calling? What do you believe are some appropriate responses when that happens?
  3. The White House responded to Wolff’s book with further name-calling and threats of legal action. Compare that response to the way Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego responded to Nebuchadnezzar.
  4. Part of the appeal of President Trump for many is his willingness to fight fire with fire. Imagine yourself being a political strategist. Craft some advice for responding to politically motivated attacks by referring to this famous Bible account.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—January 7, 2018

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FEASTING . . .

For most of us, the period from Thanksgiving Day through the end of the year is a time of feasting and celebration. Indulgence is the name of the game. Then, when the football games and parades of New Year’s Day are over, we face the time of reckoning. We realize we need to deal with those extra pounds and inches we have gained while we feasted. The second week in January sees more health club memberships purchased than any other week in the year, but within one month, 80% of the New Year’s resolution crowd has dropped out.

. . . AND FASTING

Daniel had been invited to perpetually feast at the king’s table, but he realized that a life of indulgence was not good for his health. However, it was more than a matter of not eating food which might harm him. The text says Daniel did not want to “defile” himself—a term that implies he saw a spiritual element to the king’s demand that he was not willing to accept.

  1. What is your experience with New Year’s resolutions to improve your lifestyle? Have you succeeded? For how long?
  2. Why do you think most people fail in their resolve to improve their eating and exercise habits, whether in January or at any other time?
  3. Is proper diet and exercise a matter of honoring God? What biblical passages contribute to your opinion?
  4. Does lack of good health habits indicate a spiritual problem? Why or why not?
  5. Have you ever experienced a demand such as Daniel did which placed your life-situation in jeopardy? Explain.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—December 31, 2017

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DIVIDED

As a new year begins, the news media offers a retrospective of the old year’s events and trends. This year, Time magazine’s Person of the Year was “The Silence Breakers,” the women who forced us to look at the divide between men and women in culturally tolerated behavior. Donald Trump’s inauguration, the subsequent political battles over a Supreme Court nomination, and tax and health care reform all pointed out America’s political divide. Mass murders by terrorists in London, Las Vegas, and in a Texas church reminded us of another divide—the one between violent attempts to change society and more civilized means.

UNITED

The Christian answer to bridging these divides is stated in today’s text. The call for us to practice unity is not based on human schemes, political or otherwise. We are to practice unity because it is the nature of the God who created us in his image. Enabled by the Holy Spirit, we gain Christian maturity to the point at which unity becomes a reality in our relationship with God and others. No wonder the world is divided! It rejects how unity can be found.

  1. What good is end-of-year retrospection when, each year, the bad news seems to be most prominent?
  2. From your perspective, what was the most important news in 2017? Why? How does that news show our world’s need for Jesus?
  3. What are some specific things Christians can do to work for unity in church and society?
  4. What can we learn from today’s lesson about human divisiveness and the Spirit’s role in creating unity?
  5. Describe one positive step you plan to take in 2018 to bring unity to your small part of the world.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—December 24, 2017

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A DISTURBED AMERICAN CAPITOL

The path of destruction continues to widen in the whirlwind of charges regarding sexual intimidation in Washington, D.C. Most of us are wondering who will be the next powerful and previously respected person in politics, entertainment, or news media to fall. In the last two weeks, new rumors of President Trump’s past actions have circulated, fueling renewed calls for him to resign. The situation disturbs many Americans, regardless of their political leanings.

A DISTURBED JUDEAN CAPITOL

The citizens of Jerusalem also had reason to be disturbed. King Herod was tyrannical and malicious. When his power was threatened, fear seized the hearts of those whom he governed. The news that a new king had been born was brought by the Magi. This was obviously perceived as a threat to Herod, but he clearly misunderstood what kind of king Jesus would be.

  1. What, specifically, should we find most disturbing about the growing number of harassment charges against cultural leaders? If an accusation such as those we are hearing these days were brought against someone you know and love, what would be your response?
  2. What specifically, do you think troubled Herod about the news of Jesus’ birth? What would you have said to him?
  3. In what ways does the public perceive Jesus to be a threat to them? Is it a philosophical issue or a lifestyle issue? Explain.
  4. How can we help non-Christians see that Christ’s coming into their lives brings freedom rather than limitations?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—December 17, 2017

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A RECURRING HARDSHIP

Wildfires raged across southern California last week from Santa Barbara County to San Diego County. More than 200,000 people have been forced to evacuate as some 300 square miles have been scorched. Most of the fires have been brought under control, but the one in Ventura County was still growing early in the week. One family lost a home in that fire after already having lost a home to a wildfire in October in northern California. Californians are now being forced to recognize that “fire season” is a year-round hardship.

OVERCOMING HARDSHIPS

As persecution followed Paul and Barnabas from town to town on their missionary tour, they concluded that multiple hardships were the natural consequences of proclaiming Jesus. To confirm the faith of those who had come to Christ through their preaching, the apostles courageously returned to the scenes of their persecution to encourage the new converts.

  1. Certain natural disasters are more common in some areas than they are in others. What reasonable precautions should one take when living in an area prone to such recurring hardships?
  2. What hardships do people in different parts of the world face as natural consequences of proclaiming Jesus? What hardships do people in this country face for attempting to live out their faith?
  3. Note Paul and Barnabas’s approach to dealing with hardships they faced when proclaiming Christ. What can we learn from them when we face similar difficulties?

 —Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—December 10, 2017

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CAUGHT IN SIN

Deceitful use of power has been very much in the news recently. Previously respected and powerful men in the media and government have admitted to using their power for sexual gratification. President Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, acknowledged a different form of deceitfulness. Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI about the investigation into Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 elections. The chief investigative reporter of a major news network quickly abused his power to falsely report that Flynn was prepared to testify that, as a candidate, Donald Trump directed him to contact the Russians. It is no wonder that confusion as to where the truth is to be found is rampant.

PAYING FOR SIN

Elymas, a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet, deceived others with false information about the apostles. He tried to turn people away from Jesus when they were seeking the truth. He paid dearly for his sins, being struck blind for a time. Modern deceivers may not pay in the same way as he did, but it appears that the sins of many are catching up with them.

  1. What are the effects on society when powerful—and apparently respectable—people are charged with, and then admit to, bad behavior?
  2. What causes people of importance to believe they can get away with abusing their influence? What should be their punishment?
  3. Does the punishment for the sin of Elymas, a powerful government advisor of his day, indicate that his sin was worse than our sins? Explain. How do you protect yourself from sins of deceitfulness?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World—December 3, 2017

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FAITH IN THE WRONG PERSON

The notorious Charles Manson died in prison on November 19. Claiming to be Jesus and Satan in one person, he collected a group of impressionable followers that became known as the “Manson Family.” He preached about “Helter Skelter” (a term he took from the Beatles’ song of the same name) to describe an impending apocalyptic race war that his followers would incite. This pitiable group of people placed their faith in Manson as their “messiah.” They succumbed to his demented ideas and followed his instructions to commit the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders in southern California during the summer of 1969.

LACK OF FAITH IN THE RIGHT PERSON

Peter’s strong words to his audience delivered a guilty verdict for their complicity in the death of Christ. They were guilty because they followed false teachers and failed to recognize in Jesus the one whom God had sent to be their leader. This pattern has continued throughout history. People have turned to evil leaders and away from the true author of life.

  1. What is lacking in people’s lives that causes them to become disciples of people such as Charles Manson? How might faith in Jesus have prevented people from being pulled into Manson’s circle of influence?
  2. What causes Christian leaders to become cultish in their leadership style? What examples can you think of? How does following misguided leaders and giving them control over our thoughts and actions dishonor Christ?
  3. Peter mentions the ignorance of the Jewish people and their leaders. Is ignorance ever an excuse for doing evil or failing to do what is right? Explain.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—November 26, 2017

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A COVENANT OF THANKSGIVING

Ever since President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day during the Civil War, Americans have observed it—just as we did this past Thursday. For those of us who are Christians, our feasting each year is the continuation of a covenantal act first engaged in nearly 400 years ago by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe at Plymouth. At that feast, the two groups united in a covenant of friendship that lasted for more than a half-century.

THANKSGIVING FOR A COVENANT

When Jesus met with his disciples to observe the Passover, he was preparing them to remember a covenant which he would institute just a few hours later in his sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus’ death initiated a covenant of friendship unique in all human history—friendship between God and humanity. In giving thanks for the elements of the Passover meal, Jesus taught us to give thanks as we share in the simple feast that has united Christians for 2,000 years.

  1. Does the historical context in which Lincoln made his proclamation (a country torn apart by civil war) seem strange to you? Explain. How can giving thanks unite people in a divisive climate even today?
  2. How is Thanksgiving Day (as Americans celebrate it now) similar to the way the Pilgrims observed it? What are some differences?
  3. List some things for which you offered thanks to God this past Thursday.
  4. Which of the blessings for which you gave thanks were unique to Americans? . . . to Christians?
  5. How does the Lord’s Supper help you give thanks for God’s covenant with us through Christ’s death?

Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—November 19, 2017

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ARE THINGS GETTING WORSE?

Is America becoming increasingly immoral? We frequently hear about sexual sins by previously respected people. Roy Moore, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and now candidate for the U.S. Senate, is but one example.

Moore has been respected by many Christians for his rulings in support of the Ten Commandments and his public stands against homosexuality. Recently, however, Moore has been the subject of rumors of sexual impropriety with teenage girls. We wonder who will be the next cultural idol to be charged with immorality and abuse of power.

THINGS HAVE GOTTEN BETTER!

On the other hand, some things have greatly improved. Since God initiated his New Covenant through Jesus Christ, humanity is living in a much better kingdom than before. The Old Testament law, which no one could keep and which created a fearsome picture of God, has been set aside by the death and resurrection of Christ. We now live in hope of salvation despite our sins.

  1. How should Christians respond when someone is charged with sin, sexual or otherwise? Does it matter if the one being charged holds political positions like our own? Does it matter that some on the other end of the political spectrum have committed similar offenses without consequence? Does it matter if the behavior being revealed happened decades ago and seems to be released now to gain political advantage? Explain.
  2. How should the New Covenant through Christ affect our conduct, our attitudes, and our way of looking at the sins of others? Does the New Testament image of God as a loving Father invalidate the image of God as the Judge of humankind? Explain.
  3. In what specific ways can we Christians, through the power of God, make things better in this world?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—November 12, 2017

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PLACING THE BLAME ON OTHERS

We keep being reminded of the pervasiveness of evil. On October 31, a terrorist who claimed inspiration from ISIS killed eight bicyclists in New York City by driving a truck down a cycle path. Then, last Sunday, a man who had recently sent threatening texts to his mother-in-law went into the church in Texas where she attends and killed 26 people. He is said to have had a history of violence, having been dishonorably discharged from the Air Force five years ago for assaulting his wife and child.

PLACING BLAME WHERE IT SHOULD BE

The social covenant on which our society relies is being torn to shreds. We have no idea when an aggrieved soul will (in Jeremiah’s words) “destroy and bring disaster.” With God’s permission, evil nations had overthrown Israel and Judah, but Jeremiah announced that God would henceforth be using his power to build and plant. Perhaps just as important at a personal level, no one could any longer blame external forces—whether ISIS or a mother-in-law, for example—for his sinfulness.

  1. How can these violent events give us a “wake-up call,” an opportunity to consider the nature of evil and destructiveness of sin? Explain.
  2. Explain the “teeth on edge” proverb of Jeremiah’s day. What are some similar ways we explain suffering without confessing our own guilt today?
  3. Consider the terms of the Old Covenant. Where was the law written and whose responsibility was it to know and keep it?
  4. How does having God’s law written in your heart affect the way you live as a follower of Jesus? Give specific examples.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—November 5, 2017

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RUMORS OF MISDEEDS

Allegations have been circulating for months about Republican attempts to involve the Russians in last year’s election. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is investigating the charges. A week ago, the tables turned, with the New York Post reporting that Mueller is expanding his probe to include Tony Podesta, the brother of the Clinton campaign chairman. He and his firm are now the subjects of a criminal investigation. The Post is further alleging the Russians were given approval from the previous administration to buy American uranium. Then things turned again on Monday when the Mueller probe began handing down indictments on the Russian election-tampering issue.

PROVEN SINS

Much of the above has yet to be proved, but each party is trying to convince us that the other is guilty of significant political misdeeds. In Israel, the case of Hophni and Phinehas was different: there was no question about the nature of the evil they had been involved in. What made it even worse was that they were religious leaders. Their blatant misuse of the privileges of the priesthood caused God to bring them to an early death.

Yet not all priests were guilty. Earlier, Phinehas son of Eleazar was praised for his zeal and faithfulness. And although Hophni and Phineas (sons of Samuel) would be judged, God promised that he would raise up a faithful priesthood in their place.

  1. Does it seem to you that American politics has reached a new low? Explain. If not, what evidence can you offer that there are faithful leaders seeking to do right?
  2. What can we learn from the unfaithfulness of Israel’s religious leaders? What is the relationship between faithfulness and the receiving of blessings in a covenant with God?
  3. Describe what faithfulness to God and zeal for his commands look like in our lives today.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—October 29, 2017

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ENSLAVED IN THEIR OWN BODIES

Yesterday, October 28, was National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Its purpose was to provide a convenient way to get rid of prescription drugs, as well as to educate people regarding the dangers of overusing medications. The previous “take back” day (in April this year) netted 450 tons of drugs. An estimated 6.5 million Americans abuse controlled prescription drugs, most getting them from friends or family members. In America, 20,000 people die each year from abusing prescription painkillers. Four of five new heroin users shift from prescription drugs to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get!

ENSLAVED IN THEIR OWN LAND

Nehemiah led a nation which was enslaved in the land God had given to them. The cause of this situation was that their leaders and ancestors had forsaken God and become addicted to their sins. Nehemiah called the Jews to repentance. Under his guidance, the people and their leaders—including those who were entrusted with spiritual oversight of the nation—entered into a covenant to return to godly ways.

  1. To what extent, in your opinion, is the epidemic of substance abuse in America a spiritual problem? Explain.
  2. Can someone be a sincere Christian and yet have a drug abuse problem? Why or why not? How do our addictions to various behaviors and attitudes affect (or reflect) our relationship with God?
  3. What responsibility do leaders have for encouraging or facilitating the enslaving sins of their people? Does Nehemiah’s blaming his nation’s slavery on the decisions of its kings and religious leaders have an application to America today? Explain.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—October 22, 2017

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LEAVING A LEGACY

Barack Obama considered the Affordable Care Act (AKA “Obamacare”) the most significant domestic legacy of his presidency. President Trump has indicated numerous times that he wants “Make America Great Again” to be the theme of his legacy. Replacing the ACA seems to be a foundation stone of that quest. Obama and Trump are not the first leaders of nations to focus on which of their accomplishments they will be remembered for. The ego that drives such people to seek high office seems to guarantee it.

 A DIVINELY PROMISED LEGACY

David wanted to be remembered as the king who built a “house for God to dwell in.” It seemed like a noble desire, since David couched it in terms of the irony of himself having a house, although God did not. However, God told David he was misguided in his quest. The legacy God would give him would be greater than any building project, no matter how grandiose it might be. David’s divinely promised legacy would be an eternal spiritual kingdom.

  1. How might leaders’ focus on their legacies be detrimental to their performance in office?
  2. Is it overly harsh to say that human leaders are too focused on the legacies they leave? Why or why not?
  3. Should any of us be concerned about our legacy? If so, what kind of legacy should it be?
  4. How much time must pass before one’s legacy may be properly evaluated? Give an example to substantiate your view.
  5. To what extent does this discussion apply to church leaders? Explain.

    —Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—October 15, 2017

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CULTURALLY TOLERATED BEHAVIOR

Harvey Weinstein is a film producer who is also famed for his contributions to liberal causes such as the women’s movement. Last Sunday, he was fired from his own company after revelations that he has a decades-long history of sexually harassing actresses and female employees and making payoffs in exchange for silence. His first response to the allegations

was to apologize for his sinful behavior (although that was not how he described it.) Then, this week, he has threatened to sue for defamation.

DIVINELY PRESCRIBED BEHAVIOR

The actions that Weinstein has admitted have traditionally been a part of corporate culture, especially in the film industry. When God spoke to Israel from Sinai, he was announcing that the people’s cultural background was no longer an excuse for sinful behavior. Their idolatry would not be tolerated, but if they obeyed God, they would be blessed.

  1. For a long time, the type of behavior Weinstein is accused of has been tolerated by our society. Does this lessen his responsibility for his actions? Explain.
  2. Is fear of God or others ever a valid stimulus for good behavior? Why or why not?
  3. Have you seen sinful attitudes or behavior tolerated or excused in the church? What was the result? How should it have been dealt with?
  4. How do you personally resist some of our culture’s idolatrous beliefs and activities?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World—October 8, 2017

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DEATH FROM ABOVE

From a window high in the Mandalay Bay hotel last Sunday evening came burst after burst of death and destruction. A lone gunman, in a well-planned attack, fired on a country music festival, killing nearly sixty concert-goers and wounding over five hundred more. The violence reignited the perennial American debate over terrorism, guns, mental illness, and whether there is any way we can prevent such evil acts.

LIFE FROM ABOVE

As Moses prepared to ascend Mt. Sinai, thunder, lightning, fire, smoke, and loud trumpet blasts accompanied God’s presence on the mountain. God told Moses to warn the priests and people not to ascend the mountain, or else death would come from on high. However, God’s purpose was to bring life, not death. On the mountain, God would give Moses the commandments which, if Israel followed them, would bring both spiritual and physical life to the nation.

  1. Does Las Vegas’s reputation as “Sin City” have anything to do with the shooter choosing it as a venue for his actions? Explain.
  2. To what extent do you think the violence in our culture is the result of our nation turning away from God’s commands? Explain.
  3. Why was God so concerned that not even the priests of Israel should approach the mountain?
  4. How can we translate God’s demand for reverence into our lives? . . . into the public life of our nation?
  5. Is there anything in modern church life that doesn’t show proper reverence for God? How would you correct the problem?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the Word — October 1, 2017

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WORLDLY CONDEMNATIONS

Last Sunday, taking a knee during the national anthem to protest perceived racial injustice grew into a massive movement. President Trump entered the debate via social media, condemning players who refused to stand for the anthem. Two teams, the Titans and Seahawks refused to go on the field until after the anthem was sung. When a third team, the Steelers, boycotted the anthem, one player broke with his teammates. Alejandro Villanueva, an Afghanistan war vet, took to the field alone. Other NFL players and some team owners condemned the president’s words. Soon the controversy spilled over into other sports.

DIVINE COMMENDATION

God’s repeating His covenant promises to Abram of innumerable descendants and a land in which they would dwell stressed His faithfulness. The divine covenant demonstrated a significant difference between God’s promises and human contracts. Not all human contracts, such as a government’s promise of justice for all citizens, are kept perfectly. The covenant to Abram, in contrast, would be kept by God for centuries—throughout all Old Testament history and beyond.

  1. Is boycotting the national anthem an effective way to protest perceived injustice? Why or why not? What alternative(s) do you believe would be more effective?
  2. The protests suggest that the U.S. government has failed to live up to its promises to provide universal justice. What evidence is cited that this social covenant has been broken?
  3. Abram was concerned that God had not yet kept his promise to give Abram descendants. Have you ever experienced what seemed like excessive delays in God’s response to your requests? Explain.
  4. How does God’s faithfulness in keeping His covenant with Abram give you a special reason for hope? Explain.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the Word — September 24, 2017

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A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE

At last week’s Emmys, The Handmaid’s Tale was a big winner. Set in the near future, Christian fundamentalists assassinate the President and most of Congress, suspend the U.S. Constitution, establish a totalitarian theocracy, and systematically enslave women to be breeders to provide children for an oppressive male ruling class.

The series is based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood written in the 1980s. It is meant to be a cautionary tale warning against the growing involvement by Christians in American politics, especially those who want to limit abortion on demand.

A FUTURE BLESSED BY GOD

The Handmaid’s Tale pictures the influence of a Bible-based morality as a threat to freedom. Old Testament history tells another story. Judah’s government had lost its godly direction, had become corrupt and immoral, and had lost its freedom.

Ezekiel paints a different portrait of Judah’s future than what Handmaid portrays for America. The people of Judah will return with pure hearts to their land. It will be a land of plenty which God will bless if Judah responds to the moving of God’s Spirit in their hearts.

  1. Have you watched The Handmaid’s Tale? If so, do you believe it depicts a plausible future? Explain.
  2. The TV series has recently been cited in political discourse to explain a so-called war on women and the recent defeat of a female presidential candidate. How do we respond to this critique of Christianity and the pro-life movement?
  3. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the fictitious Sons of Jacob staged a revolution to create a theocracy that was based on many of the laws of the Old Testament. How does that compare with those who call for a greater influence of Bible morality in America today?
  4. Do God’s promises to a repentant Judah also apply to America if our nation repents? Explain. What differences do you see between a theocracy and a nation of people with “new hearts?”

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the Word — September 17, 2017

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NO RESPITE FROM BAD NEWS

For weeks, we’ve heard news of 100 or so wildfires burning throughout the West, taking lives and property with them. Then an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico, accompanied by eerie lights in the sky and killing scores of people. Hurricane Harvey created disaster in Houston and spawned tornados as it moved inland. After Harvey came Irma, which decimated numerous Caribbean islands before coming ashore in Florida last weekend. The parade of natural disasters is starting to seem never-ending! The prospect of unabated bad news tests the human spirit.

SO WHERE’S THE GOOD NEWS?

It seems as if there’s no respite from bad news, but the millennia-old Sabbath command still stands as good news, helping us weather the storms of life. On a week-by-week basis, a day of rest brings refreshment and restoration to both body and spirit, allowing us time to reflect on God’s care for us. Our Maker knows about the storms we face. He also knows that our fallen human nature will fear that crises will come unabated. A weekly day of rest strengthens our bodies and renews our faith.

  1. From your perspective, how does an overwhelming spate of bad news affect the human spirit? How do fears of “more to come” compound the problem?
  2. In what way does Sabbath-keeping help us whether storms, both real and imagined?
  3. How do you practice the Sabbath principle? Have you had a bad experience from failing to keep a Sabbath? Explain.
  4. Some people use Bible passages such as Mark 13:7, 8 and Luke 21:25, 26 to support a view that the recent events mentioned above are signs of the end times. How can you tell whether such interpretations are legitimate and which are just another example of “the sky is falling” fear of the future?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 10, 2017

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WHAT IDENTIFIES AN AMERICAN?

On Tuesday, President Trump announced an executive order rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order that was put in place by President Obama. In doing so, President Trump gave Congress six months to move forward in dealing with children who were brought into the country illegally by their parents. DACA delays deportation actions against such youth. Trump’s action is seen by some as a simple legal matter, reversing an executive order issued by his predecessor. Others view it as a question of what should identify someone as “American.”

WHAT IDENTIFIES A CHILD OF GOD?

God commanded that Abraham and his male progeny be circumcised as a sign that they were in a covenant relationship with God. Circumcision was a physical symbol identifying who was to be considered a member of the Jewish people. However, as is true with many such matters, there is more to one’s identity than a legal code; there is a spiritual component, as well.

  1. What makes a person an American? By your definition, should children of undocumented immigrants be considered to be Americans? Explain.
  2. Do you see any parallel between legal documents for one’s entry to America and circumcision for Abraham and his descendants? Why or why not?
  3. How does the New Testament deal with the matter of circumcision as a sign of one’s relationship with God? See Romans 2:28, 29; Galatians 5:1-6.
  4. What should be the sign of a covenant relationship with God for Christians today? How should we treat “undocumented believers,” those professing believers who do not bear those signs?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 3, 2017

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A FLOOD . . .

Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast last weekend as a Category 4 storm, bringing torrential rains that were forecast to total 50 inches in some places. One local official predicted the storm would go down in history as “an 800-year flood” as it moved through Texas and into Louisiana. Federal officials estimated that 30,000 people would need temporary shelter before the storm subsided. The military released water from two reservoirs to prevent even more massive destruction in central Houston, though increasing the risk of flooding in other areas.

 

. . . FOLLOWED BY A PROMISE

The flood in Noah’s time was immeasurably greater than the flood in Texas this past week. It is hard to imagine how Noah and his family coped with their circumstances while the waters rose and then subsided. However, their faithfulness was rewarded with an amazing promise from God: “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Then God gave the rainbow as a sign of the promise.

 

  1. Do storms such as Harvey come as retribution for human sin? Explain your answer.
  2. Do floods like this one in Texas represent a failure of God to keep his promise? Why or why not?
  3. Why does God still send rainbows even though massive destruction by floods still occur?
  4. Does it ever seem to you that God isn’t keeping his promises to you? Which ones? How do you resolve the matter?
  5. How do God’s promises help you to cope when life sends you “floods”?
  6. How do you show your gratitude to God when he saves you from calamity?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – August 27, 2017

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A VISION IN THE HEAVENS

On Monday, the “great American eclipse” got the attention of a nation that has been focused for months on political rivalries and racism—prejudices that die hard. However, last weekend, millions of Americans were united in a singular quest: to find a way to view the August 21 eclipse in which the moon’s shadow traced a path from Oregon to South Carolina. For a time, and for at least some of us, the struggles and riots fomented by various prejudices took second place to a vision in the heavens.

 

A VISION FROM HEAVEN

The gloom of moral darkness also cast its shadow across the Roman world. The great eclipse of ethnic and religious prejudice could have prevented the church from extending beyond the Jews. Peter required a vision from heaven to convince him that, in God’s eyes, the barrier between Jews and Gentiles had been removed. God considers none of us “unclean,” and thus we are all equally included in God’s call to become a part of his fellowship through the church.

 

  1. What lesson, if any, do you see in the fact that a solar eclipse “eclipsed” the other earthly concerns of Americans for at least a short time?
  2. Why did it take an eclipse to join us together when the well-being of our nation was not sufficient cause to make us more inclusive in our attitudes?
  3. Likewise, why did it take a dramatic vision for Peter to be more inclusive in his attitudes?
  4. In what matters should the church be inclusive? Are there matters in which the church should be exclusive? If so, explain.
  5. Would some people assume they wouldn’t be welcome in your church? If so, what could be done to change that?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 20, 2017

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A CLASH OF VISIONS

Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted in violence last week in a clash of visions. The riots came in response to the city’s plans to remove the statue of a Confederate general from a city park. Individuals variously referred to in the media as white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and members of the alt-right gathered to protest the city’s intentions in what was called a “Unite the Right” rally. A large group of counterprotesters also gathered, and soon racial taunts and name-calling turned into a riot. Tragically, a young man drove his car into the crowd of counterdemonstrators, killing one and injuring 19 others.

 

A SINGULAR VISION

The purpose of the vision God gave Ananias was to heal, not to hurt. He was called to heal the blindness of Saul, a man who was committed to destroying the church. Initially Ananias balked, sensing a great risk to himself, but he obeyed the divine call. In so doing, he played a key part in the apostle Paul’s conversion and subsequent preaching that helped to heal the division between Jews and Gentiles.

  1. What purposes do our society’s memorials serve?
  2. Does our worldview as Christians call for viewing those purposes differently? If so, in what way?
  3. Paul was converted from being a violent persecutor to being a peacemaking preacher. How can that transformation inform and inspire us in light of cultural tensions today?
  4. Have you ever experienced God calling you to follow a life-changing vision as Paul did? Explain.
  5. What vision is God giving you now in regard to being an agent of change in our mixed-up, polarized society?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 13, 2017

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REFUSING TO HEAR

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has been claiming for months that his nation can now deliver nuclear bombs to the US mainland. His increasingly sophisticated missiles indicate his claims may well be correct. Kim has been unresponsive to warnings from the United States and other countries. Last week the UN Security Council unanimously voted to impose sanctions that will likely reduce North Korea’s export revenue by $1 billion a year. In response, Kim threatened that “the US mainland will sink into an unimaginable sea of fire” for “brandishing its nuclear and sanctions clubs.”

 

WANTING TO HEAR

None of us like to be told that we need to change our ways. The result of such an encounter depends heavily on how open we are to change. Unlike North Korea’s leader, the Ethiopian official was ready to heed a message that would change his life. When Philip crossed his path, the Ethiopian actively sought to hear Philip’s advice; and then he incorporated the good news he heard into his behavior.

 

  1. Do threats and sanctions work against leaders like Kim Jong-un? What other options would you suggest?
  2. Are Kim’s reactions typical of a person whose behavior has been challenged? Explain.
  3. When you are challenged about your ideas or behavior, do you wish your typical response would be different? If so, in what way?
  4. In your daily life, how do you find yourself challenging/encouraging others toward positive change?
  5. How do you compare with Philip in your willingness and ability to share the gospel, especially with someone who is different than you?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – August 6, 2017

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CAN THE TESTIMONY BE TRUSTED?

O. J. Simpson was recently granted parole. He was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping nine years ago. Prior to that he gained notoriety for his alleged role in the 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman—and his acquittal in the subsequent high-profile trial. Simpson was found culpable in a later civil suit, resulting in a $33.5 million judgment against him. In all of these trials, the testimony was mixed and seemingly contradictory.

 

YES, THE TESTIMONY CAN BE TRUSTED

The first church in Jerusalem had a different kind of testimony problem, yet the question was the same: Can the church be believed in its claim to be a new kind of society—caring for all, with Christ’s love evident to every observer? One way to answer the question is to look at how an individual, organization, or society treats those who are least able to care for themselves. Mixed and contradictory testimony is not acceptable.

 

  1. What factors made O. J. Simpson’s trials so polarizing to the public?
  2. To what extent do you think contradictory testimony affected people’s opinion of the verdicts?
  3. How big of a problem does the church have in regard to its testimony to the world? What are the causes of this problem?
  4. Who are “the least” in our society whom the church should care for?
  5. What is the testimony of your church in this regard? What would you do to improve it?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 30, 2017

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DEATH IN A FOREIGN LAND

Last weekend 10 immigrants died after being locked in a truck that was found in a San Antonio parking lot. The victims were being transported by human traffickers. Many other victims were hospitalized for extreme dehydration and heatstroke. Such events provoke strong debate, with members of the Sanctuary Movement saying the incident is evidence of a need for change in immigration policies, while others say the event calls for stricter law enforcement. Either way, more than a score of people suffered or died in a land not their own.

 

A PREDICTION OF CAPTIVITY AND DEATH

Although Amos denied that he was a prophet, he responded to God’s call and delivered a message of doom for Israel. He proclaimed that both Israel’s king and its people would be taken captive and die in a foreign land. Unlike illegal immigrants who seek a better life in the United States, the Israelites would be transported to a strange land as exiles who were paying with their lives for their idolatry and sinfulness.

 

  1. Where should the blame be placed for the deaths in San Antonio?
  2. What other types of human trafficking are you aware of? How would you solve this problem as it appears in its many guises?
  3. What guidelines does the gospel offer to Christians for determining their attitudes and actions regarding this situation?
  4. What do you think Amos would say to America today?
  5. How might God be calling you to speak to our culture’s evils?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 23, 2017

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EATING THEIR WORDS

“Eating your words” is an expression used when people have boasted about what they will do but later discover that they are unable to accomplish it. When that happens, those words can have a bitter taste. We see a current example of the phenomenon in Washington. Unfulfilled campaign promises can plague members of either party, but right now it’s the Republicans’ turn. They are finding it difficult to deliver on their preelection boast that they would immediately repeal and replace Obamacare, and they are facing the ire of some of their most ardent supporters.

 

EATING GOD’S WORDS

God’s command to Ezekiel to eat a scroll symbolized the idea of making the word of God an integral part of our being. For the prophet, the scroll tasted as sweet as honey, because he was faithful to the Lord. However, if the people of Israel failed to listen to the words of God, those words would be bitter to them.

 

  1. What is there in our psychological makeup that makes us willing to believe the promises of politicians seeking our votes?
  2. In what areas of life, other than politics, do we see this same phenomenon? Give examples.
  3. In what ways have you found God’s words to be like honey to you?
  4. How can we ensure that others will find our words “as sweet as honey”?
  5. Specifically, what can you do to prevent “eating your words”?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 16, 2017

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WHAT WILL HE SAY?

Thousands of anti-capitalist anarchists descended on Hamburg, Germany when leaders of the G-20 industrialized nations met. They did not come to hear what anyone had to say; they came to create havoc. However, most people wanted to know what Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin would say to each other. Another question was whether President Trump would soften his voice on the US withdrawal from the Paris climate-change agreement.

 

THIS IS WHAT HE WILL SAY

God’s call to Jeremiah left little doubt as to what his message would be. It might seem like an anarchist message to some. God would overthrow established orders and ruling powers—but not for the sake of causing chaos. Jeremiah would speak God’s words in order to restore a reign of godliness. The prophet would be tempted to fear his audience, understandably so in light of the content of the messages God gave him.

 

  1. Why were the media so enthralled with the Trump-Putin face-off and the climate-change issue? Of what concern should those matters be to Christians?
  2. Do you see any value in the protesters’ presence during the G-20 meetings? Why or why not?
  3. Was God’s call to Jeremiah really a call to incite anarchy? Explain.
  4. How much effort should we expend to understand those with whom we disagree?
  5. Do you fear speaking out for God in our post-Christian culture? What would give you more confidence to do so?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – July 9, 2017

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CALLING EACH OTHER NAMES

“Liar, liar, pants on fire!” We’re all familiar with this childhood taunt. Unfortunately, that seems to be what political discourse in America has become. It is the nature of partisan debate on many issues. President Trump and his critics have taken up this kind of interchange. Last week the president tweeted harshly about the cohosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show. When the tweets raised a firestorm of protest, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president, essentially saying that when he gets criticized, he replies in kind.

 

CALLED BY GOD

When Isaiah was called by God, the seraphim didn’t shout “Sinner!” And Isaiah didn’t defend himself, as we all tend to do when criticized. Instead, as Isaiah stood in the presence of God, he recognized God’s holiness and admitted his own sinfulness. So it was that when God called him on a mission, Isaiah responded, “At your service!”

 

  1. What remedies would you recommend for the baseness of public discourse in America?
  2. Although we like to blame our leaders for our problems, how do we common citizens contribute to the harshness of public debate?
  3. How should awareness of God’s holiness affect the way we respond to criticism when it is unfair? . . . when it accurately points out our sin?
  4. How do Matthew 5:39 and Colossians 4:6 apply to this situation?
  5. How should God’s call to us as Christians determine the nature of our conversation with others?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 2, 2017

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FIRES THAT CONSUME

A week ago the West was on fire . . . figuratively. A week-long extreme heat wave brought 125 degrees to Death Valley, 122 degrees to Palm Springs, 111 degrees to Burbank, and even 96 degrees to Seattle! Las Vegas and Phoenix also suffered from the intense heat. As this past week began, the heat wave had moved eastward, but literal fire began to consume the West. Seven Western states were being ravaged by more than 20 wildfires that were destroying large areas and forcing thousands of people to flee from their homes.

 

A FIRE THAT DID NOT CONSUME

We don’t know if Moses had ever seen a wildfire, but the fire he saw on “the mountain of God” was stranger than anything he had ever seen. A bush was on fire but was not being consumed. As we would expect, Moses’ curiosity was aroused. Drawing near to the bush, Moses discovered that God was calling him to the greatest challenge of his life. When Moses tried to refuse the call, God promised to give him extraordinary power to accomplish what he was being called to do.

 

  1. Is God speaking to us through extreme weather conditions? If so, what is the message?
  2. Does God still use unusual physical circumstances to call people to serve him? Why or why not?
  3. Did Moses react to the burning bush and to God’s call the way most people would? Explain.
  4. Was Moses’ hesitancy due to insecurity or a lack of faith?
  5. Have you ever been in an unusual situation through which you perceived God to be speaking to you? Explain.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 25, 2017

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NOT AS HE SEEMED

The sexual assault trial of Bill Cosby ended a week ago with a hung jury. From 1984 to 1992, Cosby played the role of lovable Cliff Huxtable, named by TV Guide as the “greatest television dad.” In contrast, the comedian was portrayed by the prosecution in the trial as a sexual predator. Although Cosby has admitted to being an unfaithful husband in real life, he denied the charges against him during the classic “he said, she said” trial.

 

EXACTLY AS THEY SAID

When the angel told Manoah’s wife that their child was to be a Nazirite, they agreed to raise him according to that command. Their words were followed up by parental actions congruent with their promise. What they said was what they did. Unfortunately, Bill Cosby’s show-business portrayal of a good father did not mesh with the flawed person he was in real life.

 

  1. We may have opinions about the Cosby trial verdict, but is it appropriate to make judgments about his guilt or innocence (as many are doing) when we did not hear the evidence personally? Why or why not?
  2. How could Cosby play the role of Cliff Huxtable in good conscience when his personal life as husband and father did not measure up?
  3. If Cosby was otherwise a good father in real life, do his admitted serial infidelities diminish his stature as a father?
  4. Is Cosby different than the rest of us when it comes to having proverbial skeletons in the closet? Explain.
  5. What place, if any, do “vows” like Samson’s mother made have in parenting today?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 18, 2017

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LOYALTY, LEAKS, AND . . .

Former FBI director James Comey, who was fired by President Trump, testified in a highly anticipated congressional hearing last week. He claimed the president demanded loyalty from him in January, during their first meeting. Comey said he promised “honesty” instead. Comey also alleged Trump requested, during a private meeting in the Oval Office in February, that he drop investigations into former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s interactions with the Russians. Characterizing Trump as a liar, Comey admitted that his mistrust led him to ask a friend to leak information about their conversations.

 

. . . LEADERSHIP

Jephthah mistrusted the leaders of Gilead. His half-brothers had driven him from his home in Gilead because Jephthah’s mother, a prostitute, was not their mother; and Jephthah considered the elders complicit in this indignity (see Judges 11:7). Now these leaders were pleading with him to lead the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites. Jephthah challenged their fickleness and agreed to become their head only if they would vow their loyalty to him before the Lord.

 

  1. How do we determine truth and falsehood in what is happening in Washington these days?
  2. How would you rank political loyalty versus honesty? Why?
  3. Give examples of how these values might compete. Give an example of a life situation in which loyalty and honesty should be complementary.
  4. Was Jephthah justified to insist on loyalty from the leaders of Gilead? Why or why not?
  5. Is it appropriate to demand loyalty from people during serious negotiations today? In what ways do we do this?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 11, 2017

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FRUSTRATION

Last Saturday night, Britain suffered a third Islamist attack in three months when terrorists drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then stabbed many victims in the nearby restaurant district. Seven were killed and dozens wounded. Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister, gave a strongly worded response. However, government efforts to restrict incitements to terror have been frustrated by free-speech impediments in British courts, creating a sense of impotence in dealing with such threats.

 

IMPOTENCE

Gideon may have felt a similar sense of impotence when called to deliver Israel from the Midianites. He found a number of excuses to resist God’s call: God’s current actions in Israel’s behalf weren’t as bold as they had been in the past, Gideon was from a weak clan, he was least in his family, he needed a divine sign, etc.

 

  1. How can a society which values privacy and the freedoms of speech, association, and religion protect itself from those who abuse those freedoms to destroy that society?
  2. Should temporary security measures such as those used in wartime be put in force to protect us today? Why or why not?
  3. Have you ever felt, as Gideon did, that God isn’t working in behalf of his people as he used to? Explain.
  4. Have you ever felt you were inadequate for what God called you to do? How did you deal with such feelings?
  5. When we are unsure of God’s will for us, should we seek signs? Why or why not?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 4, 2017

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ONE ASCENDANT WOMAN

In Europe a week ago, President Trump attended a NATO summit and a G-7 meeting of economic leaders. Historically, America’s president has been the leader at such meetings, but things changed this time. Angela Merkel, Germany’s “iron chancellor,” emerged from these meetings as the apparent new leader based on her fearless public criticism of Trump’s stated positions on climate change, trade, Russia, and NATO. Some might see irony in the fact that Merkel, a woman, had gained ascendancy—at least in the eyes of European delegates—over a strong-willed American president.

 

TWO VICTORIOUS WOMEN

Deborah was the only female among Israel’s judges. She delivered the news to Barak that God had chosen him to the lead the Israelites in their fight against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army. Barak’s unwillingness to go into battle against the Canaanites unless Deborah was at his side called out a demonstration of her toughness. She warned Barak that even though the Israelites would win, the honor of victory would go to a woman. We find out later that this woman would be Jael, who killed an exhausted Sisera while he was asleep.

 

  1. In politics, does it matter whether men or women are in leadership? Why or why not?
  2. What character traits make a good leader, whether male or female?
  3. Do you think God chose Deborah to be judge because no competent men were available, or for other reasons? Explain.
  4. There seems to be some irony in Deborah’s response to Barak. Do you suppose she enjoyed it? Would it have been right for her to do so?
  5. What principles from this biblical incident, if any, can we apply to leadership in today’s world?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 28, 2017

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A QUESTION OF VALUE

Jean-Michel Basquiat was once a graffiti painter. Now his work is celebrated by art collectors. On May 18, Basquiat’s graffiti-like painting of a skull, titled “Untitled,” brought $110.5 million at auction. The purchaser, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, beat out three other bidders. Last year Maezawa paid $57.3 million for another Basquiat work, also titled “Untitled,” in which the artist portrayed himself as a horned devil. About last week’s auction, one art collector gushed, “It’s a really historical moment.” However, many people outside the rarified air of the art connoisseur’s world find Basquiat’s work less remarkable.

 

A QUESTION OF VALUES

Jonah’s anger about God’s refusal to destroy Nineveh reflects a self-centeredness that prevented him from rejoicing in the work God was doing. He placed greater value on his own desire to see his message of divine retribution come true than he did on the 120,000 citizens of Nineveh whom God wanted to save.

 

  1. How might a person rationalize spending $110.5 million on a painting when there are so many worthy and needy causes in the world?
  2. Assuming you had the money, how would you spend $110.5 million?
  3. At a much lower level of expenditure, what questions come to your mind about the values we Christians express by our purchases?
  4. God questioned Jonah’s values on the basis of compassionate concern for others. How does that speak to our values?
  5. Does our response to current social issues ever mirror Jonah’s expression of self-centeredness? Explain and give examples.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – May 21, 2017

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THREATENING DESTRUCTION . . .

North Korea’s capricious leader, Kim Jong Un, engaged in saber rattling again this week. Kim boasted North Korea’s apparently successful missile test Sunday proves that his backward nation can now deliver “a large scale heavy nuclear warhead” and that the US mainland is in its “sighting range for strike.” Kim has long sought international recognition through military power rather than by more positive means such as developing economic strength to benefit his impoverished people.

 

. . . BUT PROMISING SALVATION

God threatened Nineveh with destruction, but not to boost his own fragile ego. Instead, God’s message through Jonah was intended to save the city’s residents by persuading them to turn from their sinful ways. Thus, the divine threat was a means of making the Ninevites aware of their need for salvation. Unlike so many human leaders, the king of Nineveh used his position to bring spiritual prosperity to his people.

 

  1. What differences do you see between Kim Jong Un and the king of Nineveh?
  2. What causes political leaders to put personal prestige ahead of the welfare of their people?
  3. Why are Christian leaders sometimes subject to similar temptations?
  4. The people of Nineveh needed threats of punishment before they would repent. Is this a universal human condition? Explain.
  5. How can we keep ourselves from needing to be threatened with punishment before we repent of sin?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – May 14, 2017

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KIDNAPPED AND HOPELESS

It was three years ago that Boko Haram, the extremely violent ISIS-related terrorist group, kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Nigeria. Some of the students escaped soon after they were kidnapped, and others have escaped or been released in the past year. Last Sunday, 82 of the girls were traded for five terrorist commanders, leaving 113 still missing. In what seems like a hopeless situation, Boko Haram has abducted thousands of people in the last few years, using them as sex slaves, human bombs, or bargaining chips in negotiations.

 

DESPERATE, BUT HOPEFUL

Jonah was also in a hopeless situation, all because of his refusal to answer God’s call. Sinking in the Mediterranean Sea, Jonah felt as if he was “deep in the realm of the dead.” But he cried out to God in hope of being saved, trusting that once again he would be able to praise God in his temple.

 

  1. What are the pros and cons of trading hostages for terrorists?
  2. How did Jonah’s desperate situation differ from that of the girls abducted by Boko Haram?
  3. How did Jonah’s failure to obey God mesh with his expression of hope that God would save him? In what ways are we like Jonah?
  4. What other apparently hopeless “hostage” situations exist in our modern world? Are you aware of any ministries committed to setting such people free?
  5. Are you acquainted personally with someone who was set free from some form of bondage? How did trust in God figure into their escape?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 7, 2017

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LYING, PERHAPS

Michael Flynn, a former military officer and President Trump’s one-time national security advisor, has admitted to being paid for a speech he gave in 2015 to the Russian government’s propaganda media arm. Last Sunday CNN reported that Flynn had been warned in 2014 that such speeches were illegal. In addition, he did not properly disclose the payments for his speech. Flynn has proclaimed his innocence, but offered to testify to congressional committees in exchange for immunity.

 

TELLING THE TRUTH, DEFINITELY

We’re accustomed to public figures denying their wrongdoing even though they may eventually be found to have been lying. Jonah showed a refreshing level of honesty when he readily admitted to the sailors that their life-threatening situation was his fault. Lying might have saved him at least for the moment, but he chose the path of honesty, whatever its cost.

 

  1. Why do people lie, even though the truth will eventually be discovered?
  2. What other contemporary examples can you offer of lying resulting in serious consequences?
  3. What examples can you think of in the Bible when lying brought dire consequences?
  4. Even though Jonah was running away from the Lord, what part do you think his fear of God played in his decision to confess his sin?
  5. In your experience, how have you seen truth-telling to be the best course of action, even despite possible negative consequences?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – April 30, 2017

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DISTORTED LOVE

On March 13, Tad Cummins, a 50-year-old school teacher, and Elizabeth Thomas, his 15-year-old former student, disappeared from Culleoka, Tennessee. There had been reports of a romantic relationship between them, and they apparently fled as the investigation into the affair developed. The pair’s location was unknown for five weeks, but they were finally found in an isolated cabin in northern California. Police were able to arrest Cummins without resistance. Elizabeth was safe and has been returned to her family, while Cummins faces several state and federal criminal charges.

 

SELFLESS LOVE

We humans find numerous ways to twist life circumstances so that our relationships become distorted into something outside of God’s will for us. Jesus spoke of how thieves try to steal the sheep, as opposed to the good shepherd who loves them and cares for them. Jesus does this even to the point of giving his life for them, as opposed to using them for selfish purposes, like a thief would.

 

  1. What can society do to prevent the kind of situation that developed between Tad Cummins and his student?
  2. What should the consequences be for Cummins?
  3. How can Christians be God’s agents in bringing healing to people like Cummins, Elizabeth Thomas, and their families?
  4. How can we avoid fooling ourselves into thinking our sins are OK?
  5. If you have experienced others trying to use you, can you express how Christ has cared for you in spite of your experience?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – April 23, 2017

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AN UNEXPECTED GIFT

Cayla Chandara moved from California to Hawaii to go to college. But then the 21-year-old dropped out and took on two waitress jobs to pay down her student loans before hopefully returning to school. Recently she served a friendly couple from Australia who were interested in hearing about her life and future dreams. Their bill was $200. After they left, Cayla discovered they gave her a $400 tip! The couple had mentioned where they were staying, so Cayla left a thank-you letter for them at the hotel’s front desk. The next evening, the tourists returned to the restaurant and gave Cayla $10,000 to pay off her loans and help her get back into college. Cayla said, “They have truly changed my life, not only financially but in the way I look at things.”

 

AN UNDESERVED GIFT

We occasionally hear about someone who donates a kidney or a portion of their liver to keep some worthy person alive. We don’t expect people to risk their lives for an undeserving person. But that’s what Jesus did for us—the godly died for the ungodly! In the process, he made us right with God, something we could not accomplish by ourselves.

 

  1. What do you think prompted the couple to give these gifts to Cayla, a person they had just met?
  2. Are you aware of other stories like this?
  3. Have you ever been moved to offer a generous gift to a deserving person? What moved you to do so?
  4. Have you ever refused even a small donation to someone you felt was “unworthy” of your help? Does Jesus’ gift make it more difficult to justify such a decision?
  5. How has Christ’s gift changed the way you approach life?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – April 16, 2017

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SEVERELY DESTROYED . . .

Early on April 4, bombs bearing poisonous gas fell on Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, killing dozens of civilians. US intelligence determined the planes involved flew from a Syrian government airbase. Two days later, US warships in the Mediterranean fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the base. Initial reports from the Pentagon asserted that 58 of the 59 missiles “severely degraded or destroyed” their intended targets. But the Kremlin contended that only 23 of the missiles reached the base. Within a couple of days the Syrian government, which claims not to even use chemical weapons, said it had resumed using the airbase.

 

. . . BUT ALIVE AGAIN!

Jewish and Roman authorities thought they had destroyed Jesus and dealt a death blow to the movement he had started. The evidence three days later, however, showed they were wrong. The tomb the authorities had made as secure as they knew how (Matthew 27:65) was empty. No body was found because Jesus was alive and observed by many witnesses. The heartbreak of the disciples had turned to inexpressible joy.

 

  1. Do conflicting accounts of events like the attack on the Syrian airbase cause you to be skeptical about the reliability of news reports? Why or why not?
  2. Whether Gospel accounts or current news reports, what factors go into your decision to believe them or not?
  3. Critics of Christianity deny the truthfulness of the “news reports” in the Gospels about Jesus’ resurrection. How would you respond to their skepticism?
  4. Have you ever discussed your faith in the resurrected Christ with a nonbeliever? What discussion points did you use? What was the result?
  5. What does Peter’s encouragement in 1 Peter 1:3-9 suggest about how we can witness to a culture that no longer believes in objective truth?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – April 9, 2017

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FINDING NEW LIFE

Every spring for more than three-quarters of a century, March Madness has struck America. College-basketball fever infects the nation for a few weeks, as 68 teams enter into a single-elimination tournament. Last year the University of North Carolina lost the championship game to Villanova. Ever since then the Tar Heels talked about “redemption.” Monday night North Carolina found new life, beating Gonzaga for the 2017 crown. It was only the fourth time a team has won the national championship after losing the title game the previous year.

 

GIVEN NEW LIFE

Sports fans live for “next year,” hoping their team will experience a championship “rebirth.” Sometimes the difference is found in a team’s spirit. However, winning such a prize comes to only one team each year. The glory of the gospel is that the number of “winners” is limited only by the unwillingness of individuals to accept God’s gift of new life. Nicodemus, focusing on the flesh, had difficulty understanding this. Jesus redirected his attention to the realm of the Spirit.

 

  1. Can the church learn anything from March Madness in regard to creating excitement about the gospel? Explain.
  2. What dangers do you see in trying to learn from the secular world?
  3. Do you get as excited about your faith as you do about your other interests in life? If so, explain your passion.
  4. If not, how might Jesus’ teaching about the new birth be the remedy?
  5. What does “being born of the Spirit” mean in your life?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – April 2, 2017

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SUDDEN DEATH

Last Wednesday Americans Kurt and Mellissa Cochran were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in London, walking on the Westminster Bridge, when a terrorist drove his car into them. Kurt and one other person were killed on the bridge before the assailant drove to the Parliament grounds, where he killed a policeman with a knife. The attacker was shot and killed by police, but not before he injured 50 other victims. ISIS has claimed that one of their “soldiers” was the assassin, and several suspected accomplices have been arrested.

 

ABIDING COMFORT

When unexpected evil suddenly strikes us, we are challenged to discover whether the resources of our faith can withstand the blow. Christians needing comfort often read Psalm 23 in such situations. This passage of Scripture is among those most commonly read at funeral services. A significant reason for the psalm’s popularity is the psalmist David’s claim to have no fear of evil, even when he was walking through life’s darkest valleys.

 

  1. How do you react when you hear that another Islamic terrorist has struck innocent victims far from the Middle East?
  2. Should we react differently than what you just expressed? Why? If so, in what way?
  3. How does David’s promise of God’s care in Psalm 23 help you live in an age when terror of more than one kind can strike at any moment?
  4. What does it mean to you that God prepares a feast for you in the presence of your enemies?
  5. Share with the group how Psalm 23 has brought you peace during a difficult time in your life.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – March 26, 2017

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A PASSIONATE DEBATE

Conservative justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year left the US Supreme Court divided 4-4 on many issues. This week, the Senate passionately debated the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the court. Many see the Senate hearings as a battle for the spirit of the nation. The dream of conservatives is that a court with the 49-year-old Justice Gorsuch on it would bring more traditional rulings for decades to come. Liberals have visions of a court more attuned to what they might call the spirit of our times.

 

A PROPHETIC CALL

The prophet Joel lived in and prophesied to the nation of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, during a time when the country was devastated by a locust plague. He viewed Judah as a nation whose supreme judge was God and whose national spirit was formed and guided by the Spirit of God. The Lord promised to restore Judah to a place of honor among the nations and to make Jerusalem a place of deliverance and salvation.

 

  1. Why do both sides of the Senate view the stakes of the Gorsuch nomination to be so high?
  2. Is it better for the Supreme Court to “tilt” to the left or the right? On what issues and why?
  3. Regardless of which direction the court moves, do you see a need for America’s spirit to be restored to what it was in a previous era? Explain.
  4. Does Joel’s call to return to the Lord (Joel 2:13) speak to us today? If not, why not? If so, how?
  5. Does Joel’s promise that Judah would not be an object of scorn (Joel 2:19) offer you hope for the Christian faith to be more highly regarded in our nation? Why or why not?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 19, 2017

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THE COST OF HEALTH CARE

One of President Trump’s campaign promises is currently being tested by Congress as it struggles over a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The debate is largely along partisan lines, but Republicans are far from united about what the outcome should be. The challenge seems overwhelming: What can be pruned from the ACA to save the government money while still providing a reasonable and fair level of medical care for citizens without costing them more than they can personally afford?

 

THE COST OF LOVE

At the heart of the ACA-replacement debate is the question of whether the government should pay (or at least subsidize) the cost of health insurance for all its citizens. Obeying Jesus’ words to “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12) is difficult enough for us individually. How much more difficult to do this as a society, especially when it demands sacrifice by some to benefit others!

 

  1. Is legislating universal health care a possible, appropriate, or reasonable way for a nation to “love” its citizens?
  2. Should Jesus’ command to love others have any effect on the way Christians think about societal issues such as health care? Why or why not?
  3. What personal challenges do you face in regard to loving others?
  4. Jesus speaks of the pruning activity of our loving heavenly Father. In what way have you seen this at work in your life?
  5. How does knowledge of Jesus’ love for you “make your joy complete” (John 15:11)?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – March 12, 2017

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IT’S THE LAW . . .

President Trump announced a new executive order regarding Middle Eastern and African immigrants on Monday. The White House insisted that the new ban was country-based, not religion-based. On another immigration front, national policy regarding immigrants already in the country illegally remains a point of contention. Critics of the administration continue to call for looser immigration policies. Overall, the issue seems to be whether immigration policy should be strictly a matter of law or whether some grace should be extended in individual cases regarding deportation decisions.

 

. . . BUT SHOULD GRACE BE EXTENDED?

Law versus grace is an age-old issue. Jesus’ opponents criticized him for not keeping the Jewish law, even though he said he had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). Today’s text makes it plain that trying to achieve salvation by works—i.e., by keeping the law—only brings death, because none of us (unlike Jesus) can do that successfully. The glory of the gospel is that God’s grace through Christ brings us from spiritual death to everlasting life.

 

  1. Should immigration policy be strictly a matter of law? Why or why not?
  2. Should grace have any role in enforcement decisions? If so, in what situations? If not, why not?
  3. Do passages such as Leviticus 19:34 and Luke 10:25-37 apply to this issue? Explain.
  4. In what ways do our transgressions and sins make us “dead”?
  5. What should the effects of God’s grace be in our lives?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – March 5, 2017

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HATEFUL ACTIONS

On Monday, 20 Jewish community centers and schools in 12 states received bomb threats, for a total of 89 this year. The day before, about 100 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were knocked over. A week before that, more than 150 headstones were toppled in a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. In the latter case, a Muslim activist group initiated a crowdfunding campaign that raised $55,000. In January, a mosque in Texas burned, and Americans contributed more than a million dollars to repair it.

 

LOVING ATTITUDES

The human race finds the command to love one another difficult to obey. Desecration of religious sites and cemeteries is one of the most hateful ways this fact is demonstrated. Such attacks have caused Jewish and Muslim communities in the United States to express increasing fear in recent months. On the other hand, John says loving others is the way we know that we live in Christ and he lives in us. And God’s perfect love casts out fear.

 

  1. Why do you think we are seeing an outbreak of threats and actions against Jewish and Muslim sites?
  2. Are the contributions to repair the damaged sites an indication of a basic goodness in Americans? Why or why not?
  3. How can we love people who hold to a religion in which some adherents have proved to be a violent threat to our way of life? Explain.
  4. If you discovered that Christians had desecrated the cemeteries and mosque, what would be your attitude toward those persons?
  5. What helps you love people whom you find unlikeable?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – February 26, 2017

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DECAY . . .

A decaying national infrastructure is in the news. In California, the problems at Oroville Dam recently caught the public’s attention. Water in Flint, Michigan has been polluted for years with lead, E. coli, and dangerous levels of many chemicals. Texas roads, dams, flood control, and drinking water get a D or D– grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. So it goes around the country. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that an investment of $3.6 trillion will be needed by 2020 to rectify the situation. Many say Americans have been selfishly spending money for years to make ourselves comfortable, though unwilling to allocate funds to keep us safe and well.

 

. . . AND GROWTH

Paul’s instructions to the Galatians emphasize the fruit of the Spirit—character traits that are directed to enriching the lives of others first and ourselves incidentally. The apostle warns us that we eventually “get what’s coming to us,” as the old saying goes. The principle seems to apply to societies as well as individuals.

 

  1. Do you think America’s infrastructure problems prove that “we reap what we sow,” to use Paul’s terminology? Explain.
  2. Beyond that, to what extent do you think the nation’s social problems are the result of “the acts of the flesh,” to use another of Paul’s phrases?
  3. Is reluctance to tax ourselves for the common good an indication of national selfishness?
  4. What have you found in your own life to be the benefit of cultivating the fruit of the Spirit? Give some specific examples.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – February 19, 2017

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WHEN THE LAW IS GOOD . . .

Law enforcement authorities ordered more than 180,000 people in northern California to evacuate several towns last Sunday night. Some people did not evacuate, thinking they could save themselves. Authorities feared that the 770-feet high Oroville dam—the tallest in the country—was in danger of failing due to recent heavy rains. The main spillway had already been damaged, and Sunday the reservoir reached its capacity and overflowed the emergency spillway. That’s when authorities used the power of the law to force the evacuation. If the dam had failed, their order could have possibly saved countless lives.

 

. . . AND WHEN IT ISN’T

In Galatia, Christians had found spiritual freedom by trusting in the grace of God. Later, many of them were persuaded to retreat from faith. They began to trust in the law’s commandments and their own ability to fulfill those commandments as the means to gain God’s favor and love. Paul reminded them that the law could not save them and neither could they save themselves.

 

  1. Are the edicts of civil law always good? Is religious “law” always bad? What exceptions can you cite?
  2. What parallels do you see between people’s refusal to obey the evacuation orders and some Christians’ rejection of the gospel?
  3. Why did the Galatians turn back from the gospel to the law?
  4. In what ways are Christians tempted to do the same today? Give examples.
  5. Do you struggle with this issue in your spiritual life? Explain.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – February 12, 2017

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FAKE NEWS

“Fake news” has become a hot topic recently. We’ve heard politicians and journalists charge others with promoting “alternative facts.” Of course, that concept has been with us for a long time. We called it propaganda in the Cold War era. In recent years, postmodern thinking has called into question whether anything is really “true.” The validity of Christian teaching is now widely questioned, and America has been inundated by the advocacy of “alternative lifestyles.”

 

REAL NEWS

The new Christians in Galatia had heard “real news” when the apostle Paul visited them. Literally, it was good news—the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, they later began to listen to—and believe—fake news. False teachers beguiled them into forsaking their freedom in Christ for a return to the slavery of adhering to the Old Testament law.

 

  1. To what extent does our culture’s acceptance of the postmodern “your truth” and “my truth” notion plays into the fake news issue?
  2. If real truth does not exist, how does this affect our faith in Christ?
  3. How should Christians confront our culture’s denial of ultimate truth?
  4. Tell the group about a conversation you’ve had with someone regarding whether the teachings of Christianity are true. What were their objections? What was the result of the conversation?
  5. How does the legalism the Galatians fell into show itself among Christians today?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – February 5, 2017

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SHARPLY DIVIDED!

Two marches took place in Washington recently. The unifying theme of the Women’s March on January 21 seemed to be opposition to newly inaugurated President Trump. It also touted a multitude of causes spread over a wide spectrum of concerns, including climate change, immigration, LGBT rights, and “women’s health issues.” The last topic was also addressed by the March for Life on January 27. Some in the conservative media called this “the real women’s march,” as it was “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.”

 

TOTALLY UNITED?

The two marches demonstrate the distinct difference between the way we function in secular society and how God expects us to function in the church of Jesus Christ. Secular society is rife with division over many issues, but Christ calls us to recognize that all believers stand on level ground before the cross, with neither ethnic, social, nor gender discrimination taking place. The question for us is whether we are living up to the divine call!

 

  1. Do competing marches, such as those in Washington recently, serve a valid function in America? Explain.
  2. To what extent is the church contributing to unity between races? In what ways does the church fail?
  3. Is our modern social-class system an appropriate lens through which to view the “neither slave nor free” concept? Explain.
  4. How has your church handled the “neither male nor female” issue in terms of leadership and service roles?
  5. How can Christians experience unity in Christ if we disagree on these significant issues?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – January 29, 2017

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DIVIDED PERSPECTIVES

Last week we saw once again how divided America is. Although throngs of people converged on Washington to witness Donald Trump’s inauguration (the size of the crowd eliciting its own controversy), large demonstrations followed the inauguration. It was estimated that hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Washington, New York, Chicago, and other cities. Demonstrations also took place in over 600 cities around the world. Behind the anxiety is distrust of the new administration and fear of how unknown policies will affect trade, human rights, the economy, immigration, and other matters. On the other hand, many Americans are happy to see change taking place.

 

UNDIVIDED PRAISE

The psalmist draws a picture of unity when he speaks of creation’s praise for God. Not only the created “things,” but humans of every age and classification, join in this undivided praise of God. The reason behind this outpouring of adulation is that God is consistently good in his governing of the universe. We may safely trust both his wisdom and his power, something we can never be sure of regarding any human authority figure or force.

 

  1. What do you think is the most significant reason for the strong reactions in so many places against the inauguration of President Trump?
  2. Do you think the psalmist overstates the case for all of creation offering undivided praise to God? Why or why not?
  3. How would you answer people who contend that God isn’t good and offer examples of what they think proves it?
  4. How do you make sure that you are consistently praising God?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – January 22, 2017

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CONTINUING CRITICISM

Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States on Friday. One week earlier, a media feud developed between Trump and Congressman John Lewis. Lewis called Trump’s election “illegitimate,” and Trump fired back a tweet that was harshly critical of the longtime Georgia congressman. In the aftermath, a growing number of Democratic members of Congress vowed to join Lewis in protesting Trump’s election by not attending the inaugural ceremonies. The animosity of the election campaign is continuing as the new administration takes office.

 

CEASELESS PRAISE

What is happening in Washington stands in stark contrast to what Psalm 104 says of God’s reign over the universe. Without contradiction, God’s creation speaks with ceaseless praise of his greatness. The heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the creatures speak of God’s power.

 

  1. What do you see as your Christian responsibility regarding the divisive attitudes displayed in Washington and around the country at this time?
  2. Have you been able to develop a more charitable attitude toward the candidate(s) you voted against? If so, how?
  3. How are you praying for the new president (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1, 2)? How are you praying for his critics?
  4. How does creation express praise to God?
  5. Why do you think humans so often fail to do the same?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – January 15, 2017

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WATER BRINGS SADNESS

Perhaps in the form of torrential rains or blizzard-like snow conditions, the first week of January brought challenging, wet weather to most of the United States. In the drought-stricken West, multiple storms filled recently empty reservoirs to overflowing. California’s famous Pioneer Cabin sequoia tree—believed to be 1,000 years old (and having a car-sized hole carved through it in the 1880s)—fell because of the rain. In the South, severe flooding spread from Texas to Florida. Meanwhile, the North and East experienced heavy snowfall that blocked roads and caused numerous multivehicle crashes.

 

WATER BRINGS GLADNESS

The psalmist speaks of God as the source of water that does us good: enriching the land, bringing forth a bounty that blesses us and causes us to sing joyfully. The fact that some of the water with which the earth abounds at the present brings suffering and sadness may sometimes cause us to question the way God works through the natural forces he has put in place.

 

  1. In response to destructive natural phenomena like we have seen recently, how would you answer the question, “Why does God allow such things to happen?”
  2. Are such events really “acts of God,” as they are sometimes called? Explain.
  3. Have you ever experienced loss through a flood, blizzard, or another weather event? How did your faith help you cope with the situation?
  4. Should we praise God for tragic events? Why or why not?
  5. Would you prefer to phrase question 4 differently? If so, how does that help you deal with difficult circumstances?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – January 8, 2017

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A NEW YEAR

A week ago today, we celebrated the beginning of a new year. Most people found the year past was—as usual—a combination of good and bad circumstances and experiences. In hope of making their lives better, many people start the new year by making resolutions . . . and soon after breaking them! Surveys show that the most common broken resolutions include efforts to 1) lose weight and get fit, 2) quit smoking, 3) learn something new, 4) eat healthier and diet, 5) get out of debt and save money, 6) spend more time with family, 7) travel to new places, 8) be less stressed, 9) volunteer, and 10) drink less.

 

A NEW SONG

Psalm 96 provides a different focus for us. Rather than urging us to resolve to work at improving ourselves, it commands us to “sing to the Lord a new song.” That is, self-improvement starts with having a new attitude toward God: praising—and obeying—the one who gives us salvation. Without turning to God, our own efforts to be better people will achieve limited success.

 

  1. What do you think causes most New Year’s resolutions to be abandoned?
  2. Do you make such resolutions? With what kind of resolutions have you found the most success?
  3. What spiritual resolutions do you think Christians should make?
  4. How does praising God fit into your self-improvement agenda?
  5. This year, if you were to focus on one new praise to offer to God daily, what would it be?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – January 1, 2017

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THE POWER OF PEOPLE’S WORDS

The year just completed provided numerous examples of the power of words. In 2016, political campaigns from local to national demonstrated how words can stir people to support a candidate they dislike (or perhaps vote for a different candidate whom they dislike less). In some states, words persuaded the electorate to legalize the use of marijuana, either recreationally or for medicinal purposes. Across the nation, words incited violence against various ethnic groups and against law enforcement officers. In short, we saw how words can be used to divide and destroy.

 

THE POWER OF GOD’S WORDS

On the other hand, as we read in Psalm 33, God demonstrated the positive, creative power of words when he spoke the universe into being. From the stars that fill the highest heavens to the creatures in the deepest seas, God spoke, and they came into existence. What is more, he has given to us the privilege—and the command—to speak his praise and create good with the words we speak!

 

  1. From all the reports you saw and heard in 2016, what words demonstrated the greatest power to divide our nation? . . . to unite us?
  2. From your personal experience last year, give examples of words that either hurt or healed. What were the circumstances, and what were the results?
  3. How would you compare the creative power of God’s words with the power of our words to either create or destroy?
  4. How can Christians “speak peace” to a divided and warring world?
  5. What changes in your speech will you be making in 2017? Have you made resolutions to that effect?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – December 25, 2016

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PROVIDING DISINFORMATION

Washington D.C. was abuzz this week with speculation about the extent of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s involvement in the hacking of American computers. One view is that Putin ordered Russian hackers to spread disinformation that would affect the outcome of November’s presidential election, and thus the future of the U.S. for years to come. Equally serious was the speculation about how America ought to respond. One suggestion is that the U.S. should manipulate—provide “digital disinformation” to—the code Russia uses in designing its cyberweapons.

 

RESPONDING WITH THE TRUTH

When the angel appeared to the Bethlehem shepherds, Satan had been spreading disinformation for thousands of years, starting with the serpent’s lies to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The coming of Jesus into this world was God’s response to Satan’s campaign of spreading falsehood. The angel’s words were the good news of Jesus’ birth, a truth that would affect the history of the world through all eternity.

 

  1. Why should America be concerned about whether or not Russia has hacked our computers?
  2. How should America respond to the threat posed by cyberattacks from Russia and other sources?
  3. Give some biblical examples of how Satan used disinformation in the battle for human hearts in ancient times.
  4. In what unique ways is spiritual disinformation being spread today?
  5. What encouragements and cautions would you offer regarding how Christians should fight untruth and spread the good news in the electronic age?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – December 18, 2016

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HIS NAME WAS JOHN

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, died December 8 at 95 years of age. His three-orbit flight made him the forerunner of a multitude of his countrymen to explore even deeper in space. Years later, at age 77, he became the oldest person ever to fly in space. Glenn’s 1962 flight pales in comparison to what has been done by those who followed him, but his flight was an act of tremendous courage.

 

HIS NAME WAS ALSO JOHN

The angel Gabriel told Zechariah his son should be named John, which means “The Lord is gracious.” John’s divinely appointed role in life was to be the forerunner of the Messiah, announcing that God’s gracious kingdom was coming in the person of Jesus. His role also called for courage, but unlike John Glenn, the courage of John the Baptist resulted in his life being cut short (Matthew 14:3-12). However, his few years of life found him faithful to his calling.

 

  1. Which do you think took more courage: John Glenn being the first to fly into space or John the Baptist preaching as the forerunner of Jesus? Why?
  2. What situations do Christians face today that require them to act with courage?
  3. Are our roles in life divinely appointed, as John’s was? Why or why not?
  4. Do our names have an effect on who we become? Should Christians consider this when naming their children? Explain.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – December 11, 2016

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BLINDED BY PRIDE

This Thursday was the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1941, Japan was expanding its influence, having invaded China and setting its sights on the resources of the British, Dutch, and French colonial empires in Southeast Asia. America, the economic giant, stood in Japan’s way. Historical evidence suggests the Japanese leaders knew they could not win a sustained war against the United States, so a surprise attack was the way to accomplish their goal. Four years later, Japan’s prideful leaders were brought low, having to submit to unconditional surrender.

 

HONORED FOR HUMILITY

When the angel announced to Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, she responded humbly. Even after Mary had time to reflect on the matter, her reaction to Elizabeth’s words confirming the promise was one of humility. She recognized that God brings down those who think too highly of themselves. But now, 2,000 years later, Mary is still honored by a multitude of those who follow her son.

 

  1. How did the pride of Japan’s leaders cause them to so badly misjudge America’s power to respond to their attack?
  2. What other historical situations come to mind that demonstrate the principle of pride leading to a fall (Proverbs 16:18)?
  3. What does Mary’s humble response teach us about how to respond to life’s challenges?
  4. What situations have you experienced in your life that illustrate the problems that accompany pride and the blessings that humility brings?
  5. Have you ever encountered a situation in which another person’s counsel confirmed your sense of God’s plan for your life? Explain.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – December 4, 2016

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A “SAVIOR” DIES

The death of Fidel Castro last week marked the end of an era. In 1959, when his “26th of July Movement” overthrew Cuba’s corrupt dictator, Fulgencio Batista, the world took notice. Many of the poor in Cuba viewed Castro as their savior.  However, Castro became a tyrant and turned Cuba into a communist outpost just 90 miles from the United States. The dream of Cuba as a worker’s paradise was never realized, and the Cuban economy stagnated. Now, the “savior” is dead. Some mourn his passing, but others are celebrating.

 

THE BIRTH OF THE SAVIOR IS PROMISED

When the coming of the true Savior of the world was announced, few took notice—because the annunciation was private, to a poor young woman in a small village in Galilee. The angel who told Mary of her child’s coming into the world spoke in glowing terms of the magnificent kingdom he would establish. The revolution he brought continues to spread around the world.

  1. Why do some Cubans cheer Castro’s death and others mourn it?
  2. Why do human governments consistently deliver less than they promise?
  3. What is it about Jesus’ kingdom that makes it so different than worldly kingdoms?
  4. Why has Christianity not delivered as much as it should in regard to changing the world?
  5. Name some specific actions believers can take to facilitate the continuing spread of Christ’s reign in this world. How does Mary’s response suggest a part of the answer?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – November 27, 2016

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THE BEGINNING . . .

This week we saw one of the repeating idiosyncrasies of the American political system. Throughout the political primaries, presidential candidates in both major parties pointed out all the flaws (both real and imagined) of their party’s fellow contenders. We were told why the other candidates were unsuited for office. For example, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders recited a litany of reasons that purportedly disqualified the other, and Donald Trump and many of his rivals traded stinging barbs.

. . . AND THE END

In the days since winning the election, Donald Trump has begun forming his cabinet. Surprisingly to most observers, he met with former Republican nominee Mitt Romney—a longtime Trump critic—regarding a potential role as Secretary of State. President-Elect Trump and President Obama have even had a civil conversation. When Jesus, the Beginning and the End, returns, things will be different. The righteous and the unrighteous will go their separate ways in the life to come. There will be no more opportunity to “make up.”

  1. Is it hypocritical for politicians to condemn each other strongly in the primaries and then join together to work at governing? Why or why not?
  2. Do we sometimes see similar behavior in our private lives . . . or even in the church?
  3. Scripture is clear about separate destinies for the saved and the lost in eternity. Does this raise questions about how we should treat “bad people” in the here-and-now? Explain.
  4. How does Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness (e.g., Matthew 18:21-22) fit into this picture?
  5. Does your life now (the beginning) reflect what your desired end will be? Explain.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – November 20, 2016

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A DIVIDED NATION

On November 4, a huge crowd of people jammed the streets of Chicago for a parade in celebration of the Cubs’ World Series victory—the first in 108 years. Just a week later, following the presidential election, the streets of Chicago and many other cities across the United States were filled with demonstrators and rioters. Some are calling these events legitimate, legal protests. From the other extreme come charges that these are the results of a conspiracy paying people to create havoc and violence. Our nation is obviously divided!

 

A PROMISE OF HEALING

In the new Jerusalem promised in Revelation, neither a crowd of sports fans nor political dissidents will surge through the city. Instead, the river of life flows down the main street of the holy city—nourishing the gigantic tree of life standing on each side of the river. What happens on that street will bring healing to the nations, not dissent and violence.

  1. Why is there such a difference between the public expressions following the World Series and the election?
  2. Should Christians ever engage in protests against election results? If not, why not? If so, in what circumstances?
  3. How can Christians contribute to the badly needed healing of America? How are you personally responding to this need?
  4. How do you think Romans 13:1-7 applies to the current situation?
  5. What hope does Revelation 22:1-7 give you for the United States?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – November 13, 2016

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A NEW (OR OLD) AMERICA

For months, two candidates have vied for the privilege of governing the United States. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton lost her bid to lead the nation toward her vision of a grand, “progressive” future. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory offers him an opportunity to “make America great again”—to realize a wonderful future based on what he sees as a glorious past. Both candidates promised to make America a better country, but they did so from very different perspectives of what it should be like.

 

THE NEW JERUSALEM

The apostle John also envisioned a better future—far better than America ever was or shall be. The new Jerusalem will be based on what God has done in the past and will do in the future, not on what humans can accomplish through their own efforts. Because the new city will be God’s city, it will have none of the grisly aspects of human society but all of the glorious attributes of life in the presence of God.

  1. What does the bizarre nature of the 2016 political campaign tell you about human leaders (and their followers)?
  2. Did your actions and speech during the campaign contribute to or lessen the divisiveness of the dialogue? Explain.
  3. What responsibility do Christians have to the nation now that the election is over? How do you personally plan to exercise your part of that responsibility?
  4. What are you praying for in regard to president-elect Trump? (See 1 Timothy 2:1-4.) In regard to Hillary Clinton?
  5. How does the Bible’s description of the new Jerusalem affect your view of both the present and future world order?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – November 6, 2016

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NOTHING EVER CHANGES

In an Oregon court last week, seven defendants were acquitted of charges that they had illegally occupied federal land from January 2 to February 11 this year. Members of the “patriot” movement said the government had overreached its authority and created the armed standoff. Others fear the acquittal will encourage similar groups to act against the government in violent ways. The situation seems to fit the larger phenomenon of generalized anger in America at this time. This election cycle demonstrates that large groups of citizens in both parties believe the system is rigged, and that nothing ever changes.

 

SOMEDAY EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE

In spite of how bad things may look to us at any given time, the Bible holds out hope that someday everything will change, and it will change for the better! The evils of all sorts that plague this world exist because of sin. God has promised that, at the appropriate time, he will destroy everything that is evil, and everything will become new.

  1. Do you think the view that “the system is rigged” is accurate? Is it true to some extent that the “little guy” is the victim of larger forces at work in society? Explain.
  2. Should Christians try to work within a system that is, at best, imperfect? Why or why not?
  3. If not, what is the alternative approach for those who serve Christ?
  4. Since our culture thinks it is “intolerant” to condemn sin, how would you justify to a friend God’s judgment of sin?
  5. Describe in your own terms what you expect the new order of things to be like.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 30, 2016

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UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

The so-called “law of unintended consequences” went into effect last week when hackers found their way into thousands of interconnected computing systems. The increasingly complex web of DVRs, home computers, routers, internet-connected surveillance cameras, and even building thermostats was hacked. The cyber-attack brought down Netflix, Amazon, Paypal, Twitter, and other networks. The interconnection of so many networks offers us many benefits of communication and commerce. But it was that very interconnection which allowed the hackers to nullify the benefits to millions of people for several hours.

 

INTENDED RESULT

Isn’t that the way it is with so many human creations? We develop practices and inventions, thinking they will be good, but they so often come back to “bite us”! However, Hebrews 12 tells us that God sometimes steps into the picture when our misguided behavior goes awry. His discipline is intended to correct us, with the result of producing righteousness and peace in us.

  1. Overall, has the development of technology been a good thing? Why or why not? Where would you draw the line between good and bad technology?
  2. How do you personally monitor your family’s use of technology to maximize the good and minimize the bad?
  3. Are the negative effects of technological advancement an example of God “disciplining” us? How can you be sure God is acting? Explain.
  4. In what other areas of life do you see God applying the law of unintended consequences? How does “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) help us?
  5. How would you apply Romans 8:28 to this topic (compare with Hebrews 12:10)?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 23, 2016

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APPOINTED A JUSTICE FOR LIFE

A CBS poll this week revealed that 82 percent of voters view this year’s presidential campaign as more negative than previous campaigns. This represents the highest such poll numbers ever recorded by the network. The poll reflects the fact that both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump have had negative ratings all year. People have such strong feelings that many are considering not voting at all. Others say they will vote for their party’s candidate but only because the next president will appoint Supreme Court justices who can serve for life, and thus this election will determine the course of American jurisprudence for decades to come.

 

DECLARED A PRIEST FOREVER

Melchizedek is one of the most unusual figures in the Bible. This king of Salem (later known as Jerusalem) is declared to be a priest of God Most High forever. Although human leaders prove time and again that they are not worthy of our trust, Melchizedek is described as “king of righteousness” and “king of peace.” No wonder the author of Hebrews uses him as an Old Testament precursor of Jesus, our great high priest and the one who is perfect forever!

  1. Can a Christian justifiably vote for a candidate he or she believes is unworthy of being elected? Explain.
  2. Should the long-term effect of a president’s judicial appointments be of greater or lesser concern than that person’s character? Explain.
  3. Does Abraham’s act of offering a tithe, or tenth, to Melchizedek suggest to you that Christians ought to tithe to Jesus, our high priest? If so, explain how this should be done. If not, why not?
  4. What does Jesus’ role of always living to intercede for us mean for your life in practical terms?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 16, 2016

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VULNERABLE TO TEMPTATION AND SIN

Donald Trump faced a difficult situation last week as a recording of a crude conversation from eleven years ago was made public. Just as numerous presidents and presidential candidates before him have done, Trump has demonstrated his vulnerability to sin. In Sunday night’s debate, he acknowledged his error, but called attention to similar behavior on the part of his opponent’s husband, Bill Clinton.

 

VULNERABLE TO TEMPTATION BUT NOT TO SIN

For those who subscribe to America’s civil religion, the president is the “great high priest.” They want to think the president is better, more noble than the rest of us. But as history has proved time and again, all leaders have feet of clay. Jesus, the true great high priest, is different than every one of us. Although he was tempted in every way we are, he faced each temptation without succumbing to sin.

  1. When faced with a choice between two or more flawed candidates, how does a Christian decide whom to vote for?
  2. In such a situation, is declining to vote a valid option? Why or why not?
  3. It has been said that we get the leaders we deserve. How do you respond to that statement?
  4. Since all of us have had our crude moments, are we being hypocritical if we condemn the sins of our leaders? Explain.
  5. What can common citizens do to change the current situation? How does the biblical command to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1, 2) speak to this question?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 9, 2016

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SHOULD WE BUILD THERE?

September brought heavy rain and extensive flooding to many areas. Detroit and its environs, including parts of Ontario, experienced significant damage. South Texas and Central Texas saw widespread flooding. Multiple rivers throughout southern Minnesota overflowed their banks, putting homes, businesses, and municipal facilities at risk. In all these areas, scores of people had to be rescued from homes and vehicles.

 

JESUS’ ADVICE ON WHERE TO BUILD

From time immemorial, people have built towns and cities on flood plains, ocean beaches, and other areas subject to flooding. So Jesus was commenting on human nature when he advised us to build on solid rock where floods cannot destroy what we have built. Of course, his advice had to do with more than building physical structures. We must also build the spiritual edifices of our lives on solid ground where they cannot be washed away.

  1. What seemingly valid reasons might people offer for building where flooding is possible?
  2. In what way does your answer also illustrate why people build their lives in dangerous situations?
  3. Name some examples of building one’s life on “sand,” as Jesus says.
  4. What is the “rock” on which Jesus advises us to build?
  5. How does fixing our thoughts on Jesus, as Hebrews 3:1 implores, assure that our lives will represent a house built by God?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 2, 2016

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WHICH ONE IS GREATER?

Monday evening both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tried to persuade Americans that they are the better presidential candidate and more worthy of citizens’ trust to lead the country. Going into the debate, polls indicated that most voters didn’t consider either candidate to be honest and trustworthy. To gain an advantage in the race, Clinton and Trump attacked each other during the debate and made many promises regarding what they would do in the future if elected.

 

CHRIST IS GREATEST

The superlatives used in today’s text to describe Jesus obviously place him above any other person who has ever lived. God has already “elected” him. He is superior to the angels; he was God’s agent in creating the universe; he is the radiance of God’s glory; he sustains all created things; and perhaps most important, he is the one who has provided the way for us to be purified from our sins. This is what he is and what he has done, not just what he has promised.

  1. What personal characteristics make a leader great, whether we’re speaking of political, religious, or other types of leadership?
  2. Can a leader be great without being likeable or trustworthy? Explain.
  3. How can we raise up better leaders in our society?
  4. What do the characteristics of Jesus mentioned in Hebrews 1 mean to you personally? How have they affected your life?
  5. How should our heavenly Leader’s holding the “scepter of justice” (Hebrews 1:8) affect how we live as his followers?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 25, 2016

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TRAITOR OR HERO?

Snowden opened in theaters this week. It is the cinematic portrayal of Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who, in 2013, leaked thousands of classified documents from the National Security Agency. The leaks revealed worldwide surveillance programs run by government intelligence agencies. Though many consider Snowden a traitor, in a society in which government agencies are often believed to hide the injustices their governments perpetrate, others see him as a hero forcing greater transparency.

 

HERO AND SAVIOR

The people of Israel had seen their share of leaders who brought injustice and oppression in abundance. So when Isaiah foretold what God was going to do on their behalf, he must have seemed like a hero! However, God would be their only real hero—the only one who could bring salvation to them. That’s good for us to remember as we listen to leaders who promise to save us from all our problems.

  1. What reasons would people offer for seeing Edward Snowden as a traitor? . . . as a hero?
  2. Does the fact that Snowden may have broken the law affect your view of his situation? In what way?
  3. What forces at work in our world create the need for “whistleblowers”?
  4. Is there a better way than the one Snowden chose for a Christian to call attention to perceived evils committed by government? Explain.
  5. What do God’s activities as expressed by Isaiah suggest about the societal issues Christians should be concerned about?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 18, 2016

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FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP

This week political leaders around the world have been struggling with pressures of various kinds. David Cameron, who resigned as Britain’s prime minister following the Brexit vote not even three months ago, felt constrained to go even further and step down from parliament. Syrian president Bashar Assad bowed to American and Russian pressure and accepted yet another cease-fire with rebel forces. German chancellor Angela Merkel faced increasing criticism that her open-door policy toward Syrian refugees is a failure. Eduardo Cunha, who orchestrated the impeachment of former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, was himself expelled from the legislative chamber that he once led as speaker.

 

UNFAILING LEADERSHIP

Isaiah tells us that God does not get pushed around by anyone—neither by other leaders forcing their will on him, nor by his “constituents” refusing to support him, nor by critics who don’t agree with his reign. Unlike so many human leaders, God uses his power to bless his people in ways no human head of state can ever do, giving them spiritual strength.

1. What do the events of this week suggest to you about our tendency to place faith in human leaders?

2. What does today’s Scripture text tell us about the difference between God’s power and that of human leaders?

3. How does God’s power over the universe encourage you when things seem to be going against you?

4. Share with the group about a time when God empowered you to accomplish something you could not have otherwise.

5. How does today’s text help to restore or strengthen your faith?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 11, 2016

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THE WORLD’S PROBLEM

The Indian city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is a graphic symbol of the world’s problems. It has long been filled with the “poorest of the poor,” as Mother Teresa called them. She spent her life compassionately feeding, clothing, and housing them, even as they were dying. Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa last Sunday. At the global headquarters for Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, Muslims and Hindus joined in celebrating her elevation to sainthood. The pope called her “a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded.” “May she be your model of holiness,” Francis said.

 

GOD’S PROMISE

Regardless of the noble model Teresa’s life offers, it is God who provides the greatest model of holiness for us. Through Isaiah, God promised to bless a poverty-stricken and spiritually sick world with his divine provision. Our greatest need is not the finest of food and drink, but to have the shroud of death and disgrace removed from us. Through Christ, that shroud will ultimately be destroyed.

1. Whether or not you share the Catholic Church’s theology regarding “sainthood,” in what way is Teresa’s life a challenge to you? Do you think of her as a “model of holiness”? Why or why not?

2. Do you find it difficult to care for such people as Teresa served for so many years? Explain.

3. Do you think God’s promise in Isaiah 25 should be understood literally? How will it be fulfilled?

4. How would you answer someone who says that God is not faithful to his promises? Share some examples of God’s faithfulness that you have experienced.

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 4, 2016

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PROTESTING INJUSTICE

Before last week’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat through the playing of the national anthem. He explained by saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” Kaepernick has expressed similar opinions on Twitter. His actions and words have raised a storm of protest, and rumors are circulating that the 49ers want to trade Kaepernick.

 

CREATING JUSTICE

Perhaps Kaepernick is longing for the day foreseen by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 11:1-9. In that day, righteousness will reign supreme, the poor and downtrodden will be treated justly, the wicked will be destroyed, and predators and prey will dwell in harmony. In this predicted peaceful kingdom, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. Obviously, we aren’t there yet!

 

  1. What, if anything, is commendable about Kaepernick’s attitude and actions?
  2. What, if anything, do you find offensive about them? Explain.
  3. What areas of injustice in society do you see and what role should Christians play in fighting them?
  4. Do you think Isaiah’s prophecy should be understood literally or figuratively? Why?
  5. In either case, how do we help bring about such a society?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 28, 2016

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IS SPORTSMANSHIP . . .

In the midst of the fierce competition of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, one incident of sportsmanship stands out. In a qualifying heat of the women’s 5,000-meter race, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin stumbled and fell, causing American Abbey D’Agostino to trip over her. D’Agostino quickly got up, but rather than continuing the race she helped Hamblin to her feet. Then D’Agostino’s knee gave way and she fell again, so Hamblin helped her up, and both continued to the finish line. D’Agostino later explained, “The only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way.”

 

. . . THE SAME AS GODLINESS?

Top-level competition in any sport is often thought of as highly focused and individualistic, with little room for Christian graces. It’s simply not how the world normally behaves. This makes it all the more amazing when one competitor puts into practice the biblical commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself,” as D’Agostino did.

  1. Some coaches (and others) say competition has no room for “softness” such as concern for others. Is that right, or wrong? Why?
  2. How would you advocate for sportsmanship to one who says it’s an outdated virtue?
  3. What change in our culture has occurred that makes D’Agostino’s act so noteworthy?
  4. Does competition (in any area of life) tempt us to forsake Christian teachings? Explain.
  5. Does competition ever show up in Christian circles? Is this good or bad? Why?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 21, 2016

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CELEBRATED, BUT EMPTY

Michael Phelps’ performance in the Rio Olympics makes him the current hero among America’s Olympic athletes, with a career total of 28 medals—23 of them gold. But two years ago, partying and heavy drinking led to a DUI arrest and thoughts of suicide. Then Ray Lewis, a friend and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker, gave Phelps a copy of The Purpose Driven Life. Phelps now says that Rick Warren’s book “turned me into believing that there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet.”

 

UNWORTHY, BUT ACCEPTED

The gospel tells people who have no right to consider themselves worthy that God has a place for them in his heart, in spite of who they are or what they have done. The apostle Paul reminded the Gentile Christians in Rome that even though they were a “wild olive shoot,” they had been grafted into the true olive tree of God’s people.

  1. With the world bowing at his feet, what do you think made Michael Phelps feel so unworthy?
  2. If you are comfortable sharing with the group, tell them what makes you feel less than worthy of God’s love.
  3. Do you have “successful” acquaintances whose lives are empty of meaning? How would you approach them to give them purpose and hope?
  4. In terms of your own relationship with God, how does what Paul says about being “grafted in” give you comfort?
  5. Since “grafting” is a term not understood by all, what idiom might Paul have used in writing to a technological society such as ours? Explain.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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Download In the World – August 14, 2016

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WHO IS AN AMERICAN?

This year’s political campaigns have been filled with arguments about immigration. Some candidates (and their supporters) are troubled by the new wave of immigrants who are unlike most Americans; and people of this persuasion often claim that immigrants take jobs away from Americans by working for lower wages. Others contend that such attitudes are basically racist—often noting that even Americans who were born here are descended from immigrants, thus making us all “immigrants” of sorts.

 

WHO IS A CHRISTIAN?

In New Testament times, the church had its own ongoing argument about ethnic identity. Some Jewish Christians believed the Gentiles entering their ranks were spiritual “immigrants” who didn’t measure up to the “real” Christians who, ethnically, were descendants of Abraham. Paul approached the issue from a different perspective. He asserted that God is far less concerned than we are with physical identity. Instead, he looks at what is in one’s heart. And everything depends on God’s mercy.

  1. In light of America’s history, why should immigration be an issue now? Is there a “Christian view”? If so, what is it?
  2. How can America get past the current argument over “identity politics”?
  3. What situations have you personally encountered where ethnic identity became a problem? How was it dealt with?
  4. Has your church experienced ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic tensions? How did the leaders handle it?
  5. What have you done to reduce tensions in regard to diverse populations in your church or community?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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Download In the World – August 7, 2016

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IMMINENT TRAGEDY

A flash flood hit Ellicott City, Maryland, last Saturday. A month’s worth of rain—six inches—fell in two hours, washing through the historic town near Baltimore. A quickly-gone-viral video showed a human chain saving a woman whose car was about to be washed away. At one point, the man at the end of the chain was almost swept away in the torrent, but he recovered and finally persuaded the woman to place her faith in the strangers risking their lives for her.

 

EXTRAORDINARY RESPONSE

The event in Maryland had biblical overtones: a flood of historic proportions, victims caught unawares, and the extraordinary response of people putting themselves at risk to save an unknown and—for a time—unwilling person in crisis. Our text today reminds us of Christ’s role in saving us. He placed himself in the ultimate position of risk when we were hopeless sinners. In accepting his saving actions, we help God bring good out of evil.

  1. What causes us to place ourselves in danger to save someone else? Is the motivation Christian, or merely human? Explain.
  2. What prevents us from acting heroically at times?
  3. Have you ever been in an extreme situation where someone else risked life or well-being to save you? Describe your feelings.
  4. Tell of a time when God worked in your life to turn a crisis into something good.
  5. In what way does the rescue in Maryland speak to you about God’s love for us in Christ?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 31, 2016

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DEATH OF A CAREER

Roger Ailes was forced to resign as chairman of Fox News last week. Former news anchor, Gretchen Carlson, had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes earlier this month. The filing follows accusations of sexual harassment by several female employees over a long period of time. As the story developed, numerous allegations emerged that a woman’s submission to sexual advances was the price for career success in the Fox News corporate culture.

 

RENEWAL OF LIFE

The world’s standards of behavior can bring death of many kinds: career, relationships, personal integrity, and even physical. However, the Bible shows us the means by which life can arise from death. Turning away from sin and accepting Jesus as our Savior can save us from the spiritual penalty that comes from rejecting God. And, as this week’s text says, baptism is a highly symbolic, physical expression of the change of direction that takes place within our hearts.

  1. Do you think the fact that Roger Ailes lost his job is strong enough punishment to deter others from similar behavior? Why or why not?
  2. If you personally know perpetrators or victims of sexual harassment, what were the results in those situations?
  3. What help does today’s text give us in responding when such incidents happen within Christian organizations?
  4. How does being a Christian assist us in avoiding the kind of sin Roger Ailes has been accused of?
  5. In practical terms, what does being either a servant of sin or an instrument of righteousness mean to you in the way you live?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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Download In the World – July 24, 2016

By | "In the World"

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POWERLESS TO STOP IT

The news in recent weeks seems to have been unrelentingly bad. Killings by police, multiple assassinations of police, 84 killed and more than 300 injured as a truck drove through a mile of pedestrians in France. We wonder, when will the insanity stop? The truth is, we are powerless to stop it. New laws are proposed (and sometimes passed), security measures are tightened, politicians pontificate, but the violence continues.

 

AND YET, WE HAVE HOPE

Suffering is the way of this world. Nevertheless, Paul tells us that suffering leads us to persevere in our faith, which builds character in us. Ultimately, this chain of events brings us hope. Yes, hope, because the troubles of this world lead us to place our trust in the promises of Christ. We may never find reconciliation in this world, but Christ gives us peace by reconciling us to God.

  1. Is it really possible to have peace in our hearts when the world all around us seems to be going crazy? Why or why not?
  2. How do you define this peace? How is it different than the peace the world is seeking?
  3. How do you personally find comfort when life seems to be coming apart?
  4. What can Christians do individually and collectively to help others see that hope is available in the midst of suffering?
  5. What does God reconciling us to himself while we were his enemies say about how we should act toward our enemies? What specific steps should we take?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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Download In the World – July 17, 2016

By | "In the World"

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ALL HAVE SINNED . . .

Last week’s violence started in Baton Rouge with the shooting of a black man as he was being arresting by white police officers. A similar shooting occurred in St. Paul after a traffic stop. Then a sniper in Dallas, apparently in retaliation, killed five policemen and wounded numerous other officers. Blacks and whites were both shooters and victims in these various events, indicating that no single racial group can claim to be free from sin.

 

. . . BUT IT’S NOTHING NEW!

In New Testament times, Jews and Gentiles were antagonistic to each other. Both claimed to be justified in their hatred of the other. However, Paul says there is enough blame to go around. No individual or group of people can claim to be without sin, either in relationship to others or to God.

  1. Why do you think people tend to see other racial groups as more guilty than their own in situations of social strife? How can we address that problem?
  2. How do you explain the human tendency to rush to judgment about guilt or innocence before the facts are known?
  3. What lessons for our tense racial situation can we draw from Paul’s statements about Jews and Gentiles?
  4. What does it mean in your life to fall short of God’s glory? How do you personally try to overcome this inclination?
  5. How does your relationship with Christ help you in your personal struggle with accepting people who are different than you?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 10, 2016

By | "In the World"

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UNDER THE POWER OF SIN

As this week began, Islamic jihadists made three suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia. The strikes appeared to be motivated by the ISIS vow to use the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (which ended Tuesday) to press their cause upon the rest of the world, including members of other Muslim sects. Fortunately, two of Monday’s attacks only resulted in death to the perpetrators. However, attacks the previous week in the Muslim countries of Iraq, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Yemen resulted in the killing of scores of victims.

UNDER THE GRACE OF GOD

While claiming to do “good” (as they see it), the Muslim extremists’ persistent efforts to bring bloodshed, ruin, and misery are an ironic example of the power of sin mentioned in today’s text. Their efforts to gain salvation by obedience to a distorted view of God contradicts the apostle Paul’s teaching that salvation comes to those who place themselves under the grace of God.

  1. How does a jihadist rationalize killing or maiming other human beings in the name of God?
  2. Can you think of examples of Christians using violent means to make a political (or even a theological) point?
  3. In today’s culture, in which making moral judgments is considered wrong, how can Christians present the falsehoods of Islam without meriting condemnation for being judgmental?
  4. How does the biblical doctrine of grace affect your understanding of what God expects of you?
  5. Is it possible for Christians to place themselves under the power of sin? If so, in what circumstances?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – July 3, 2016

By | "In the World"

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN . . . ?

. . .  to be British? The citizens of Great Britain sought to answer that question in the “Brexit” referendum last week on whether to remain a member of the European Union. A slight majority said it means to be a more insular nation, not forced to abide by the immigration, economic, and trade policies of the EU. Many observers see similarities between the populist mood in Britain, which has rejected the nation’s leadership, and the fervor that has affected the American political wars this year.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN . . . ?

. . . to be Christian? Many people apparently believe this question can also be answered by a referendum. However, Paul says that biblical faith is not subject to popular vote. Neither is it to be determined by what we say about how we identify ourselves. Instead, our attitudes and the behavior that reflects them is the standard by which God will judge our faith.

  1. What similarities, if any, do you see between populist politics and the “popular religion” approach to spirituality which is prevalent today?
  2. What do you think Paul would say to modern people who say that being a good, moral person who “lives by the rules” is sufficient?
  3. On the other hand, what might Paul say to the person who says, “My heart’s in the right place, so it doesn’t matter if my behavior doesn’t measure up to what the Bible calls for”?
  4. How would you restate Paul’s concept of “circumcision of the heart” in terms a modern audience would find culturally meaningful?
  5. What factors can cause us not to see areas of our behavior that contradict what we say we believe?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – June 26, 2016

By | "In the World"

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HUMAN JUDGMENTS

Although two weeks have passed since Omar Mateen murdered 49 people in an Orlando nightclub primarily patronized by those identifying as gay or lesbian, people are still making conflicting judgments about the horrific event. Monday afternoon the FBI, under pressure from Republican leaders, released the unedited transcript of the 911 call Mateen made during the rampage. Monday morning the FBI had released a version omitting Mateen’s allegiance to ISIS and its leader. The agency defended the omission on the grounds of denying the terror group a public platform. Some have insisted that this was not an act of terrorism, but rather an act of self-loathing by a man who struggled with same-sex attraction. (The FBI says that they have found no evidence of that, however.) This week lawmakers offered legislation to limit access to weapons to potential terrorists, but all such efforts were blocked. Some even argue that the whole event was a hoax perpetrated by the government to gain support for outlawing guns.

 

DIVINE JUDGMENT

The apostle Paul’s assessment of the state of humankind and the reason for God’s judgment is without conflict and contradiction. Judgment is deserved because people purposely reject God and divine standards, substituting their own standards in place of them. This rejection deepens the divide between humankind and God and leads to even greater corruption of civilization.

  1. Why do you think people differ in the way they interpret the reasons for the Orlando shootings? In what ways have you found yourself at odds with others concerning how to deal with the aftermath of this attack?
  2. After reading our lesson text, try to imagine what the apostle Paul would say about Orlando, other terrorist attacks, and the general moral state of our nation today.
  3. Do recent events make you think God is now in the process of bringing judgment on America? On what basis?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 19, 2016

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TOO MANY VICTIMS?

On June 2, Stanford University swimming star Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on the university campus. It is likely that he will serve only about half of that sentence, even though he had faced up to 14 years in prison. Yet, Turner’s father complained that the sentence was too harsh for a mere “twenty minutes of action” on his son’s part. The father blamed a college culture that encouraged alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity.

In contrast, others saw an attempt to explain away the crime of a privileged predator caught in the act of assaulting an unconscious victim behind a dumpster. Outrage over the judge’s decision is so great that there have been numerous demands for his recall. This case will likely fuel a nationwide debate about rape culture, privilege in the criminal justice system, and campus safety.

CHANGE FROM A FEW

A corrupt culture had infected the lives of the least to the greatest in Israel. But Zephaniah promised that redemption and lasting change could come from a few—a remnant of faithful God-followers.

  1. In the Stanford case, both parties claim to be victims of culture—one culture that promotes risky behavior without consequence and another that protects wealthy individuals and star athletes. What do you think of these arguments? How are both right? How are both wrong?
  2. It is easy to feel helpless when we are pressing against the cultural tide. What are we not understanding when we feel this way?
  3. How does Zephaniah’s promise of a faithful remnant give you hope when we see rampant sin and injustice today?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – June 12, 2016

By | "In the World"

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CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

Trump University is the defendant in a lawsuit being heard in federal court. The judge in the case is Gonzalo Curiel, an Indiana-born son of Mexican immigrants. Donald Trump recently charged Judge Curiel with an “absolute” conflict of interest. Mr. Trump argues that Curiel’s ethnicity made it improper for him to hear the case, since Trump has vowed to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The charge is serious because political corruption often accompanies conflict of interest. Trump’s critics in both major parties are condemning his speech as offensive.

CONFLICT OF MORALS

Jerusalem claimed to be the city of God, but suffered from its leaders’ offensive immorality. Their service of selfish interests placed them in an absolute conflict of interest with their call to serve God and his people. Zephaniah says the rulers, prophets, and priests alike were immoral, unprincipled, and profane. He says God will send the nations to judge the immoral city.

  1. Why do you think politics is such a messy business? Why do politicians seem to so often speak unwisely?
  2. Is it possible for us to set aside our ethnicity, social class, or even our politics, and be objective in deciding the issues of our time? What factors hinder us from doing so?
  3. What evidence do you see of religious and political leaders in our culture committing the same abuses of power as their counterparts in Zephaniah’s time?
  4. Do you think, as some do, that America is reaching the end of its era of being blessed by God? Why or why not? How can Christians bring about needed change?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 5, 2016

By | "In the World"

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LISTENING CAREFULLY TO ADVICE

Last Sunday was a festive day for 350,000 auto racing fans who saw the Indianapolis 500. It was a sellout crowd for the first time in the race’s hundred-year history. But for some drivers and race teams, the day brought distress, anguish, and defeat because of crashes and mechanical problems.

However, a car skillfully driven by rookie driver Alexander Rossi coasted victoriously across the finish line on an empty fuel tank. Rossi had humbly accepted his team leaders’ orders to drop his speed on the last couple of laps, rather than charging boldly toward the finish. This decision saved enough fuel to help Rossi win the race.

FAILING TO HEED A WARNING

Most of the people in Zephaniah’s audience refused to hear his message warning them of the doom that awaited them. This was true of most of the people who heard the message of the Old Testament prophets. While a humble remnant found safety by trusting in the Lord, a proud spirit led an idolatrous majority to run headlong into destruction. They chose to run the race of life in their own way.

  1. What do you find unique about Rossi’s behavior among sports personalities? Why is Rossi’s attitude so seldom seen among sports competitors?
  2. How might godly humility make a difference in one’s demeanor in sports? . . . in other competitive areas of life?
  3. Using the racing metaphor, how are we tempted to race through life without caution, not heeding warnings along the way? What temptations in modern life threaten to keep us from crossing the finish line as victors?
  4. What sins that Zephaniah names compare to some practices in the modern Western full-speed-ahead lifestyle?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 29, 2016

By | "In the World"

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SECOND-GUESSING THE PRESIDENT 

President Obama has been in Japan this week and was scheduled to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Many have speculated as to whether or not he would be apologizing for America’s use of the atomic bomb to end World War II. A 2015 opinion poll by a Russian news agency found that 60% of the Japanese public wanted an apology for the bombing. A recent Japanese survey of hibakusha (survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), however, said 80 percent of them are not seeking an apology. These numbers are similar to a Gallup survey of the American public in 1995 which found that only 20 percent supported apologizing.  The White House promised that the president would make no apologies but would mention America’s “moral responsibility” to lead efforts to create a nuclear weapon-free world.

SECOND-GUESSING JESUS

When Jesus volunteered to go to the home of Zaccheus for dinner, critics jumped on the opportunity to question Jesus’ motives for his actions. However, Jesus had supernatural knowledge of what was going on in Zaccheus’ heart. He was more concerned with what was taking place there than in what was in the minds of his critics.

  1. Is the ongoing argument over the use of atomic weapons in World War II productive or not? Explain. Should either Japan or America apologize?
  2. Why do we delight so much in second-guessing other people, especially regarding their motivation?
  3. How does a critical spirit steal Christian joy from us? from those whose motives we question?
  4. How do you personally combat the temptation to be negative?
  5. What positive actions have you found to help you experience Christian joy?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – May 22, 2016

By | "In the World"

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POTENTIAL PHYSICAL ABUSE

In a town near Ft. Collins, Colorado last week, a woman sent an alarming note to the teller in a bank’s drive-up window.  The note said that a man in her car wanted money and was threatening to harm her children. The teller gave her $500 and notified authorities. Soon after, the woman was arrested and charged with robbery and two counts of child abuse. In fact, the woman was babysitting the children who were not her own. If the situation had turned violent, the children could have been put in mortal danger.

SPIRITUAL NEGLECT?

The disciples’ attempt to keep the children away from Jesus did not put the children in physical jeopardy. Those children would not have been harmed physically if the disciples had their way. However, the disciples may have been guilty of spiritual neglect by keeping the children from what might have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be held in the arms of Jesus. Who knows how their lives might have been changed?

  1. What drives a person to put in possible danger a child who has been entrusted to their care? What should the consequences be for such a person?
  2. Although we usually think of child abuse and neglect in physical terms, what other kinds are you aware of?
  3. Some argue that Christian training for children is a form of spiritual abuse, forcing beliefs upon them. Can that ever be true? Why or why not? Could the argument be made that refusing Christian training is spiritual neglect? Explain.
  4. How might Christians turn children away from Jesus today? Give examples.
  5. How would you define or describe “childlike faith”?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 15, 2016

By | "In the World"

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WHO IS MORALLY SUPERIOR?

Opinion polls show Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump having a record percentage of the public viewing them unfavorably. Detractors can point to either candidate and find a history of scandal and a string of contradictory statements. Secretary Clinton continues to face strong Democrat Party primary challenges. Even though Mr. Trump has become the presumptive Republican nominee, several party leaders are (in effect) declaring themselves morally superior to him and refusing to support him in the general election. Many would-be voters are angrily expressing similar moral indignation.

NONE OF US!

Jesus’ parable was likely based on behavior he had observed in the temple. The Pharisee was confident of his moral superiority over others in general, but especially over the tax collector. Even when addressing God in prayer, he openly stated his contempt for his supposed spiritual inferiors. The tax collector had a more realistic perspective on his spiritual condition, admitting that he was a sinner in need of grace.

  1. What do you think is motivating the anger among the candidates and their supporters this year? Is it legitimate? Why or why not?
  2. Do you find yourself feeling those same emotions? If so, do you defend them or regret them? Why?
  3. Do you think more Christians are like the Pharisee or the tax collector when evaluating their own spirituality? Explain.
  4. How do you personally try to avoid the Pharisee’s prideful attitude?
  5. What keeps you from becoming pleased with your “Christ-like humility”?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 8, 2016

By | "In the World"

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THANKS . . .

In presidential-election years, unsuccessful primary candidates may court the front-runner to be chosen as the vice-presidential candidate. The media typically ask the other candidates whether they are interested in the position. The answer is usually, “Thanks, but no thanks (wink-wink).” This year, when asked whether they would consider the #2 spot on a Trump ticket, representatives and advisors of other candidates such as John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio have all emphatically denied their man is in any way interested.

. . . BUT NO THANKS.

We expect a sly “no thanks” response as a political maneuver, but in other areas of life we look for more straight-forward gratitude. Luke tells us about nine of ten lepers who failed to return to give thanks to Jesus for healing them. While they accepted healing Jesus offered, did their behavior say, “No thanks,” to a life of continued gratitude and loyalty to Jesus?

  1. Is the “thanks, but no thanks” response of so many contenders merely a political ruse, or is there another message implied? If so, what is it?
  2. Political primaries allow candidates to contrast themselves with their rivals. What considerations would need to be made before an unsuccessful candidate joined forces with a former rival?
  3. Jesus pointed out that there was an important political/religious difference between the returning leper and the nine others. Would that difference lead others to believe that he would have been more or less likely to come to Jesus than the other nine? Explain.
  4. To this day, people seek divine favor but are hesitant to become faithful followers of God. What political, cultural, or personal barriers can stand between a person and Jesus?
  5. Think of someone who has become a Jesus follower despite such barriers. How is that person like the tenth leper in our Bible lesson?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 1, 2016

By | "In the World"

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A DEBT SETTLED

Eight members of an extended family were killed execution-style in southern Ohio a week ago. Four were twenty years old or younger. As this was written, authorities were looking into a connection between the crimes and a drug cartel. Three of the four crime scenes contained sophisticated marijuana growing sites, with plants worth about $500,000. It was a “much bigger operation than something for personal use,” according to an official in the investigation. Southern Ohio has a recent history of massive marijuana operations.

DEBTS FORGIVEN

The crimes suggest the existence of some personal or professional debt involving the killer(s) and the victims. It’s hard to imagine Christians being involved in whatever led to them. Regardless, the need to forgive and be forgiven is one common to all of us. A recurring theme runs through Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. Whatever the offense, we are to exercise forgiveness multiple times toward those who have sinned against us.

  1. Regardless of the plausible drug connection in the Ohio crimes, why is settling debts of various kinds by retaliation such a common thing?
  2. What responsibility for harm should be taken by users of supposedly “harmless” substances?
  3. Does Jesus’ command to forgive extend to the families of the victims? Why or why not?
  4. Tell of a situation in which you have seen forgiveness offered multiple times, as Jesus commands? What was the eventual result?
  5. How can our failure to forgive cause someone to stumble, as Jesus implies?
  6. How does a forgiving spirit connect with the servant Jesus describes as going beyond what is expected?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World, April 24 – 2016

By | "In the World"

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THE BRASHNESS OF YOUTH

Kobe Bryant joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, coming directly out of high school. Kobe was a brash, self-assured young basketball player. However, his occasionally questionable behavior off the court and his brash demeanor on it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, especially Shaquille O’Neal, the team’s leader. But through the years he matured into an excellent player who became the undoubted, dynamic leader of the team. Last week Kobe played his last professional game, leading the Lakers from behind to beat the Utah Jazz, scoring 60 points himself.

THE WISDOM OF MATURITY

The prodigal son thought he knew more about life than anyone else, especially the older members of his own family. So he left home, seeking a new life on his own terms. Eventually a crisis convinced him that his life was going in the wrong direction. His slowly evolving maturity was finally demonstrated in swallowing his pride and returning home to his loving father.

  1. What examples can you cite of public figures whose regrettable youthful behavior was eventually overcome by maturity? Are some professions more likely than others to produce such examples? Explain.
  2. Today, many runaways are trying to escape unpleasant or even abusive home situations. Nevertheless, some run away from stable homes and loving families. Which of those two situations seems to be the one Jesus describes? Explain.
  3. What similar family situations have you observed? Were they resolved? If so, how?
  4. Regardless of the type of human parents one has, all have the same heavenly Father. What is Jesus saying in this parable about those who run away from God to live life on their own terms?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – April 17, 2016

By | "In the World"

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A SCARY DISEASE

For weeks we’ve been hearing about Zika, the frightening, mosquito-born virus that is spreading rapidly throughout Latin America. On Monday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) warned that the species of mosquito that spreads the virus lives in about 30 U.S. states, and yet we have no known preventive treatment or cure. Calling the virus “scarier” than thought at first, the CDC pointed to evidence that it may cause premature births and blindness as well as the already-documented microcephaly, a condition that stunts mental development in newborns. How can a disease this scary be stopped?

A WONDERFUL HEALING

The condition of the man who confronted Jesus was no less frightening. The demons which possessed him caused such bizarre behavior that the citizens of the area recoiled in fear of him. Even after they saw the man cured and sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet, they were still fearful. How could someone that far gone be made whole again?

  1. Is demonic possession part of our world today? In some regions but not others? How would you defend your answer to someone who disagrees with you?
  2. In what ways have you seen the power of God at work in overcoming illness, either physical or otherwise?
  3. What effect does faith in Jesus have in preventing, enduring, or healing disease? Explain.
  4. Why do you think some who have faith in Christ are cured of disease and others, apparently with equally strong faith, are not? What consolation would you offer to the latter?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – April 10, 2016

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TO WITHHOLD HOSPITALITY . . .

For nearly half-a-century, evangelical Christians have largely been united on so-called “culture war” issues such as homosexuality and abortion. However, it is not so on the related questions of immigration and treatment of refugees. Last week, a Public Religion Research Institute poll showed a deep divide among conservative evangelicals. Evangelicals who take a more restrictive line on immigration and refugee issues tend to be white, male, older, and non-college educated. Their opposites are likely to have more accommodating views.

. . . OR OFFER IT?

Hospitality, or the lack of it, was also evident in the tension between Jesus and Simon, the Pharisee. Simon’s hardness of heart showed in his harsh criticism of both Jesus and the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and expensive perfume. Jesus also seems to have been correlating common social graces with compassion, both of which Simon failed to exhibit.

  1. For Christians, is the issue as simple as being either for or against illegal immigration and acceptance of refugees from unstable countries? Is it fair to say one is a compassionate view while the other is not? Explain.
  2. In America today, for what other issues is uncritical acceptance equated with compassion? Was Jesus’ compassion toward sinners an uncritical acceptance of them? Explain.
  3. Choose a class of people in America as an example and explain why you feel either more or less accommodation is the appropriate Christian response.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – April 3, 2016

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A CULT OF DEATH

Christians celebrate life at Easter-time. This year, Islamic terrorists chose to glorify death at that time. On Sunday, they attacked Christians in a city park in Lahore, Pakistan. The immediate death toll was nearly 70 people, mostly women and children. A Catholic priest kidnapped by ISIS from an old people’s home on March 4 was reported to have been crucified in Yemen on Good Friday. It could have been worse. Intelligence officers working in the aftermath of the Brussels bombings on March 15 were apparently able to interrupt plans to attack churches across Europe starting on Good Friday and continuing through Easter Monday.

A FELLOWSHIP OF LIFE

In contrast, Jesus demonstrated for us the kind of attitude God really wants to see in those who worship him. When the Roman centurion begged Jesus to save his servant’s life, Jesus might have refused the request because the centurion was “not of the right faith.” But he did not! Jesus rewarded the man’s trust by healing the servant. In doing so, he showed us that God loves life, not death!

  1. What should be our response when others intentionally seek to do evil to us because we are Christians?
  2. What are some non-violent ways in which Christians are singled out because of their faith in our society?
  3. How do you understand Jesus’ comment that he had “not seen such faith in all of Israel”?
  4. Does God hear the requests of non-Christians today? Explain your answer.
  5. What can Christians do to help the world view our faith more favorably?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 27, 2016

By | "In the World"

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DOUBTS ABOUT A RESTORED RELATIONSHIP

Fifteen months ago, President Obama announced that the United States would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Last week, the long, slow process came nearer to realization when the president made an official visit to Havana. The trip resurrected official recognition between the two nations more than half-a-century after the Cold War estrangement took place. However, there are still critics on both sides who doubt that the time is yet right for the restoration of normalcy.

FAITH IN A RESTORED LIFE

There was plenty of reason for doubt that first Easter morning. The women whom the angel greeted at Jesus’ tomb were afraid and confused. They had expected to find a corpse in the tomb, so they had every reason to doubt the angel’s words. Nevertheless, the seed of faith had been planted and it would grow to fruition when they later saw the risen Lord.

  1. Why are some people critical of the events in Havana this week?
  2. Do you find yourself confused, optimistic, or pessimistic about changes in diplomacy such as we saw this week? Explain.
  3. How did the women’s fear affect their ability to believe the message that Jesus had risen?
  4. If you had been in the women’s place, how would you have reacted to the angel’s message? Why?
  5. What emotions or attitudes keep people from believing in the risen Jesus today?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 20, 2016

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WHEN SPEECH INCITES

Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric has often been blunt. In fact, many of his supporters are drawn to him because of it, citing his intentional lack of political correctness. However, Trump’s detractors have complained that his speech has sometimes been crude and even racist. Last week, some of them responded in kind. A Trump rally at the University of Chicago had to be cancelled when anti-Trump demonstrators and Trump supporters clashed violently.

WHEN SPEECH BETRAYS

Ironically, when Peter’s speech betrayed his identity, it also betrayed a lack of spiritual maturity and courage. His Galilean accent enabled people around the campfire to identify him as a disciple of Jesus, but his crude cursing in response indicated a serious moral lapse and brought shame upon him.

  1. In determining whom we support, should agreement with the candidate on key issues be more important to us than the nature of his campaign rhetoric? Explain.
  2. To what extent do you think candidates should be held responsible for the reactions of their opponents? of their supporters?
  3. What do you see in the occasional behavior of some Christians that might be compared to Peter’s crude denial of his relationship with Jesus?
  4. How do spiritually immature attitudes and speech on the part of Christians affect the world’s view of Jesus?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 13, 2016

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CAN MONEY REPLACE REPUTATION?

In 2008, Michael David Barrett took illicit videos of sportscaster and reality TV star Erin Andrews through the peephole of her hotel room door. Barrett stood trial for the criminal offense and served two years in prison.

This week, a jury awarded Andrews $55 million in a civil suit against both Barrett and the hotel. The hotel and its management agent were included in the suit, alleging they had allowed the stalker access to rooms next to those Andrews stayed in. Andrews claimed her life and career had been irreparably harmed.

CAN MONEY AND REPUTATION BRING SALVATION?

A certain man questioned Jesus about eternal life. This person we sometimes call “the rich young ruler” thought his money and positive reputation could make him right with God. Instead, Jesus told him to sell everything he owned and place his faith in God rather than his personal righteousness.

  1. In civil suits, monetary awards are given to compensate for loss of life, damage to careers, injuries sustained because of negligence, to name a few. Why is money used this way? How effective is this approach in dealing with the real offenses it addresses? Explain.
  2. The rich man in today’s Bible lesson seemed to think being financially successful and religious was enough to please God. How do you answer people today who have similar attitudes?
  3. How do you know your faith is in Christ, not in financial security or personal morality? How would you react if Jesus told you to sell all you have and follow Him?

.—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 6, 2016

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THE POWER TO COERCE

Apple vs. the FBI vs. the terrorist. A federal court has sided with the FBI, ordering Apple to create software that would break the encryption of the iPhone used by the gunman who killed fourteen people in San Bernardino last December. The FBI wants to know if the assassin used the phone to communicate with other terrorists. Apple says the court is trying to interfere with some basic constitutional rights. Fundamentally, it may be seen as an issue of whether the state has ultimate power when it comes to individual liberty vs. public safety.

THE POWER TO HEAL

The healing of the demon-possessed child was also a matter of power—the power of faith. The demon’s power coerced the boy to behave abnormally. The boy’s father had faith in Jesus and asked Jesus’ disciples to heal his son, but they could not coerce the demon to leave. After healing the boy, Jesus told them this kind of healing can only be accomplished by the power of faith-filled prayer.

  1. Is Apple right or wrong in refusing to obey the government? Does a particular biblical principle bring you to this conclusion? Explain.
  2. What other issues do you see in which governmental power might conflict with the rights of individuals or businesses? How would you resolve them?
  3. Why do you think the disciples could not heal the child even though they believed in Jesus’ power?
  4. Does the father’s statement, “I believe, help my unbelief,” have an application to your life? Explain. Has your prayer ever resolved a difficult situation? How?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – February 28, 2016

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THE END OF THE ROAD

The life of a presidential primary candidate is like taking an arduous journey. The candidate has a series of temporary homes as he or she travels around the country. Only one candidate will make it to the end of the road—the White House. In this year’s contests, the candidate shakeout in both parties has begun. Jeb Bush announced on February 20 that he was suspending his campaign. He was preceded by Jim Webb (October 20, 2015), John Gilmore (February 12), Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie (February 10), Rick Santorum (February 3), Martin O’Malley, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee (February 1).

THE BEGINNING OF A NATION

The Festival of Tabernacles is an annual reminder to the Jewish people of the toilsome trek to the promised land that their ancestors endured. The Scriptures command that the people of Israel remember the struggles endured by the Hebrews of the past by living in temporary structures for a week.

  1. Imagine the life of a presidential candidate. What aspects of conducting a nationwide political campaign do you think would be most difficult for you personally? Explain.
  2. When choosing to suspend a political campaign, candidates often thank those who were by their side during that campaign. How does the Festival of Tabernacles not only commemorate the journey to the promised land, but also the one who was with them each step of the way?
  3. The Festival of Tabernacles is not just about the difficulty of the journey, but also about the joy of the journey. How was that expressed? Why are both important to recognize?
  4. What value do you find in holiday celebrations that remind you of significant events of the past? Tell the class about ones that have special meaning to you.

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – February 21, 2016

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A DEATH MAKES A DIFFERENCE . . .

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died on February 13. He was the longest-sitting current member of the U.S. Supreme Court. His death increased the intensity of the ideological debate already taking place in the presidential primary campaigns.

Hoping to shift the balance of the Court for decades to come, Democrats stressed that President Obama must quickly nominate Scalia’s replacement. Knowing that replacing originalist Scalia with a judicial activist similar to President Obama’s other two appointees to the Court would have dramatic effects, Republicans have vowed not to approve such a nominee.  A strongly activist court would probably reverse recent decisions affirming religious liberties of business owners, protecting private gun ownership, limiting restrictive speech codes, and more. Despite their current protests, Democrats have taken similar stands when a Republican president was in his final year in office.

. . . ESPECIALLY THIS ONE!

On the Day of Atonement, a sacrificial lamb died for the sins of the Jewish people. Without that death, their sins would not be covered by God’s mercy. With the more complete understanding of God’s grace that was revealed through Jesus, we have come to see that his death makes a powerful difference! His death makes atonement for all who accept him.

  1. Leaving the present political turmoil aside (if you can), name some people whose deaths have made a difference in what America is today.
  2. Tell the class about a deceased friend or family member whose life contributed significantly to yours, and tell how their death affected you.
  3. How does learning about the Jewish Day of Atonement enrich your understanding of Jesus’ role in your salvation?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – February 14, 2016

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50 YEARS

For the last fifty years, America’s biggest one-day spectacle has been Super Bowl Sunday. Traditional Christianity may be in decline, but NFL football has been called “America’s new religion.” Sports writers speak in terms that are reminiscent of spiritual themes: sacrifice, toil, glory, and victory. In this new religion, Super Bowl Sunday is the holiest day of the year—drawing many viewers who are only nominally football fans. The day has its rituals, such as the release of anticipated commercials and halftime shows. Gathering together and feasting is also a part of the day. It’s an expensive religion: the faithful gave an average “offering” of $4,800 each for last-minute tickets available on ticket resale sites!

50 DAYS

Passover celebrated the beginning of the Jewish nation, as God prepared to lead Israel out of Egypt. Fifty days later, this new nation was commanded to celebrate the Festival of Weeks, also known as Pentecost. Although not specifically designated as such in Scripture, today the Jewish people recognize this festival as coinciding with giving of the law of Moses on Sinai. Christians recognize that Jesus was crucified on Passover, and the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost.

  1. Is professional football (or sports in general) America’s new religion? Why do some draw that analogy? What other American events seem to evoke an almost religious fervor?
  2. While the church in America celebrates Easter, many churches do not pay much attention to Pentecost. Why do you think that is? What do you think should be done to recognize that day?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – February 7, 2016

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LAW-BREAKER OR SACRIFICE?

Just over a month ago, a group of armed protesters took control of a federal wildlife facility near Burns, Oregon. After three weeks, several left the facility and eight of them were arrested for conspiracy to use force or threats to interfere with federal officers. One other protester, LaVoy Finicum, had vowed he would rather die than go to jail. An official familiar with the encounter said Finicum refused to surrender and was fatally shot. The shooting was still being investigated as this week began. A Nevada state lawmaker sympathetic to the protesters alluded to Finicum being a sacrificial lamb such as Jesus was.

SACRIFICIAL VICTIMS

Blood did not need to be shed in Oregon. But it was not so in Egypt on the night of the Passover. As a part of Israel’s liberation from Egypt, the Israelites were instructed by God to sacrifice lambs, one per family, in order to avoid the sure destruction that would soon come upon the Egyptians. The death of the lambs was the means by which salvation would come to Israel.

  1. Finicum vowed he would rather die than go to jail. Based on that fact, which of these words would you use to describe him: victim, martyr, sacrifice, terrorist? Does another description come to mind? Why?
  2. How do you feel about applying the term “sacrificial lamb” to Finicum? Compare and contrast him to a sacrificial lamb on the bases of his choice in the matter and the purpose of his death.
  3. How is the symbolism of the Passover sacrifice carried over into New Testament teaching?
  4. Some might describe Jesus as a martyr. Do you agree or disagree with that description? Explain.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – January 31, 2016

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BURIED!

Record snowstorms buried much of the eastern United States for several days last week. Over the weekend, more than 60 million people were existing under blizzard, winter storm, or freezing rain warnings. In New York City, more snow fell than in any single storm ever recorded. Some locales got more than 40″ of snow. Public transportation came to a standstill, with 13,000 airline flights being canceled. By midweek, more than 40 deaths had been attributed to the weather. The snow-afflicted regions are coming slowly back to life as warmer temperatures gradually melt the snow.

RESURRECTED!

We don’t know how long Lazarus had been sick, but we know that his good friend, Jesus, did not immediately come to him when hearing of his illness. Jesus’ absence caused both of Lazarus’s sisters to wonder why the man they knew as a great healer did not prevent their brother’s death. By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been buried for four days. Nevertheless, when Jesus spoke to him from outside the tomb, Lazarus came forth immediately, alive and walking.

  1. People often question God’s will, love, and presence when natural calamities, illness, or death comes. How can we best address those doubts?
  2. Think of a time when you lost a loved one. What were some helpful things people said and did? What were some things people said and did that were not helpful?
  3. How was the glory of God exhibited in Lazarus’ resurrection? In what ways is it exhibited to us today? Be specific.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – January 24, 2016

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AN UNEXPECTED MIRACLE?

Last week, Iranian authorities released four American prisoners as part of an exchange for seven Iranians held in the US. One of the Americans released was Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor who had been arrested in 2012 for founding churches in Iran. The current administration labeled the release as a victory for diplomacy. Opposition voices rejoiced at the release of Abedini and the three others but labeled the deal that brought them home as the lopsided result of negotiating with terrorists. Others note that an estimated 90 other Christians remain imprisoned in Iran for nothing more than sharing their faith. Abedini’s wife credited prayers of Christians worldwide for her husband’s release. “We look forward to Saeed’s return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time,” she said.

AN UNEXPECTED MIRACLE!

There was no doubt that an unexpected event at a wedding long ago in Cana was a miracle. Jesus turned water into wine, an act that surprised the guests and that caused his disciples to put their faith in him. No human effort could have accomplished that feat. The miracle in Cana was a sign of divine power at work in Jesus.

  1. Do you believe that diplomatic maneuvering or prayer was more effective in gaining the release of the prisoners? Do you consider this event to be miraculous? Why or why not?
  2. Consider each of the following: desired results coming after faithful believers pray, God’s bringing good results from the actions of evil people, an event that seems to have no natural or scientific explanation. Compare and contrast each of these to Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana.
  3. How might the release of Abedini and what happens in his life in years to come bring glory to God and cause others to put their faith in Jesus?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – January 17, 2016

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AFTER ALL THESE YEARS . . .

National Football League owners met last week to determine the fates of the Oakland Raiders, the San Diego Chargers, and the St. Louis Rams. Those teams are all trying to move to Los Angeles. In each of the three cities, team owners in search of greater revenue are accused of being unfaithful in their treatment of the city governments who have promised to build stadiums costing hundreds of millions of dollars to keep their teams. Loyal fans who have bought expensive tickets for decades are angry for being jilted.

. . . YOU’RE LEAVING ME?

Betrayal of fans by sports teams can be painful. But Hosea spoke of two betrayals that are far greater. The prophet experienced rejection when his wife Gomer broke her marriage vows. After bearing a son for Hosea, Gomer had two more children. The way the text is phrased suggests the possibility that these children were the product of Gomer’s unfaithfulness. This agonizing episode in Hosea’s life served to illustrate the pain God experiences when his people are faithless.

  1. What similarities do you see between breaking a business contract to enter into a more profitable one and breaking a marriage contract?
  2. One could reasonably suppose that there are some fans who are pained by their favorite team’s unfaithfulness but who have been unfaithful to their spouses. What might keep them from making the connection between the two?
  3. One could also reasonably assume that there are Christians who have felt the pain of marital infidelity but who have been unfaithful to God on many occasions. What might keep them from making that connection?
  4. What message do you think Hosea has for the church in modern America?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – January 10, 2016

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BEAUTY IS ONLY . . .

The Miss Universe beauty pageant was founded in 1952 by the California clothing company Pacific Mills. The logo of the competition­—a woman pointing to the stars— is intended to represent the beauty and responsibility of women across the Universe.

At the 2015 pageant last month, master of ceremonies Steve Harvey committed a distressing gaffe. After announcing Miss Colombia as the winner, Harvey corrected himself and awarded Miss Philippines first place honors. Later, Miss Colombia spoke with caustic disappointment. She thought she had won, only to have the crown literally taken from her head.

. . . SKIN DEEP?

The beauty contest in Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) is of a different sort. The shepherd girl to whom the song is addressed must choose the winner. Will she be swayed by the affections of the rich and powerful King Solomon? Or will she choose to marry her boyfriend from her home village?

  1. How does Miss Colombia’s pained outburst factor into your overall evaluation of her beauty? In what ways might her response reveal some invisible characteristics of this woman?
  2. Imagine yourself as one receiving the types of compliments Solomon gives the woman in the text. (Think in terms of modern metaphors as opposed to ancient agricultural language.) What would you find alluring about receiving such recognition from a relative stranger?
  3. Now try to imagine some ways the woman’s boyfriend of long standing might have described her. How might have his compliments compared and contrasted to those of Solomon, who knew the woman only superficially?
  4. In concluding verses of this book that are not included in today’s text (see 8:4, 8, 9), the question is raised as to how adults should teach children about love and marriage. How can Christian adults effectively help our young people evaluate the true beauty of another person?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – January 3, 2016

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A PROMISE KEPT . . . OR NOT?

In July 2015, the US, Iran, and five other nations agreed on terms for lifting sanctions on Iran in return for Iran’s promise to scale back its nuclear weapons development program. Our government has announced that lifting of the sanctions will begin this month. Whether Iran is keeping its promise is open to debate. In October and again in November, Iran tested a nuclear-capable missile in violation of two United Nations Security Council prohibitions, including the current nuclear agreement.

A PROMISE KEPT . . . EVENTUALLY

Jacob kept his promise to Laban to work for seven years so that he might marry Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel. However, Laban didn’t keep his promise! He substituted his older daughter, Leah, at the wedding. Then he extracted another seven-year work commitment from Jacob in order to marry Rachel. So Laban kept his original promise . . . sort of . . . eventually.

  1. Should we trust international agreements made with so-called rogue nations such as Iran? What is the alternative to such agreements?
  2. What does Laban’s trickery suggest to you about his character? If Jacob was aware of Laban’s character, why do you think he chose to make agreements with him?
  3. Note how Laban cited the values of his culture to justify his actions. How do differing cultural values play a part in current world conflicts? How do you think those should be addressed?
  4. Some argue that personal integrity is relative, depending upon the values of one’s culture. That is, right and wrong may differ in differing cultural circumstances. How would you respond to that idea?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – December 27, 2015

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POOR BY CHOICE

Last week, Pope Francis accepted a second miracle attributed to the late Mother Teresa. His decision advanced her closer to Roman Catholic sainthood, which is likely to be bestowed on her in 2016. A former Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Teresa of Calcutta is considered by many to be one of the greatest humanitarians of modern times. Teresa chose a life of poverty, willingly living for half a century among “the poorest of the poor” in India (as she called those to whom she ministered).

POOR, BUT NOT IN SPIRIT

In the context of Jesus’ criticism of the religious leaders of his day, Mark records his commendation of a poor widow who gave generously in spite of her poverty. Jesus indicates we should not measure a gift by its size, but in comparison to the resources of the one who gives it and the spirit in which it is given.

  1. Theology aside, what can we learn from Mother Teresa’s life? What elements of Teresa’s self-sacrificing lifestyle can serve as a model for all followers of Christ?
  2. How did Teresa’s attitudes differ from that of the Jewish leaders Jesus confronted? How would you translate their attitudes into examples in today’s church culture? Have you known Christian leaders with attitudes like theirs? Explain.
  3. Tell the class about a Christian leader who exemplifies the servant attitudes that Jesus commands us to show.
  4. What principles do you take from this lesson that will help you in your giving to the Lord during the coming year?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – December 20, 2015

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ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE

World leaders met in Paris recently to agree on ways to reduce the emissions of so-called greenhouse gases. Climate scientists point to some current computer models and predict that these heat-trapping gases will cause a rise in the temperature of earth’s atmosphere.  Others argue that any effect humans have on global climate is minimal compared to the economic consequences of many proposed strategies for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions.

Our descendants will live with the results of this debate. If those consequences are significant, they may ask, “How did this happen?”

ACKNOWLEDGING THE PAST

God told Moses that his descendants would also have questions about events of their past. Specific observances were commanded for the Israelites to teach their children about God’s actions in their nation’s history. Consecration of first-born males to God was a way for each generation of Israelites to acknowledge God’s ownership of all that they enjoyed.

  1. Consider ways our lives today are different than they were in our grandparents’ days. Choose one difference (positive or negative) and imagine how our grandparents would explain why that change happened.
  2. What events in Israel’s history did consecration of the firstborn commemorate? How did the elements of that celebration compare to the magnitude of the event celebrated?
  3. The exodus from Egypt occurred about 14 centuries before the birth of Jesus. What do we learn about the character of Mary and Joseph from the fact that they still honored an event that happened that long ago?
  4. The birth of Jesus occurred about 21 centuries ago. How can we ensure that our celebration of that historic event this week will truly honor the birth of God’s Son?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – December 13, 2015

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TWO KINDS OF GIVING

On December 1, Mark Zuckerberg, billionaire CEO of Facebook, announced that he and his wife will give away 99% of their Facebook stock while they are alive. In each of the next three years, they plan to give “up to $1 billion in shares” to charitable causes such as curing disease. One day after the Zuckerberg announcement, in the name of Allah, an extremist Muslim married couple with a six-month-old baby gave the “gift” of death to 14 people and wounded 21 others at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California.

THE BEST KIND OF GIVING

Although Jewish by birth, Zuckerberg is an atheist, so his plans are likely not motivated by faith, unlike the murderers in San Bernardino. The Bible’s teaching on giving starts with making appropriate offerings to God. Perhaps the Muslim couple thought that’s what they were doing in committing their horrible act. But God’s instructions for giving center on how our gifts glorify the name of God rather than profane it.

  1. What lessons—spiritual, moral, or political—do you perceive in the two disparate events named above?
  2. Can a gift prompted by secular motives such as Zuckerberg’s glorify God? Defend your opinion.
  3. Although the Zuckerberg plan for giving is not motivated by Christian faith, what does it suggest to you about how Christians might give?
  4. Can Christians glorify God by giving to secular causes? Explain.
  5. What connection do you see between our giving to a holy God and God’s desire that we be holy?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – December 6, 2015

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A REST FROM SHOPPING

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the busiest shopping day of the year. Outdoor gear and apparel retailer, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), has rejected the necessity of doing business on that day, however. REI closed its doors on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday this year. They paid employees to “opt outside”—to spend their time outdoors rather than in crowded stores. The REI website reports that 1,408,000 of its customers and employees followed that suggestion.

Some observers believe a trend may be developing. At least two dozen other national companies have decided that closing on holidays may pay a dividend in customer loyalty and goodwill.

A REST FOR OUR OWN GOOD

God wants us to live by divine principles. It is not a matter of imposing his will on us. Rather, his principles make life better for all of his creation. The Sabbath day, as well as other feast and fast days in the Old Testament were ordained so that Israelites might step back from the everyday busyness of life and give their attention to what really matters. To this day, the Sabbath principle is worthy of our respect.

  1. To what extent do you believe closing on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday is a marketing gimmick? Are you more inclined to shop at stores that stay closed on those days? Why or why not?
  2. The practice of observing the Sabbath is an Old Testament command. But is the principle of setting aside a time of rest binding on Christians? If so, how should we practice it?
  3. In your opinion, does shopping on holidays or Sundays have anything to do with the Sabbath idea? Defend your position.
  4. Tell about times when you believed you were too busy to set aside a personal Sabbath rest. How did that affect your life? List some ways Christians can practice the Sabbath principle. What benefit might such practices bring?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – November 29, 2015

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FEARING THE WORST

The weeks following the terror attacks in Paris have been eventful. Politicians debated the wisdom of accepting Middle Eastern refugees into the country. A luxury hotel in Mali was attacked. A hotel in Egypt was bombed. The city of Brussels has been on “lockdown” in the face of threats of further violence by ISIS. Hackers claimed they found evidence ISIS was planning to attack churches. This week, the U.S. government warned Americans to avoid worldwide travel.

FACING THE WORST WITH FAITH

When preaching in Macedonia, Paul was imprisoned, was hunted by rioters, and was forced to flee for his life. He moved on to Corinth, but soon the ominous storm clouds of resistance again darkened his horizon. It would have been only natural that Paul would fear the worst!

At that point, the Lord appeared to him in a vision, He assured Paul that no further attacks would occur and no harm would come to him. Taking God at his word, Paul found great success in proclaiming the gospel and enjoyed an eighteen-month ministry among the Corinthians.

  1. How should potential threats affect a nation’s policies concerning: accepting refugees? imposing travel bans? cancelling events at which large numbers of citizens would be present?
  2. What are proper reactions for Christians to the fear-filled times we live in? What biblical principles inform your opinion?
  3. Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt threatened because of your faith? How did you respond? What guided that response?
  4. How do the apostle Paul’s reactions to opposition guide us when we face similar threats? Do any of his reactions and emotional responses surprise you? Explain.

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – November 22, 2015

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A RELIGION THAT BRINGS DEATH?

November 13 was the deadliest day in Paris since World War II. At least 129 people were killed, and 352 were injured in multiple attacks by ISIS—bombings, shootings, and assassination of hostages. The fabled “City of Light” became a very dark place. These events have raised again the question: Do such acts show the true face of Islam? On Saturday, one person who believes that phoned a death threat to a mosque in St. Petersburg, Florida. Or is Islam a religion of peace, as an Imam in San Diego said in condemning the attacks in Paris?

. . . OR A LIFE-GIVING FAITH?

As Paul preached in Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens, his message stood in contrast to the messages of some religious practitioners in those regions. Some Jews would incite violence against Paul in Thessalonica and Berea. The Athenians did not react with force, but the city offered religions of lifeless idols. Paul’s message differed. He offered the living Christ whose resurrection enabled all who believe in him to have life everlasting.

  1. Some modern atheists argue that religion inevitably leads to violence and death. Cite evidence both for and against that argument.
  2. What can we learn from the apostle Paul about how to relate to those who oppose—perhaps even violently—the gospel of Jesus?
  3. What are some ways for us to show the world that Jesus is the “Prince of Peace”? Does that message mean that we can only react to evil with passivity? Why or why not?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – November 15, 2015

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LACK OF SENSITIVITY?

On Monday, the University of Missouri’s president resigned under pressure. A few hours later the university’s chancellor was reassigned. Protesters were demonstrating over what they perceived as a failure to respond in a timely and sensitive fashion to racial grievances. Two factors were key to forcing the changes: one student leader went on a hunger strike, and thirty members of the football team refused to participate in upcoming games, potentially costing the university $1 million for forfeiting Saturday’s game.

APPROPRIATE SENSITIVITY

Race also caused tension in the early church. Jewish Christians had a high regard for the Law of Moses. However, Paul also had to be sensitive to the church’s recent decision that Gentiles were not bound by the law.

As Paul travelled even deeper into Gentile territory, it was imperative that he meet situation after situation with a Spirit-led sensitivity.

  1. Compare and contrast the situation at the University of Missouri to other racially charged incidents in the news over the past year. Why is a one-approach-fits-all strategy unrealistic when it comes to racial conflict?
  2. While the decisions made in Acts 15 addressed the Jew/Gentile tensions in general terms, what were some limitations of those decisions? Look at the related questions Paul soon faced: Should a Jewish man with a Greek father be circumcised? How far into Greek territory should the gospel be taken? Should the gospel be offered to Jewish women before Gentile men? How did Paul rely on the Holy Spirit to ensure he acted with sensitivity?
  3. Tell how your church has had to handle a potentially explosive situation that believers a century ago could not have imagined. What was the result?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – November 8, 2015

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NOTHING COULD BE DONE

Analysis of the flight recorders has begun as officials try to determine why a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt a week ago. Everything seemed normal in the cockpit, but suddenly an emergency situation developed. “Unusual” sounds were recorded. Then the plane was lost. At the time this article was written, it is unclear whether there was structural failure, an onboard explosion, or an external cause for the crash. Apparently, nothing could be done to save the plane and the 224 people on board. The crew did not even have time to send a distress signal.

SOMETHING MUST BE DONE

The church in Acts was dealing with an explosive situation. The problem threatened to destroy the infant church. As its ethnic makeup became increasingly Gentile, some Jewish Christians demanded that, for Gentiles to be saved, something must be done. That “something” was for them to accept the Law and be circumcised. In their minds, God’s grace could not provide salvation. Human works were also necessary.

  1. Tell about a time when you were in a situation that was out of your control, but by the grace of God, you survived. How did this experience affect you spiritually?
  2. What is it about human nature that makes us think we have to “do something” to be saved? What are some of those actions Christians (and others) have placed their trust in?
  3. On the other hand, is there a danger in thinking we don’t have to do anything to be right with God? What abuses have you seen? How do you resolve the differences between these two ideas?
  4. Describe how you see the grace of God working in your life.

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – November 1, 2015

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RESCUE BY ARMED FORCE

In the darkness of October 22, U.S. and Kurdish troops invaded an ISIS prison in Iraq. These forces freed 70 Kurdish prisoners who would have been executed the following day. One American commando and 20 ISIS militants were killed in the raid. Many of us saw on TV the video clip of the raid taken by the helmet-cam of a Kurdish soldier. The U.S. government later released a video taken from an American plane showing the prison being destroyed from the air the day after the raid.

RESCUE BY DIVINE ACTION

Centuries earlier, the church was praying for the apostle Peter. He was being held in a Jerusalem prison. On the eve of his scheduled trial, an angel answered those prayers. He appeared to Peter in the night and led him out of the prison to safety. King Herod most likely would have executed him just as he had the apostle James. The prison was not destroyed and no lives were lost, but God’s mission was accomplished.

  1. With what famous escapes of fact or fiction are you familiar? What are some common elements in those accounts? Compare and contrast those stories with the raid in Iraq and the way Peter was rescued.
  2. How important was the role of praying Christians in Peter’s rescue? How important is prayer in fighting evil forces today? Explain.
  3. Have you ever prayed for a seemingly impossible outcome and seen a positive result? Tell about it.
  4. How should we balance the apparently contrary ideas of relying on God to act, and taking action ourselves when confronted by dire circumstances?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 25, 2015

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CHANGING ONE’S MIND

Political leaders change positions on issues when current events overtake their carefully calculated intentions. We saw an example last week in President Obama’s statement that, contrary to his earlier promises, American troops will continue to be in Afghanistan after he leaves office. On the other side of the world, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel has long condemned Palestinian violence and said that any Israeli response is defensive and justifiable. However, this week he had to condemn Israeli vigilantes who beat and shot an Eritrean man whom they mistook for a Palestinian.

EXPLAINING THE CHANGE

In response to a vision from God, Peter brought the gospel to Cornelius and his household. Visiting a commander of an army occupying his nation would certainly not have been a popular political position. But it was also a controversial religious act, Accepting non-Jews as equals in Christ was diametrically opposed to Peter’s previously held convictions as well as the convictions of all those who steadfastly observed the law of Moses.

When Peter got back to Jerusalem, he had to face angry traditionalists and explain why he had changed his theology and associated with Gentiles, leading them to Christ.

  1. When leaders change a position on issues, how might they alienate some who were once their allies? What risks are inherent in doing so?
  2. The Holy Spirit directed Peter’s dramatic change of heart. Can you think of a time when the Holy Spirit directed you through prayer and Bible study to rethink a long-held notion? Tell what happened.
  3. On what issues are Christians being challenged to reconsider their positions today? How do we determine whether the Spirit of God or the spirit of our times is directing us to change?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – October 18, 2015

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FIGHTING WITH ENEMIES

The strife among the descendants of the biblical patriarchs that began in Old Testament times continues to the present day. This month, four Israelis have been killed in Palestinian knife and gun attacks in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As this past week began, Israel had killed at least twenty Palestinians in response. Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket fire and car bombings have contributed to an escalating pattern of violence that seems to never end.

REACHING TO ENEMIES

Jewish Christians in New Testament days wrestled with the same prejudices their forefathers had. Finally, a vision caused Peter to reevaluate what he believed about “acceptable” people.

The striking visual image of a sheet filled with animals that Peter had been taught never even to touch helped him picture what God was saying. God does not see any person or race as unlovable or untouchable. He wants all people to hear the good news about Jesus.

As a result, Peter preached Christ to longtime enemies of the Jews. What is more, this took place in the home of a commander of the occupying forces that ruled over Israel at the time!

  1. Why do you think the struggles between Israel and its neighbors have not been easily solved with international, diplomatic solutions? List some historical, political, and cultural factors that have continued to fuel this distrust and hatred over the centuries.
  2. Name some social, racial, and political divides that have long existed in America. What are some historical, political, and cultural factors that have continued to fuel distrust and hatred over the decades?
  3. Note how God addressed the Jew/Gentile divide through Peter and Cornelius. How can those with a clear understanding of God’s will for all people help heal strife today?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 11, 2015

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ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?

Early reports from the recent shootings at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College are chilling. Purportedly, the gunman questioned his victims about their religion before shooting them. To some he directly asked, “Are you a Christian?”

The gunman’s own social media profiles indicated that he was angry at organized religion in general. Many wonder if his anger reflects an anti-religious attitude that is growing in our society.

YES, I’M A CHRISTIAN!

Saul’s audacious testimony put him in a perilous position. Those with whom he once allied in persecuting the church began plotting to murder him! Christians, on the other hand, wondered whether Saul’s profession was only a ruse to entrap them. At that point, Barnabas stepped in and vouched for the validity of Saul’s conversion.

  1. Following Jesus caused Saul to lose friends and make dangerous enemies. How have the Oregon shootings influenced your perception of how safe it is to stand for Christ? If the Oregon gunman had questioned you about your faith, what would have been your thought process and response?
  2. If you had been a Christian in Jerusalem when Saul proclaimed his faith in Christ, would you have believed him? Why or why not? What risks did Barnabas take in defending Saul to other Christians?
  3. Have you ever thought of Barnabas as a role model? Under what circumstances? What situations in the church today might call for Barnabas-like actions on your part?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 4, 2015

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A SUBTLE DICTATORSHIP

During Pope Francis’ recent visit to America, he cautioned Catholic Church leaders against living luxuriously, separating themselves from the poor to whom they are supposed to minister. He also called capitalism “a subtle dictatorship that condemns and enslaves men and women.”

This comment produced sharply differing reactions in the American press. One writer said the pope is right: greed has hijacked capitalism. Others argued that other economic systems show no greater success in easing poverty than does capitalism.

A WOULD-BE DICTATOR?

Money and Christianity have always existed in a state of tension. Simon the sorcerer thought he could use his money to control the Spirit. Through the centuries, many have used their wealth to gain power in the church or have used their position in the church to gain wealth. Some Christian leaders have even proclaimed a “health and wealth gospel,” preaching that God wants all true believers to be rich. Simon’s spirit still lives!

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the pope’s comment about capitalism? Why? Is money an evil, or does it have the power to do good—or both? Give reasons for, and examples of, your answer.
  2. Why do you think Simon’s request to buy the ability to impart spiritual gifts to others was condemned so harshly? In your judgment, do Simon’s actions call into question the genuineness of his conversion? Explain.
  3. Because of this account, the word simony became a part of the English language. Simony means to buy or sell a church office or to allow money to give a church member special status. What abuses have you seen in the church that you believe fit that definition?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 27, 2015

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PLAYING TO AN AUDIENCE?

The Republican debates show us a party struggling to communicate its values. Some see Donald Trump as a hero for making blunt and often polarizing statements. His unfiltered comments about illegal immigration reflect anxieties of many Americans about border security and stability of social welfare programs. On the other hand, Republicans in states with significant immigrant populations try to project a more moderate tone on the same issue to deflect charges of insensitivity and racism. While candidates seem to have much agreement in principle, they accuse each other of tailoring a message to score points with particular groups of voters.

STANDING FOR TRUTH

In the early days of the church, Stephen faced a significant choice. Should he seek to minimize controversy by artfully shaping his message to his audience or risk his life by standing firm on the truth? He chose the latter. The examples he used in his speech cited people who stood strong for God, regardless of the threats they faced.

  1. Is it ever right to structure our message about important issues to fit our audience? Why or why not? Give examples of being blunt without being hateful and being sensitive without compromising.
  2. How do you think the circumstances of Stephen’s arrest (Acts 6:8-14) influenced the tone of his message before the Sanhedrin?
  3. What principles from Scripture are helpful when we address controversial issues? See Matthew 10:16; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; 1 Peter 3:13-17.

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 20, 2015

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TO TESTIFY OR NOT?

Until recently, Bryan Pagliano was a little-known U.S. State Department employee. Now he has been forced into the spotlight. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is being investigated for using a private email server for official business. Pagliano has become an important witness, because he set up and maintained that server.

Last week Pagliano refused to testify before the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. His attorneys say his Fifth Amendment rights prevent him from being forced to testify, lest he risk incriminating himself.

TO TESTIFY? NO QUESTION!

The apostles were little known fishermen and other types of “nobodies” until they met Jesus. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, they became his bold spokesmen. After the Sanhedrin told them not to testify about Jesus, they said no earthly power, governmental or otherwise, could keep them quiet. Their loyalty to Christ compelled them to speak.

  1. What value do you see in the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution? What should a Christian consider before deciding to “take the fifth?”
  2. How did the apostles incriminate themselves when speaking out about Jesus? When might speaking openly about one’s faith put a modern-day Christian at odds with civil authorities?
  3. What biblical principles should guide us, either in defending ourselves or in attacking the world’s evils? On what issues should Christians decide when to take a stand and how?
  4. Tell of a time when you found that telling the truth, even though uncomfortable to do so, was better than silence.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – September 13, 2015

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A CRISIS OF NEED

By one count, more than 300,000 refugees from the Middle East and Africa have crossed the Mediterranean Sea this year in search of safety in European countries. Many refugees die through neglect of hired smugglers. At the national level, the country of Hungary closed its borders, with authorities saying the nation’s resources were overtaxed. Change came a few days ago when Hungary allowed refugee-laden trains to transit the country for destinations in Germany and Austria. There the migrants were welcomed with applause, food, and water.

 

MEETING THE NEED

First-century Christians responded generously when they realized that some of their number lacked necessities. Barnabas was an outstanding example sharing to meet needs. On the other hand, Ananias and Sapphira feigned generosity, perhaps to enhance their status in the church. The need they seemed most interested in meeting was that of their own vanity.

  1. Will the passage of time reveal political rather than humanitarian motives on the parts of Austria and Germany regarding their responses to the refugee crisis?
  2. In what ways do sincere Christians differ on matters of immigration?
  3. What biblical principles should guide our helping decisions as individuals?
  4. What biblical principles should guide the helping decisions of a congregation as a whole?
  5. Does the helping principle of “meet the need by supplying what is needed, never by giving money itself” line up with the distribution of Acts 4:34, 35? Why, or why not?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – September 6, 2015

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TAKING A BOLD STANCE

When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage two months ago, Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky, refused to issue licenses for all marriages, despite a federal judge’s order to submit to the Court’s ruling.

Last week her attorneys asked the Supreme Court to “grant her asylum for her conscience.” On Monday the Court denied her appeal. Davis faces the possibility of heavy fines or time in jail for contempt if she does not comply.

PRAYING FOR BOLDNESS

The apostles were also under government edict to violate their consciences. When they reported to the church on what they had been told, the Christians joined together in praying for strength to do as they should, regardless of what the government commanded them to do. God responded by filling them with a Spirit of boldness to be faithful to the gospel.

  1. Do you believe Kim Davis is responding correctly to the demands of the government? Why or why not? If you were Kim Davis, what would you do now?
  2. What alternatives do you believe Kim Davis has in this situation? Which course of action do you believe is best for the growth of the church and for the church’s witness in the world? Explain.
  3. Christians have always had to stand for their faith in the face of government opposition. In what other ways are Christians being made to choose today between conscience and demands of their governments? What situations can you foresee Christians facing in the future?
  4. Have you ever prayed for boldness before deciding to take difficult actions? What happened? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in such situations?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 30, 2015

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CHEATING ON THEIR MATES

 Noel Biderman calls himself the “King of Infidelity.” He is the founder of a $115 million per year online dating site. The site promotes itself as the place for married people who want to cheat on their mates. The founder’s premise is that extramarital affairs are good for marriages.

The philosophy is now being put to the test, since computer hackers recently revealed the complete list of the site’s more than 30 million customers. Toronto police claim to have found cases of extortion and two unconfirmed suicides as a result. In the U.S., federal authorities report that many government employees with national security clearance have been customers, often accessing the site with government computers.

CHEATING ON THEIR GOD

Malachi “hacked” the list of his people’s sins and found them guilty of spiritual infidelity. The ways in which they had chosen to cheat on God were many. They were involved in adultery, sorcery, perjury, robbing the poor, and withholding their tithes from God. The prophet issued a call for repentance and a return to the Lord, saying this was the only way to heal their land.

  1. How do you think married people rationalize visiting a website that openly promotes adultery? What challenges does this present for the church?
  2. Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets described God’s people’s unfaithfulness to Him as spiritual adultery. Why is this an apt description?
  3. How are Christians tempted to commit spiritual infidelity today? Give some specific examples that include sexual sin and some that do not.
  4. If Micah were to put the church of today on trial, what would some of the charges be? How would you plead?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 23, 2015

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HAS ANYONE BEEN LISTENING?

Ferguson, Missouri, has been in the news again. During a protest marking the first anniversary of the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by police, a state of emergency was renewed in the area. Violence escalated after police shot and critically wounded another black teenager who allegedly fired on police.

Fifty years ago this month, a routine traffic stop of a black man for reckless driving in Los Angeles spiraled into the Watts riots, the most deadly civil disturbance in L.A. history. Some critics question whether authorities have been listening to minority complaints over the last half-century. On the other hand, many believe both sides need to address the issues more effectively.

THEY REFUSED TO PAY ATTENTION

In Zechariah’s time, there were authorities in Israel who had refused to pay attention to prophetic calls to deal justly with the poor and oppressed. When God’s judgment came down on the nation, the leaders cried to God for relief. But their cries fell on divine ears that were deaf to them. As a result, Israel was scattered among the nations.

  1. Why is racial justice still an issue a year after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, or for that matter, fifty years after the Watts riots?
  2. List some steps you believe are necessary to defuse racial tensions. Why do you think that even Christians do not always agree on how best to resolve these issues?
  3. What is your church doing to be an instrument of reconciliation in society?
  4. In what ways are you personally listening to God on this matter? What difference has it made in your life?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – August 16, 2015

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A CALL TO RECANT

At last week’s Republican presidential debates, moderator Megyn Kelly challenged Donald Trump’s previously made disparaging remarks about women. Trump retorted by suggesting that Kelly was “hormonal” and later called her a “bimbo” in a Tweet.

Other candidates demanded repentance from him, or at least the retraction of his remarks. So far, Trump has shown no change of heart, and has neither retracted nor repented. If anything, he has dug in his heels and gone on the offense.

A CALL TO REPENT

God charged Israel with a list of sins that included idolatry, adultery, robbery, and other grievous offenses. Ezekiel called on the people to repent. The prophet warned them that a failure to repent would bring about their downfall as a nation. Israel refused God’s call and was eventually destroyed as Ezekiel had prophesied.

  1. Why do you think some public figures such find it so hard to admit to saying or doing what is wrong?
  2. Do you think of Trump’s political opponents are being unfair, “piling on” him in response? Why or why not?
  3. What similarities, if any, do you see between Israel’s intransigence and our reluctance to change our ways when the Bible points out our sin?
  4. Which of the sins Ezekiel names are tempting to Christians today? Explain.
  5. Tell the class of a time when you experienced a change of heart and have been blessed because of it.

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 9, 2015

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DIFFERING CLAIMS

This week, President Obama announced unprecedented environmental regulations. His Clean Power Plan would require existing coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The president called his regulations “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.”

His political opponents reacted strongly, promising to fight the regulations in court. They challenged the president’s claims, saying the regulations would hurt poor and middle class Americans with skyrocketing energy bills, seriously damage the economies of several states, and do virtually nothing to alter climate patterns. The highly charged political atmosphere in Washington makes it hard for the average person to know whom to believe.

DECEPTIVE CLAIMS

Jeremiah’s day saw similar situations. Strongly differing ideas were being stated—some by Jeremiah and some by false prophets. Jeremiah called the message of his (and God’s) opponents “deceptive.”

  1. How does one determine who is speaking the truth on the politically charged issues of our time? Give examples.
  2. Should the church take positions on these political issues? Why or why not? How does one differentiate between political issues and religious/moral issues?
  3. What are some current issues on which God’s people should speak up against deceptive moral and religious claims made by cultural leaders?
  4. In criticizing the sins of our nation, should we condemn them harshly as Jeremiah did in his time? Why or why not? Is there a valid alternative?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – August 2, 2015

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MORAL DRIFT

The Boy Scouts of America proudly boasts that it is “one of the nation’s largest and most prominent values-based youth development organizations.” But some wonder if that boast is still justified.

This week, the Scouts announced that they now welcome openly gay troop leaders and employees. The decision comes in response to radical government policy change toward same-sex relationships that was ushered in by a Supreme Court decision earlier this summer. Also a factor is the particularly litigious nature of the gay-rights movement.

Expecting protests from those who hold to traditional values concerning homosexuality, Scout officials assured local troops and councils that they may still prohibit such leaders.

DIVINE STABILITY

Isaiah prophesied at a time when truth was in short supply. He noted that those intent on doing evil were quick to prey upon those who stood by God’s Word.

The prophet agonized over the fact that no one seemed willing to intervene in the cause of righteousness. He announced that God would restore fear of the Lord among his enemies by sending a Redeemer who would ensure that God’s standards of righteousness would endure.

  1. What similarities do you see between the situation Isaiah faced and what is happening in America? In what ways do you see few people in authority unwilling to take a stand for traditional moral values?
  2. If a church sponsors a Scout troop, how should it respond to the Scouts’ change of policy? Should a local group be part of a national organization that no longer upholds its values? Why or why not?
  3. How do you think God will respond to our current situation? Why do you believe that?
  4. Does today’s text keep you from adopting an “all is lost” state of mind? Explain. How does it give you hope for future deliverance and the triumph of God’s Word?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 26, 2015

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RESPONDING IN ANGER

Terror struck America again on July 16. A young man shot and killed five military personnel at two government sites. He died when police returned his fire.

Relatives say the shooter was battling depression and abuse of drugs and alcohol. His family had sent him to Jordan for several months last year, hoping he would find a cure.

Since the murders, counterterrorism agents have sought to determine if he had become radicalized while in the Middle East. Even before complete information was available, many Americans reacted with anger to this, yet another, violent act by a person with Middle Eastern ties.

OFFERING MERCY

Our angry reaction is natural, but it raises the question of whether we should respond with mercy instead. Micah’s message condemned Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, but he also offered God’s mercy to them, promising them that God would not be angry forever.

  1. Why do we have a tendency to assume the worst before all the facts are known about an incident such as this one?
  2. How did you feel when you heard the police had killed the assassin? How do you feel now that some time has passed?
  3. Should there be a difference between government’s response and our reaction as Christians? Explain.
  4. How, and to whom, might Christians show mercy in this context? Is it important to do so? Why?
  5. Does the fact that the Israelites didn’t “deserve” God’s mercy affect your thinking? In what way?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 19, 2015

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HOLDING OUT HOPE

On June 12, Pope Francis concluded his trip to South America with a visit to a slum in Paraguay. There, the pope described his vision of the Catholic Church as a place of welcome for “the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, the leper, and the paralytic.” In saying this, he offered hope to the downtrodden in a nominally Catholic society that has long been characterized by political corruption, extreme poverty, and social inequity.

 

CALLING FOR CHANGE

Micah and the other Old Testament prophets often sounded a similar call. Israel and Judah were nations claiming to live by God’s word. But the claims did not match reality. They had allowed corruption and injustice to become endemic. Hope had been stolen from the poor and powerless, and the national and religious leaders showed no concern for the situation.

 

  1. Compare the pope’s vision of the church’s role to Micah’s description of God’s requirements for his people.
  2. Should the pope’s challenge to the Latin American church be of any interest to Christians in the United States? Why or why not?
  3. Compare and contrast churches’ treatment of the weakest in society with attitudes prevalent in Micah’s day.
  4. What reasons do American Christians sometimes give for lack of concern for society’s outcasts? How might Micah counter those arguments if he were here today?
  5. How can our church better fulfill the requirements of God as listed by Micah?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 12, 2015

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CORRUPT OFFICIALS

Immigration is a controversial issue in America. And a recent report only served to fuel the debate.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released a harsh review of the U.S. Border Patrol. The report said the Patrol was “subject to systematic corruption by drug cartels, smugglers and other criminals.” The review affirmed the findings of other recent reports that have pointed to abuses such as “unwarranted” shootings of immigrants as well as corruption at many levels of government along the U.S.–Mexico border. The Homeland Security review called for 350 criminal investigators to crack down on corrupt agents.

 A TIMELESS PROBLEM

Corruption in high places is not a new phenomenon. Today, in America and around the world, in large cities and in small towns, the temptations to abuse power beckon. In Micah’s time, civic leaders solicited bribes, temple priests sold their services, and prophets “adjusted” their message depending on how well they were cared for by those to whom they prophesied. We should not be surprised it still happens.

  1. What do you think is the primary cause of corrupt leadership? Why?
  2. Can official corruption be prevented? If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. In what ways are religious leaders tempted to forsake their responsibilities? How are their temptations different from those              other leaders face?
  4. How should the church deal with leaders who are not faithful to their calling?
  5. When leaders in the church fail, does any responsibility fall on the members? Explain.

 —Charles R. Boatman

 

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Scripture: Psalm 7:1-8

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Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me (Psalm 7:1).

Scripture: Psalm 7:1-8
Song: “In the Hollow of His Hand”

I vividly remember as a child running home from a neighbor’s house during a thunderstorm. We lived in the country, and on the last leg of my sprint, a bolt of lightning struck an apple tree just as I ran by it. At least that is how it appeared to me. Terrified by the loud clap of thunder and gasping for breath, I raced up our lane.
Of course, the moment I slammed our screen door behind me, I felt safe. Even though lightning could strike our house as well, that never occurred to me. Once I reached my mother’s arms, my heart stopped racing, and I felt safe and secure.
So it is when we run to God. Whether our pursuers are difficult people, past emotional hurts, or present challenges, they may cause us to panic and attempt escape. However, just as I felt secure once I reached the protection of my home, so we can feel secure when we recognize God as our refuge, waiting to protect us, to shelter us from storm. No matter how difficult circumstances appear to be, He is in control and He is with us. Rather than bolt, we can boast of the safety we find in God’s embrace.

Lord, as I see Your hand in nature, remind me that You hold control over all things—and over my circumstances as well. You are my refuge. In Jesus’ name, amen.

July 1–5.  Shirley Brosius is a writer and speaker living in Millersburg, Pennsylvania. She and her husband, Bill, have two married sons, five grandchildren, and a daughter waiting in Heaven.

In the World – July 5, 2015

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NO REST FOR THE WICKED

The end of a relentless search for two prison escapees brought a sense of relief to residents in and around the Adirondack Mountains.

After 22 days, Richard Matt was dead, and David Sweat had been captured. The convicted murderers escaped from a maximum-security prison in New York and had been on the run since June 6. Matt and Sweat had a long history of violent, sociopathic behavior. Among their crimes were kidnapping, murder, and dismemberment of a victim.

ANY REST FOR THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS?

We find it easy to say the escaped convicts got what was coming to them. Like the people of God in Micah’s time, we are comfortable condemning people who are obviously evil. But the prophet’s warning shows we can be blind to our sins. True righteousness is measured by God’s standards, not by contrasting ourselves with society’s worst.

  1. What was your response when you learned that the police had captured the convicted killers? Why did you feel that way?
  2. Why didn’t God give ordinary people in Israel and Judah a pass since they weren’t as bad as the more obvious sinners among them?
  3. How do you answer people who believe God “grades on the curve,” declaring them to be good enough when compared to others?
  4. Consider the sins Micah condemns in Micah 2. What specific sins among Christian people would Micah tell us to repent of today?

 

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World — June 28, 2015

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FORGIVE . . .

Dylann Roof’s website spewed racial hatred. This troubled young man spoke admiringly of the Confederacy and apartheid-era South Africa. On June 17, Roof attended a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and murdered nine members of that group.

Later, at Roof’s hearing, the families of the victims offered Roof their forgiveness and promised to pray for him. On the following Sunday evening, a racially diverse crowd of an estimated 20,000 people marched peacefully through the city singing the gospel chorus “This Little Light of Mine” in a show of solidarity for those slain.

These remarkable acts of forgiveness and unity were all but ignored in some circles. Some political commentators argued that the incident demonstrated that America’s sins of racism are as prevalent today as ever and are nearly permanently enmeshed in our culture and institutions.

 BUT NEVER FORGET?

“Forgive and forget” is a familiar cliché. Those two commands seem to be intertwined. Many times we have seen constant remembering an offense be evidence that forgiving has not taken place. With that in mind, God’s commands to forgive and the prophet Amos’s declaration that God would never forget Israel’s sins (Amos 8:7) seem contradictory.

  1. How do you view these recent events in South Carolina? Do you think they indicate a culture that has not repented of a racist past or a culture that has rejected a racist past? Defend your position.
  2. Consider the verb tense in today’s text. Does Amos indicate that God was primarily speaking about past or present sins of Israel? How does that help resolve the seeming contradiction between forgiving and not forgetting?
  3. If God would not forget Israel’s sins, does that justify our not forgetting sins committed against us? How might Paul’s words in Romans 12:19 apply here?
  4. What other sins might God hold against America today? How can the church take a prophetic role in calling for repentance of societal sins as well as personal sins?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 21, 2015

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SELFLESS CONCERN?

President Obama is battling with Congressional leaders in his own party. The controversy concerns presidential power to negotiate “fast track” trade deals—agreements not subject to Congressional veto. Ironically, Republican leadership in Congress is working with the president on the issue. A coalition of activists including organized labor, environmentalists and other special interest groups are involved in the conflict. All participants in the debate claim their stance is rooted in selfless concern for the good of the country. But if all have the same concerns in mind, why is the debate so polarized?

SELFISH EXCESS

In the time of Amos, there appears to have been no effort either to conceal selfishness or to rationalize it in any way. Significant numbers of Israelites were flaunting their wealth in orgies of pleasure with little evidence of concern for the well-being of those less fortunate. This is the attitude that provoked God’s wrath upon the nation.

  1. What do you know about this current trade controversy? In what ways does this debate reflect either selfishness or selflessness? Be specific.
  2. Amos describes the selfishness of his culture and follows it with a promise of God’s judgment. Why do you think selfishness often leads to the downfall of people and nations?
  3. In what ways have you found Christians to be tempted by power, greed, or a general attitude of selfishness? Give some examples from our culture that reflect selfish excess in lifestyle.
  4. In your own life, how do you keep selfishness from leading to your downfall? How do you distinguish between a necessity and an unwarranted luxury?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – June 14, 2015

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DEALING WITH A FLOOD OF DESTRUCTION

Powerful storms struck vast areas of America over the past week. A years-long drought in some areas was broken by weather systems that brought both torrential rains and tornadoes. Waist-deep hail fell in Denver. In the Midwest and South, extensive flooding destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Texans suffered the loss of 10,000 automobiles. In a jab at the idea of such disasters being an “act of God,” a satirical website claimed in jest that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz had blamed the flooding in Texas on Native-American rain dances.

 CALLING FOR A FLOOD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

The prophet Amos wasn’t attempting to be humorous when he warned Israel to prepare for calamity. God was displeased with the immorality and injustice that was rampant in the prosperous but godless nation. He called for a figurative “flood” of justice and righteousness to sweep over the country, destroying the immorality practiced by kings, religious leaders, and common citizens alike.

  1. Do you think God is sending America a message with the extreme weather we are experiencing? Why or why not?
  2. What aspects of American life do you believe might warrant God’s judgment? What modern parallels do you see to the evils Amos described in Israel?
  3. Describe the changes one would see in a culture if “justice rolled on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.”
  4. What positive steps can individual Christians take to change the moral climate of America?
  5. How can your church facilitate a more just society in your community?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 7, 2015

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CORRUPTION AT THE TOP

Last week, the U.S. government indicted fourteen officials of FIFA—the Fédération Internationale de Football Association—in the wake of a scandal. Members of FIFA’s executive committee were charged with taking as much as $10 million in bribes. Local government officials purportedly offered the payoffs to influence the decision as to which cities would be chosen to host the World Cup. The indictments brought angry reactions against America from around the world. Soccer fans mocked the U.S. as being sanctimonious and naïve. Such influence peddling, they claimed, was “how business is done in the rest of the world.”

JUDGMENT FROM ON HIGH

The world doesn’t like to acknowledge that “the way things are done” is often morally wrong. If the charges against FIFA officials are true, the sport of soccer has been given a black eye. While athletes are supposed to play by the rules, those who govern the sport can apparently make up their own rules as they go. However, the prophet Amos makes it clear that God cares deeply about how we live our lives.

  1. Why should we care what goes on in the world of international soccer? Regardless of the sport, how are others affected when participants at any level do not follow the rules?
  2. How do people excuse their failure to live by God’s ethical standards?
  3. Describe a situation you know of in which someone is not exhibiting ethical behavior. What are some possible responses in such a case?
  4. What might be the consequences of each response? Consider consequences for someone pointing out the problem as well as consequences for innocent parties if the unethical behavior is not exposed.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 31, 2015

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THE RIGHT TO LOVE

“Everyone has the right to love who they want.” The American gay lobby has used this statement to legitimize gay marriage. The implication is that decent people would never take a stand against “love.” Last week in Ireland, 62% of voters in a national referendum agreed, making gay marriage legal. Since Ireland is a Catholic country, this is especially significant. The Vatican called the vote a defeat that demonstrates the need for explaining the church’s teachings in a new way.

HOW TO LOVE RIGHT

While 1 Corinthians 13 does not speak directly to the issue of gay marriage, it does tell us what love is and how to love.

One of the principles the passage emphasizes is that love is not about me. It is about how my love affects others. Selfish attitudes that place my feelings ahead of what is right and good for other individuals and society at large violate the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13.

  1. The Vatican asserted that there is a need for the church to explain her objection to gay marriage in a new way. How would you explain a biblical view of gay marriage when challenged by someone today? How would a definition of love factor into your answer?
  2. Give specific examples of popular definitions of love that 1 Corinthians 13 challenges.
  3. What specific parts of today’s text challenge how you relate to others in love?
  4. Tell of a time when following today’s text would have helped you more effectively resolve a conflict.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 24, 2015

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THE NOISE OF VIOLENCE

Gunshots reverberated through a restaurant in Waco, Texas, last weekend. Members of competing motorcycle gangs had gathered to find agreement on working for biker’s rights and to discuss other mutual concerns. But old rivalries sparked a brawl in which nine were killed and at least 18 were injured. Police arrested 170 people for murder and other charges related to organized crime. Although the gathering was intended to produce unity, it degenerated into violence.

THE SOUND OF PEACE

The sound that echoed through Jerusalem on Pentecost was the sound of a peaceful Spirit bringing unity to a disparate group of people. Some were Jesus’ disciples, some had been his enemies, and all had been witnesses of the violent events that happened some 50 days before. But the Spirit at work on that day moved 3,000 of them to turn their lives around in agreement that Jesus was the Messiah.

Nevertheless, the gift of speaking in languages unknown by the speaker became a source of division in the church in Corinth. Paul needed to intervene to curtail this conflict and to help restore unity.

  1. What do you think motivates people to divide into competing groups like the gangs in Waco? Though violence because of such division is relatively rare, what are some other destructive results of cultural divisions?
  2. Although the gift of languages brought people together on Pentecost, why do you think spiritual gifts can be a divisive topic in the church to this day?
  3. What steps can Christians take to find agreement on spiritual gifts?
  4. What other issues cause division in the church today? How have you seen believers effectively address divisive topics and bring about unity?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 17, 2015

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IDENTITY POLITICS

Numerous candidates now seek nomination for the office of U.S. President. Media outlets speculate about which candidate is most likely to capture the vote of the various demographic groups that make up America, groups that are described in terms of gender, age, economic status, race, religion, marital status, cultural heritage—the list goes on! Identity politics is nothing new. But as America becomes ever more diverse, targeted appeals seem increasingly the norm.

 

IDENTITY CHRISTIANITY

The world views people in terms of their differences. This week’s lesson acknowledges the importance of differing functions within the body of Christ (the church), but of much greater significance is what Christians have in common: salvation in Jesus. This is the basis of Christian unity; this is what forms and shapes the diversity of the church’s many members into a single unified body. The nature of our earthly demographic differences fades in importance once we realize where our primary identity lies.

  1. What positive and negative values are there in appealing specifically to narrow demographic slices of voters in an election campaign?
  2. What does Paul’s illustration of the human body say about divisiveness in the church of the twenty-first century?
  3. How do we recognize when a church is “celebrating diversity” at the expense of “promoting unity” within the body of believers? How do we recognize the reverse?
  4. Does Paul’s thoughts on a unified body that is composed of diverse members apply only to differing spiritual gifts for service, or does it apply to doctrinal beliefs as well? Explain.
  5. How do you personally welcome into your church fellowship those who are culturally, ethnically, or racially different from you?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 10, 2015

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A CERTAIN KIND OF SPIRIT

A free-speech contest held in a Dallas suburb last week offered a $10,000 prize for the best caricature of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. The featured speaker was Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders, a critic of radical Islam. At one point, two men who claimed to act in the spirit of radical Islam drove up and began shooting. One person was wounded before police killed the shooters. One of the gunmen had declared his allegiance to ISIS just before the attack.

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF SPIRIT

Scripture tells us to conduct ourselves in ways that are in keeping with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25; etc.). And it is the same Spirit who equips us to be able to do so, as this week’s lesson affirms. How we use that giftedness will be seen in the fruit we bear.

  1. Is it appropriate for Christians to satirize other religions? Why, or why not?
  2. How should Christians react, if at all, to cartoons that mock Christ or the Christian faith?
  3. What, in your experience, do Christians most get wrong about the nature and use of spiritual gifts? Why?
  4. What spiritual gift or gifts do you have? How did you reach that conclusion?
  5. What can you do in the week ahead to help another Christian discover and/or develop his or her spiritual gift(s)?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 3, 2015

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MAKING TROUBLE . . .

The riots in Baltimore have captured the nation’s attention. The civil unrest in that city was sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died of a spinal injury after having been in police custody. At its core, the issue is one of truth. Did the death of Freddie Gray really result from injuries while in custody? Are the authorities telling the truth about their investigation? Is the unrest mainly at the instigation of out-of-towners who, as some claim, are merely taking advantage of a situation, not caring about the truth?

 

. . . EVEN IN THE CHURCH!

Those working for truth sometimes seem to be in the minority. Rabble-rousers often appear to exercise more control over events than those who labor to seek truth in difficult situations (compare Acts 21:27-36). This happens even in the church, and it is not a new problem, as our lesson text of 3 John reveals.

  1. How do we distinguish between those who are working for the truth and those working against it in situations of civil unrest such as the one in Baltimore?
  2. How do we distinguish between those who are working for the truth and those working against it in the church?
  3. How do others see you working for the truth, whether inside or outside the church?
  4. How should a church handle a situation where a member shows disregard for the truth?
  5. How did you respond to the challenge of a situation where you were tempted to disregard the truth?
  6. What does Acts 20:30 add to today’s study from 3 John, if anything?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – April 26, 2015

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CHARGED WITH DECEPTION

Last Sunday, the CBS network’s 60 Minutes television program revealed the results of an investigation into a 2013 nerve gas attack in Syria. Numerous victims who somehow lived through the attack were interviewed. The Syrian government has denied any connection to the events. However, the investigative report concluded that the government had gassed residents of communities that sided with rebels in the nation’s civil war. If the 60 Minutes report is accurate, it means the Syrian government has attempted to deceive the world for over a year.

 

WATCHING FOR DECEIVERS

Deception—political, military, and otherwise—has been part of human interaction since people groups began struggling against one another (compare Joshua 8:3-19; 9:3-23). Deception is also part of the battle for control of the human spirit. It began when the serpent deceived Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). The battle continues to the present day in the lives of everyone (2 Timothy 3:13). The apostle John challenges us to be on our guard against deceivers.

  1. Under what conditions, if any, does a government have the right to use deception?
  2. In what ways, if any, have Satan’s tactics changed with regard to deceiving people today?
  3. When was a time you were a victim of deception? What did you learn from that experience?
  4. Give your reaction to this statement: “Those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”
  5. Give your reaction to this statement: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
  6. How do you guard yourself against being deceived in a spiritual sense? Which passages of Scripture help you most in this regard?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – April 19, 2015

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FEAR IS EVERYWHERE!

Last week, some 52 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis took the world to the brink of nuclear war, the presidents of Cuba and America sat together at a conference table in Panama. They hoped it would be one more step toward resumption of normal diplomatic relations, but some in both nations fear what this may lead to. Fear was also a factor in arguments both for and against the recent tentative agreement with Iran that is intended make the world safer from nuclear weapons.

 

WHERE IS LOVE?

Decades of bellicose words and actions between countries can make it difficult for fear to be set aside. The apostle John tells us perfect love casts out fear. Yet the question remains as to how love can overcome mistrust between peoples having different cultural values and political systems.

  1. Can the Christian ethic of love between individuals overcome fear and distrust between nations as well? Why, or why not?
  2. How do we harmonize John’s mandate to love in today’s lesson with his warning not to welcome certain people in 2 John 10, 11?
  3. What is the relationship between love and trust?
  4. What has been your experience regarding how love and fear interact?
  5. Is it possible to fear those of other nations or cultures yet still love them? Why, or why not?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – April 12, 2015

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HATING?

Expressions of anger rolled across America last week when a Christian owner of an Indiana pizzeria said he wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding if requested to do so. His business was even threatened with arson. It was all part of the ongoing furor that has erupted regarding the state’s recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The sponsors of the bill say it is intended to prohibit government “from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion,” while opponents call it an “anti-gay law.” Over $800,000 has been raised to help the owner of the pizzeria defend his livelihood from boycotts, legal challenges, etc.

 

LOVING!

Today’s lesson text challenges Christians to love one another (1 John 3:11, 23). Mutual love demonstrates the unity among Christians that the world should see for the gospel to be presented effectively to unbelievers (John 17:20-24). The gospel that teaches of God’s love for the world (John 3:16) also teaches that sin must be confronted (John 8:10, 11; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; etc.).

  1. Does the love we are to show to a fellow Christian who takes a stand (as did the pizzeria owner) depend on our concluding that the stand is biblically correct? Why, or why not?
  2. Do you know people who have expressed strong opinions on Indiana’s religious freedom law but have not read the actual text of that law? If so, what do you say to them?
  3. How would the pizzeria owner’s decision not to cater same-sex weddings be similar to (if at all) or different from (if at all) a refusal to cater, say, a Hindu wedding?
  4. Regarding the current culture war over so-called gay rights, where is the line to be drawn between the Christian’s obligation to obey the law of the land (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-5) and obligation to engage in God-honoring civil disobedience (Acts 4:18-20; 5:29)?
  5. Which verse from today’s lesson text do you find most personally challenging? Why?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – April 5, 2015

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KILLING JESUS

Killing Jesus was seen by 3.7 million viewers on Palm Sunday. The film was billed as “restrained biblical history, suitable for believers and non-believers alike.” However, it didn’t satisfy reviewers at either end of that spectrum. One complained because it “confused religious interpretation with historical fact.” Another said “I searched in vain in this film for any sense of the glory or meaning of Easter. It’s just not there.”

 

PROCLAIMING JESUS

The world is effectively “killing Jesus” over and over, either by ignoring him or relegating him to myth by distorting the gospel message. As our nation loses its awareness of the biblical message, and as the Christian orientation it once had recedes into the past, the task of proclaiming the resurrected Jesus to an increasingly secular culture becomes all the more urgent.

  1. If you watched Killing Jesus, what is your evaluation of it?
  2. What is your favorite “Easter movie”? Why?
  3. What does the size of the audience for Killing Jesus say about public interest in the gospel message, if anything?
  4. How does popular interest in movies about Jesus square with the increasingly secular nature of Western society?
  5. Is it possible to portray the life of Jesus in a way that satisfies both believers and unbelievers? Why, or why not?
  6. What are some specific ways you can show “the glory and meaning of Easter” in daily life?

 —Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 29, 2015

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UNCERTAIN ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Senator Ted Cruz recently became the first major candidate of a major U.S. political party to step officially onto the road he hopes will result in being elected president. It is a road stretching many months into the future. The office of President of the United States has taken on an almost mythical, messianic aura as it draws a wide range of hopefuls. Supporters will be obliged to lay carpets of cash in the paths of their candidates. Pundits expect other potential candidates will soon put their campaigns in motion to counteract any momentum Cruz might gain by being first.

 

CERTAIN ROAD TO THE CROSS

Both friends and enemies viewed his ministry in political and nationalistic terms, but Jesus would have none of it (John 6:15; 11:48; 19:12; Acts 1:6, 7). Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was not that of a military victor, as the one of 141 BC had been (see the nonbiblical 1 Maccabees 13:49-53). Neither was it a rehearsed, highly scripted event of modern political campaigns. Jesus appreciated the accolades, but that was not why he was in town. He was on the certain road to the cross.

  1. How do campaigns for high political office take on messianic overtones? Why is this question important?
  2. Why do sincere Christians of good conscience disagree with one another regarding political candidates and issues?
  3. What are some modern parallels of the crowd’s shouting “Hosanna” in praise of Jesus, then shouting “Crucify” shortly thereafter (Mark 11:9; 15:11-14)?
  4. How do we maintain from day to day the enthusiasm for Jesus seen in the triumphal entry?
  5. How do we know when the Lord needs to make use of something we have, such as the donkey in today’s text, for the cause of his kingdom?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 22, 2015

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FEAR

Fear is common to the human experience. Some people fear that priceless antiquities in Syria and Iraq will continue to be destroyed by ISIS fighters. In Israel, some fear outside pressure to create a Palestinian state. In Washington, many senators fear the president will take too soft a line in nuclear talks with Iran, while other senators fear that their colleagues will compromise those talks. Such issues seem abstract and irrelevant to those who fear that their money will not stretch to the end of the month. It seems that there is always something to fear.

 

PEACE

Jesus’ disciples were gathered in fear behind locked doors on the evening of the first resurrection Sunday. They had no idea what the Jewish leaders might be planning next. But when Jesus appeared to them, he brought a message of peace. The disciples were being taught to look to the resurrected and eternal Son of God as they shifted their shift their gaze away from the temporary things of the world that cause fear.

  1. Even though we trust God, isn’t fear of what evil people may do a realistic attitude? Why, or why not?
  2. What steps can we take to find spiritual peace when it seems there is ample reason to be afraid?
  3. What does Peter’s retreat back into fear in Galatians 2:11-13 have to say about our own faltering steps in casting off fear?
  4. When was an occasion that your trust in God helped you to conquer a fear?
  5. How does fear of God (1 Peter 2:17; etc.) differ from fear of evil people?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 15, 2015

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REENACTING THE PAST

Last Sunday saw a reenactment of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Alabama—this time without the blood. In the original event of 50 years ago, some 600 peaceful marchers were demonstrating for voting rights when they were attacked by police using clubs, whips, and tear gas. That turned out to be a watershed moment that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Last Sunday’s march was intended to call attention to the continuing need to ensure that no one is denied civil rights and justice.

 

REDEEMING FOR ETERNITY

Christians realize the need to work to eliminate the sin of earthly injustice while proclaiming the eternal justice that Jesus will implement in finality at his second coming. Until he does return, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in confronting sins of all kinds. He is the Spirit of Truth. When truth confronts sin, sin loses.

  1. Why did some Christians of 50 years ago oppose equal voting rights? How do we keep from repeating this error?
  2. Were Jesus’ declarations in John 16:13 only for the apostles, or were they for all Christians of all centuries? Explain.
  3. What does today’s lesson text imply about the nature of the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
  4. Does John 16:7 imply that it’s better for us to have the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus walking among us in the flesh? Why, or why not?
  5. When was an occasion that you saw truth defeat sin? Describe.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 8, 2015

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A SPIRIT OF LIES AND HATE

The black-masked ISIS executioner who is responsible for a horrific series of beheadings has been identified. He is Mohammed Emwazi, known in the news media as “Jihadi John.” There are conflicting reports regarding the time of his youth in London. Some say he was a polite young man, but others tell of his extreme anger. In any case, he is one of many radicalized citizens of Western nations who have joined ISIS, where a spirit of falsehood undergirds their support of an extremist agenda.

 

THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH AND LOVE

Emwazi is the exact opposite of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus has sent. The Spirit is variously referred to as our advocate, comforter, and helper, depending on translation. Jesus said the Spirit would come to bless the world with truth, not deceive it with lies. The Spirit produces the fruit of love, not of hate. All who claim to act in God’s name must show evidence of both truth and love in their lives.

  1. What causes people such as Emwazi to leave so-called Christian nations to become violent executioners in the name of religion?
  2. How can we bring the truth to those who are as extreme as Emwazi, or should we even try?
  3. How should Christians under imminent threat of martyrdom continue to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit prompts their behavior? Be specific.
  4. Considering Ephesians 2:1-3 and 1 John 4:1-6, when was a time you acted in a way contrary to how the spirit of this world was prompting you to behave?
  5. How might the Holy Spirit prompt us to act when disagreements occur among Christians?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – March 1, 2015

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SEEKING SALVATION

Greece’s economy began to collapse in late 2009, burdened as it was by public debt of about $435 billion. The European Union subsequently offered “salvation” through bailouts approaching $300 billion in exchange for severe austerity measures. The arrangement has been so unpopular among Greeks that in January they elected a new prime minister who promised to break the austerity agreement. The EU demands that Greece renew its budget reforms. As this week began, Greece was scheduled to make new proposals for continuing to receive bailouts as that nation yet seeks salvation from its financial sins. Some fear a worldwide domino effect should the Greek economy collapse.

 

SENDING THE SAVIOR

Most nations struggle with fiscal deficits and debt. Greed, corruption, and failure to abide by biblical principles (Proverbs 22:7; etc.) are among the reasons. The near-universal nature of this particular problem underlines the biblical truth that we need a savior from all of our sins. Jesus is that savior. Although he paid the penalty for our sins, people still stubbornly resist accepting that “bailout”—a bailout that is not a loan but a gift that pays our sin debt in full.

  1. Is Jesus interested in “saving” the economies of nations? Why, or why not?
  2. At what point do people’s expectations regarding what they want from their government become sinful? Why?
  3. What is the significance of the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove on Jesus regarding his role as savior?
  4. How will your life demonstrate in the week ahead that you have accepted Jesus as savior?
  5. What is the evidence that your church is being led by God’s Spirit in its ministry to take Jesus to the world?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – February 22, 2015

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PERSECUTION

The horrific executions by ISIS continue. Just a few days ago, ISIS released a video showing beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt. The video was captioned, “A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.” A militant specifically referred to those about to be executed as “people of the cross.” The radicals vow to “conquer Rome,” indicating intent to destroy whatever Christian influence stands in the way of its plans to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate. The early church’s history of being persecuted to the point of martyrdoms seems destined to be the history of the twenty-first-century church as well.

 

PROTECTION

More and more nations are joining the fight against ISIS. Yet Paul is more concerned with spiritual protection. Behind the gruesome realities of the ISIS executions lies spiritual wickedness. That’s the source of the decisions by would-be militants to leave home—homes often located in Western democracies—to join ISIS. We dare not allow ourselves to fall under the sway of this evil influence.

  1. Why do people to act violently in the name of God and religion?
  2. Should Christians join the military forces of their countries in order to inflict physical destruction on enemies such as ISIS? (Consider passages such as Matthew 5:9, 38-45; 10:34; 26:52; Mark 13:7, 8; and Romans 12:17-21; 13:1-7.)
  3. How do we convince a secular culture to acknowledge the reality of evil?
  4. What is the value of the spiritual armor of which Paul speaks when we are faced with physical violence or even martyrdom?
  5. Which piece of spiritual armor that Paul mentions have you found most helpful in resisting and defeating evil? Why?
  6. How can we help Christians who are in mortal danger because of their faith? Be specific.

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – February 15, 2015

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WHO ARE “THE LEAST”?

Western culture seems intent on identifying ever-more categories of “victims.” This week, the state of Alabama was the stage on which this drama played out yet again, as same-sex couples started getting married there on Monday. Alabama’s chief justice tried to block the weddings, but the U.S. Supreme Court allowed them to take place. Justice Clarence Thomas was critical of his colleagues for ignoring states’ rights issues in their decision.

 

CHALLENGED TO BE “THE MOST”!

Jesus calls his followers to be the most compassionate people on earth, especially toward those whom the world has marginalized or persecuted unjustly. But as we struggle to do what Jesus said, we often we find ourselves caught in the conflict between unchanging biblical values and the shifting values of secular culture. The current struggle over homosexual marriages in the state of Alabama and elsewhere is an example.

  1. What is the compassionate Christian’s response to the sinful trend of legitimizing same-sex marriage?
  2. What actions would you take and not take if you received an invitation to attend a same-sex wedding ceremony of a family member?
  3. How do we bring a cup of “spiritual water” (the gospel) to someone who denies his or her need for it?
  4. How do we keep cultural definitions of “disadvantaged,” “disenfranchised,” etc., from being the lens through which we interpret Scripture?
  5. What more can your church do to minister to “the least”?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – February 8, 2015

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A MODERN CLASH OF RELIGIOUS VALUES

ISIS militants recently beheaded Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. American news media made little reference to the fact that Goto was a Christian (only 1 percent of Japanese are). Japan has been officially pacifist since World War II, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed that his nation could not allow atrocities against Japanese citizens. He proclaimed that Japan would avenge the deaths of Goto and another hostage recently killed by ISIS militants. No mention was made of atrocities (including beheadings) committed against prisoners of war by the forces of Imperial Japan during World War II.

 

AN ANCIENT CLASH OF RELIGIOUS VALUES

Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan addressed Jewish bias against Samaritans, a bias that was religious in nature. Luke 9:54 records the premeditation of an act of savagery against Samaritans, an act that Jesus forbade. Samaritans were shunned, if not outright despised (John 4:9; 8:48). The feeling was mutual (Luke 9:52, 53). Antagonism that has religious differences as a basis are certainly nothing new!

  1. How do we weigh the imperative to love neighbors against needs for self-defense in the face of violent enemies such as ISIS?
  2. Should Christians respond differently to atrocities than governments do? If not, why not? If so, how?
  3. In what situations do Christians sometimes “go to the other side of the road” to avoid being a neighbor to someone who needs help? How do we resist doing so?
  4. Since just about everyone these days seems to have a cell phone to use in calling for aid, under what circumstances, if any, does that affect our obligation to stop and offer help? Explain.
  5. What was a circumstance in which you overcame your reluctance be a “neighbor” to someone you disliked? How did things turn out?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – February 1, 2015

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FORCED RESTRICTIONS

A “potentially historic” blizzard bore down on the northeastern U.S. this week. Taking the warning to heart—a warning that turned out to be overstated in certain areas—shoppers cleaned out grocery stores, emptying the shelves of almost everything edible, in addition to toilet paper, batteries, and fireplace logs. People feared being trapped for days in homes without sufficient food and supplies. Some undoubtedly were alarmed at thoughts of having to ration their food should the paralysis-by-blizzard linger.

 

VOLUNTARY RESTRICTIONS

When faced with the demand to feast on the kind of food the king thought was best, Daniel and his companions voluntarily chose different dietary selections. Hundreds of years later, Jesus had important things to say about voluntary fasting, as the second portion of this week’s lesson text establishes. The decision by Daniel and the instructions by Jesus both deal with spiritual tests. Whether we feast or fast, the attitude of our hearts is what determines the quality of our relationship with God.

  1. What dangers loom when people do not prepare well in advance for emergencies that are bound to come?
  2. How is the answer to question 1 different regarding emergencies that threaten the soul rather than the body?
  3. Why did the plan of Daniel and his friends turn out to be the right one?
  4. What spiritual principles can we draw from Daniel’s experience regarding dietary rules for ourselves for today, if any?
  5. What experiences have you had with fasting for spiritual reasons?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – January 25, 2015

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AN INVITATION TO PRAY RESCINDED

A furor erupted a week ago at Duke University. At issue was a plan to broadcast a Muslim call to prayer from the tower of the school’s historically Christian chapel. The university reversed the decision after questions were raised internally by the Dean of Duke Divinity School and publicly by Franklin Graham, who said, “It’s wrong because it’s a different God.” Some wondered about an apparent contradiction between allowing the Muslim call to prayer and the university’s affirmation (on its website) that it “maintains a historic affiliation with the United Methodist Church.”

 

THE NEED TO PRAY STRESSED

Duke University wrestled with a decision that may have been as much political as it was religious in nature. But there is no question about James’s call to pray, found in the text for today’s lesson. Are we in trouble or sick? Have we sinned? Prayer is the first action to take, for ourselves and for each other.

  1. Is there such a thing as “Christian spaces” that should be off-limits to non-Christian prayer or worship? Why, or why not?
  2. When does toleration of other religions cross the line to tacit approval of them? How do we keep from crossing that line?
  3. Which circumstance named by James do you find yourself praying about the most? Why?
  4. Which of those circumstances do you find it most difficult to pray for? Why?
  5. Does the call of James to pray for one another extend to praying for those who are not Christian? Why, or why not?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – January 18, 2015

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HATE

An evil expression of religion shocked Paris and the world last week when Islamic radicals murdered staff members of a satirical French publication. The rationale was retribution for the magazine’s cartoon mockery of Islam’s prophet. (As we have learned through news reports, the publication mocks Christianity as well.) Several people not connected with the magazine also lost their lives in the attack and its aftermath. The terrorists’ distorted view of how to please God resulted in unspeakable carnage.

 

LOVE

The biblical view of how God’s people are to conduct themselves is strikingly different from that evidenced by the terrorists. They believed they could please God by killing those thought to have insulted him. In stark contrast, the Son of God stooped low in love, made himself one with us, and accepted crucifixion and the mockery that went with it. Instead of taking revenge on us for our sins, Jesus died that we may be saved by grace.

  1. How should we respond

. . . to violence that is done in the name of religion?

. . . when media sources intentionally mock Christianity or blaspheme God?

. . . when media sources mock Christianity or blaspheme God out of ignorance?

  1. Since Christ passively accepted persecution and death, does that mean his followers should always do so as well? Why, or why not?
  2. Under what circumstances, if any, is self-imposed censorship proper in order to “avoid making waves” with adherents of other religions?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – January 11, 2015

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A NATION DIVIDED

The 114th Congress of the United States formally convened on Tuesday. Convene means “to come together,” but Congress has not done much coming together in recent years—at least not philosophically. Polarized seems to be the most apt description of the American political landscape. Politicians and the citizens they represent seem more divided than ever in their views regarding the proper role and size of government, among other things. With both houses of the legislative branch controlled by one major political party and the executive branch controlled by the other, many observers expect deadlock.

 

A CHURCH UNITED?

Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers. He did not desire unity merely for the sake of unity, however, but unity for the sake of a world needing to hear his message of salvation. Most of the world still doesn’t know the savior, and historically “Christian nations” continue to turn away from him. The fragmentation of the church over its 2,000-year history hasn’t helped! Unified believers is what Jesus prayed for, but his desire has not been realized.

  1. How can Christians best address the spirit of polarization in politics? Or should we merely ignore it? Why?
  2. What does Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers signify today on the personal, local, regional, and national levels?
  3. What are some issues that stand in the way of Christian unity?
  4. Considering the differing concepts of unity, unification, and uniformity, which should Christian most be striving for? Why?
  5. How does unity at the level of the individual Christian affect the church’s witness?
  6. What attitudes do you need to change personally in order that Jesus’ desire for unity will not be hindered?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – January 4, 2015

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UNANSWERED PRAYERS?

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared back in March and still has not been found. Months later, family members of passengers on that flight said they were still praying for the safe return of their loved ones. A few days ago, the world’s attention was drawn once again to the loss of an airliner when AirAsia Flight 8501 disappeared from radar screens. This too prompted prayers from family members, of many faiths. The prayers continue even now as wreckage and bodies are being recovered.

 

ASSURANCE OF AN ANSWER!

When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, he included strong assurances that their prayers would be answered. The parable-type teachings that accompany what we call “the Lord’s prayer” illustrate God’s willingness to grant our requests. However, many Christians are disturbed by the fact that their prayers often seem not to be answered.

  1. Has God “turned a deaf ear” on prayers for the victims of the two airline disasters? Why, or why not?
  2. Does the answer to question 1 depend on whether the one praying is a Christian?
  3. When your prayers seem not to be answered, how do you align that conclusion with the fact that Jesus assures us that our prayers will be answered?
  4. Does it help to affirm that God sometimes responds to prayers with answers of no or wait, therefore there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer”? Why, or why not?
  5. How will your prayer life change as a result of today’s lesson?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – December 28, 2014

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WORSHIPPING THE STATUS QUO?

A sacrosanct element of American policy for the last 55 years has been the country’s trade embargo with Cuba. The policy was implemented following the 1959 communist takeover of that island nation by Fidel Castro; the policy was further cemented by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. But the political deep freeze between the two countries began to thaw recently when President Obama ordered restoration of diplomatic relations. Certain members of both major U.S. political parties quickly voiced opposition, vowing to resist changing the longstanding status quo.

 

WORSHIPPING THE LORD

We frequently assume that the status quo is the only way things can be. Jesus’ disciples, for their part, “knew” that a flesh and blood person could not walk on water, so they assumed that what they were seeing was a disembodied spirit. The result was fear. But changed understanding that resulted in appropriate worship did come.

  1. What biblical reasons can Christians advance for changing or not changing the political status quo with Cuba?
  2. What role should Christian faith play in forming our opinions about geopolitical matters, if any?
  3. In what ways can it be said that people “worship” the status quo in various areas of life?
  4. How may hanging onto things as they have always been interfere with worshipping the Lord appropriately?
  5. How does resistance to seeing things in a different way inhibit the Lord’s work personally and as a body of believers today?
  6. When was a time that a willingness to look beyond the status quo resulted in the Lord’s leading you in a new direction?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – December 21, 2014

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A TIME OF FEAR AND VIOLENCE

The recently released report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” has aroused anger, both at America’s response to 9/11 and at those who wrote what some are calling a partisan report. Regardless of one’s point of view, the report has forced debate over what, in normal speech, we call torture. The violent attack on America in 2001 prompted a harsh response in an atmosphere of fear. As of this writing, it remains to be seen how the government of Pakistan will respond to the murder of over 130 children by the Taliban a few days ago.

 

A TIME OF JOY AND PEACE

The time of Jesus’ birth was one of fear and violence as well; his birth even prompted some of it (Matthew 2:16-18). But the angel said Jesus would usher in joy and peace. Even with their limited understanding of what was beginning to happen that night, the shepherds glorified God because of what they experienced in Bethlehem. How much more should we glorify God because we know the whole story of God’s love for us! It is a story wherein fear and violence must give way to joy and peace.

  1. Can “enhanced interrogation techniques” ever be justified under a Christian “lesser of two evils” concept? Why, or why not?
  2. How should Christians respond to the tragedy in Pakistan?
  3. When was a time God’s peace comforted you while you were being victimized by evil?
  4. What tends to rob you of a sense of joy and peace in Christ? Why?
  5. What will you do in the coming week to glorify God because of what he has done through Christ?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – December 14, 2014

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SADNESS . . .

Even though this is “the season of joy,” the world relentlessly provides us with reasons for not being joyful. For example, Al Qaeda and its various offshoots continue to murder innocent people. Last week, two victims included an American and a South African held captive in Yemen. Al Qaeda had threatened to kill the American unless certain demands were met. A U.S. rescue effort failed and both hostages were killed.

 

. . . IN A SEASON OF JOY

Despite the many reasons for sadness in the world, the psalmist of this week’s lesson urges us to worship God with joy-filled hearts. Events may make this difficult at times, but looking at life from a longer-term perspective reminds us that we live in God’s good creation. God cares for all that he has made—especially us! God rules over all and his will shall eventually be accomplished. Let us live in joy-filled hope!

  1. What is a Christian response to Al Qaeda’s brutality?
  2. How would you comfort the families of loved ones who have died (from any cause) in what is (or should be) this season of joy?
  3. In what ways do you experience the joy of God’s care and protection now?
  4. What was the most joyous Christmas season you ever experienced? Why?
  5. What was the least joyous Christmas season you ever experienced? Why?
  6. What will you do this week to “make a joyful noise” in praise of God as a public witness?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – December 7, 2014

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FADING GLORY

“Black Friday” (the Friday after Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.) has been the de facto beginning of the Christmas shopping season over the last dozen or so years. But recently merchants have been opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day as well. Many stores now start their Christmas promotions earlier. This year, however, sales over the Black Friday weekend were down 11 percent from last year’s, and the number of shoppers dropped by about 6 percent. Perhaps Black Friday’s glory is fading, since marketing experts expect this trend to continue. The glory days of all things material eventually come to an end.

 

UNFADING GLORY

The situation is quite different when we consider Jesus Christ. Increasing numbers of Christians have worshipped him for some two thousand years now. Although the church of the year 2014 struggles in nations and regions where Christianity was once strong, faith in Christ is spreading rapidly elsewhere, even in places such as Communist China! Christ will be worshipped, regardless of what an increasingly secular America does.

  1. How do we keep Thanksgiving from becoming merely Turkey Day?
  2. What does Nehemiah 13:15-21 have to say, if anything, regarding the trend to turn a holiday that has a Christian basis into just another day to sell things?
  3. How can we make our worship of Christ a more powerful force in our increasingly secular, materialistic culture?
  4. In what ways is Jesus being honored in the non-Western world today?
  5. What can the answer to question 4 teach those of us who live in the Western world?
  6. How did you honor Christ in the past week as “the season of brotherly shove” began in earnest?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – November 30, 2014

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BAD NEWS

Whether the grand jury’s decision from Ferguson, Missouri was “bad news” or “good news” depends on one’s perspective. That jury had decided that there was insufficient evidence to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. In announcing the jury’s decision, the county prosecutor referred to inaccurate reporting and contradictory eyewitness accounts. What was definitely bad news was the fact that the city erupted in violence after the jury’s decision was announced. Many saw that violence as revealing once again racial tensions between African-Americans and law enforcement authorities.

 

GOOD NEWS

There is no bad news or contradictory evidence in Isaiah’s reporting of the restoration of Jerusalem. Neither is there a hint of bad news in his prediction that “the ends of the earth” will see salvation become a reality. The implications of that statement transcend the rebuilding of any earthly Jerusalem. Every Christian of every race and language is the beneficiary of the good news of God’s work of salvation through Christ.

  1. What is there about human nature that makes cases like that involving Michael Brown and Darren Wilson so difficult to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction?
  2. What can Christians do to defuse racial tension wherever it exists?
  3. How does the good news of the future that Isaiah prophesied make you better equipped to accomplish the goal of question 2?
  4. How do we help our fellow Christians keep their focus on God’s eternal salvation in Christ and the marvelous future that awaits?
  5. When was a time that the troubles of this world caused you to take your eyes off that perfect future? How did you get back on track in that regard?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – November 23, 2014

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FOREIGNERS AMONG US TODAY

Only three weeks after the midterm elections, hopes that President Obama and the U.S. Congress can and/or will work together are becoming dimmer. The president is promising to take executive action to halt the deportation of millions of immigrants who lack the documentation to prove that they are in the country legally. Some congressional leaders are strongly opposed to the plan and are threatening a showdown on the matter. Thus the long-simmering question of who should be allowed to remain within the borders of the United States threatens to erupt anew.

 

FOREIGNERS IN THE ISRAEL OF EZEKIEL’S VISION

The prophet Ezekiel’s vision from God indicated that the Jews were to respect the foreigners living among them as if they were Israelites who were born there. The foreigners were even to be allotted an inheritance in the land! That command was probably as unsettling to many of the ancient Israelites as is talk of “immigration reform” to many Americans today.

  1. What does the lesson text have to say, if anything, regarding the current debate over immigration reform? Why?
  2. What similarities and differences do you see between the current tension on immigration reform and the issue of providing foreigners an inheritance among the ancient Israelites?
  3. If you knew the whereabouts of someone who was in the country without proper documentation, what would you do? Why?
  4. How does Romans 13:1-5 inform your response to question 3, if at all?
  5. Should a church’s benevolence and evangelism procedures be different toward those who are in the country legally and illegally? Why, or why not?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – November 16, 2014

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FLEEING SLAVERY

Last Sunday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The trickle of daring escapes during the wall’s 28-year history became a mighty flood of those enjoying safe and free passage when the wall came down. The economic slavery of communism in East Berlin was no more! Perhaps more than any other, this event marked the end of the Cold War. Axel Klausmeier, Director of the Berlin Wall Memorial, said that the wall’s fall was “a point of no return . . . from there, things headed toward a whole new world order.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who lived much of her life behind the wall, said, “That changed my life.”

 

FINDING FREEDOM

In Ezekiel’s vision, the water that flowed from the temple began as a mere trickle. The tiny stream grew into an ever-deepening river, surging eastward until it became so great that no one could cross it. Most significantly, it became a life-giving flood that turned even the salty waters of the Dead Sea pure. This powerful image symbolizes the life-giving freedom of the spirit we find in the new covenant Jesus brought into being.

  1. Is there such a thing as “too much freedom”? Why, or why not?
  2. How do we get people to realize that spiritual freedom in Christ is the most important thing?
  3. In what surprising ways have you experienced God’s life-giving water bringing you freedom?
  4. How do you typically respond when God’s blessings flow over you?
  5. How would you explain to a non-believer what Ezekiel’s vision symbolizes?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – November 9, 2014

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CHOOSING OUR OWN TERMS

Brittany Maynard died last week. She was 29 years old and had brain cancer. But the cancer didn’t take her life; she did. She chose to move from California to Oregon to take advantage of the latter’s physician-assisted suicide law. Maynard received both praise and criticism for the path she chose. The publicity swirling around her decision has brought to the fore once again the so-called right-to-die argument, where terminally ill people are aided in ending their lives “on their own terms.”

 

SUBMITTING TO GOD’S TERMS

God gave Ezekiel specific rules for the dimensions of the restored altar and how it was to be used for conducting sacrifices in the temple. The New Testament shifts the concept of temple away from a building to focus on our bodies as God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Peter 2:5). The New Testament also gives us both general and specific imperatives for how we are to offer our bodies as “a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). This adds a spiritual component to the right-to-die debate.

  1. What peril is there in allowing secular forces to decide the terms of the right-to-die debate?
  2. Is suicide ever a God-honoring option? Why, or why not?
  3. Since our bodies are God’s temple, how can we better apply a holiness criteria to determine which thoughts we will and will not allow our minds to dwell on (1 Peter 1:15, 16)?
  4. How will others see you as a living sacrifice to God in the week ahead?
  5. When was the last time you chose your own terms rather than God’s terms regarding a major decision? How did things turn out?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – November 2, 2014

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THE GLORY OF AMERICA?

Americans go to the polls in a few days. Many potential voters are angry, many are pessimistic, many believe that America’s glory days are gone. According to one poll, the job approval rating for the U.S. Congress stands at only 17 percent among registered voters—a 20-year low. Strident voices promote competing visions for America’s future. “The American dream,” however it is defined, doesn’t seem to shine as brightly as in times past.

 

THE GLORY OF GOD!

Ezekiel saw glory everywhere he turned. It wasn’t the glory of a nation, because his people were still rejecting God as they sinned shamelessly. Rather, Ezekiel beheld God’s glory. The message the prophet heard was that God would be glorified ultimately, and that was to be the people’s hope for the future.

  1. Do you use spiritual concerns as the main criteria for voting certain ways? If not, why not?
  2. How can we encourage one another to focus on God and his glory as we conduct ourselves as citizens of both an earthly nation and a heavenly kingdom?
  3. Considering 1 Corinthians 3:17-19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; and Ephesians 2:19-22, how does the temple in which Ezekiel saw God’s glory compare and contrast with the temple(s) in which God’s glory is to be seen today?
  4. In what ways has the glory of God become dim in your life? Why?
  5. How will you correct the problem in question 4?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – October 26, 2014

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VERY LITTLE THAT’S “WONDERFUL”?

Are there any “wonderful” things to be thankful for in the news of the world this week? The Ebola virus continues to spread. Islamic State terrorist forces are proving resistant to the international coalition’s efforts to defeat them. Iraq still convulses under sectarian violence. Many mid-term election campaigns in the U.S. are being waged with misleading attack ads that make it impossible for the average voter to distinguish truth from falsehood.

 

BUT GOD IS STILL AT WORK!

However, God is still doing things in “ways that are too wonderful” for us. Christians are responding with grace in many places where religious persecution predominates. Roman Catholic bishops are struggling to reform their church so the Bible plays a more significant role than tradition. Churches continue to leave denominations that have strayed from the Bible. And, more subtly, God is prompting individual Christians to be more Christlike in difficult situations.

  1. Are there “positive” items mentioned above about which you would say that God is not at work? Why?
  2. When misfortune strikes, what is God’s role in the matter?
  3. What is an example of the positive role your faith played in responding to a negative situation, even though you didn’t understand what was happening?
  4. What is an example from your personal life that reveals God to be at work right now? Why do you conclude that?
  5. How do we avoid being like Job’s “friends” in speaking wrongly about God during times of distress?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – October 19, 2014

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A GROWING CRISIS

Three nations in West Africa are in “shutdown” mode because of the Ebola virus, which is being called “the most severe, acute health emergency of modern times.” The contagious nature of the disease is ruining the economy of Liberia and changing the physically expressive nature of its citizens’ social interaction. Ebola cases are now reaching North America. Enhanced screening of incoming airline passengers has begun at certain major U.S. airports. American hospitals are being told to “think Ebola.”

 

A GRIEVOUS COMPLAINT

Job, in his pitiable state, could be seen as a one-man illustration of a nation such as Liberia, which is under siege by an epidemic of death. He raises questions that many sufferers have asked for ages: Why doesn’t God do something to stop the spread of affliction? Why doesn’t God answer when we call on him for help?

  1. How would you answer the two questions above?
  2. Where else in the Bible do we see questions like the above asked? What, if any, is God’s response in those passages?
  3. Does Job overstate his problem when he places it alongside societal evils? Why, or why not?
  4. What negative things can happen if we overstate the evils and misfortunes that befall us?
  5. How do we reconcile God’s nature of being good and all-powerful with the reality of evil and suffering?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – October 12, 2014

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TROUBLES THAT OVERWHELM

Julia Pierson, Director of the U.S. Secret Service, resigned last week. Perhaps she felt a bit like Job, as criticism mounted regarding recent security lapses by her agency. Those criticisms further damaged the reputation of the Secret Service, tarnished as it already was by scandals of agents’ misbehavior in recent years. At a congressional hearing last week, one concerned member after another “piled on” in a rare show of bipartisanship.

 

REDEEMER WHO DELIVERS

Troubles can bury us under their weight. Sometimes those troubles are of our own making (as Pierson’s may have been), sometimes they are not (as in the case of Job). Either way, the result may be a lot of “soul searching” as we stand alongside Job and wonder Why me? But one can ask the why-question for only so long. When an extended period of time passes with no answer forthcoming, we will find ourselves facing a choice: either to pull away from God as we sink further into bitterness, or to draw closer to God as we reaffirm our trust in him.

  1. Under what circumstances should a leader be given a chance to straighten up a mess rather than being asked to resign? Why?
  2. What specific kind of help in dealing with troubles can we expect from Christ, our Redeemer?
  3. What do you learn from the example of Job’s friends about how to help and not help someone during a time of trouble and distress?
  4. Will our troubles be fewer because we are Christians? Why, or why not?
  5. How has your Christian faith blessed you during times of troubles?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – October 5, 2014

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LITTLE REASON TO REJOICE

There is little reason to rejoice in Iraq and Syria these days, where Islamic State terrorists control large areas and continue their murderous executions. But change may be in the air. Some Arab nations now recognize that the terrorists’ barbarity threatens Islam’s reputation in the world. Consequently, five Arab countries are cooperating in air strikes against ISIS (also known as ISIL) forces. France, with one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations, was the scene last week of Muslims demonstrating against the ISIS.

 

BUT THERE IS YET A SOURCE OF JOY

The political and economic situation for Judea in Habakkuk’s time gave no reason for rejoicing. None of the normal signs of peace and prosperity were evident. Nevertheless, the prophet’s trust in the Lord caused him to rejoice because he knew that God controlled the future. Blessings would come when the nation returned to righteousness.

  1. What does a country say about itself when it looks for security first in political treaties, military action, and diplomatic efforts rather than to God?
  2. How should Christians react to secular solutions proposed for problems that are essentially spiritual in nature?
  3. Should Christians find joy in the fact that Muslims are now expressing anger over Islamic extremism? Why, or why not?
  4. Where do you find joy?
  5. What causes your level of joy to go up and down? Why?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – September 28, 2014

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VOTING FOR A FUTURE

Last week Scotland took a brave step into the future—or was it a timid retreat into the past? By means of a referendum on independence, the government in London had given Scotland the chance to end its 307-year-old union with England. The voters of Scotland decided, by 55 percent to 45 percent, that their best future lies in continuing to be part of the United Kingdom. Whether or not the political establishment in London will make good on its promises for greater autonomy for Scotland remains to be seen.

 

TRUSTING GOD FOR A FUTURE

The hope for a better future has been part of the human experience since the beginning of history. With their city under siege, the future looked bleak for the people of Jerusalem. The only vote that mattered was God’s, and he had decided to send the Judeans into captivity for their sins. But his word through Jeremiah also offered hope. God promised to bring joyous blessings that no referendum, no government, no political compromise could ever bring.

  1. Do Christians tend to rely too much on governmental action to bring about a prosperous future? Why, or why not?
  2. What types of captivity do people tend to place themselves in when they rebel against God today?
  3. How do we recognize when the problem in question 2 is beginning to happen?
  4. What would bring more joy into the life of your church? What role might you play in bringing that about?
  5. What tends to rob you of joy personally?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – September 21, 2014

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PUNISHMENT AHEAD?

Oscar Pistorius, the “blade runner” who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics, was convicted last week of culpable homicide in a South Africa court. He had pled innocence in fatally shooting his girlfriend in 2013, saying he thought she was an intruder. His handicap—a birth defect that necessitated both legs being amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old—played a part in his defense. His punishment could range from a fine and suspended sentence to 15 years in prison. Olympic officials say he is still eligible to compete in the 2016 games. Of course, taking part in that competition would be more than somewhat difficult from behind the bars of a prison cell!

 

PROSPERITY AHEAD!

The people of Judah were already experiencing divine punishment for their sins when Jeremiah prophesied. Jerusalem was under siege and the Babylonian captivity lay ahead. But Jeremiah told of better days to come: after the punishment had run its course, the people would return to prosper in their homeland. Jeremiah showed his faith in God’s word by buying a field at a time when it seemed like a foolish thing to do.

  1. Should Pistorius’s punishment include being incarcerated long enough so that he won’t be able to anticipate competing in the 2016 Olympics? Why, or why not?
  2. What part should “anticipation of a new future,” the title of this week’s lesson, play in rehabilitation of those being punished for wrongdoing?
  3. What did Jeremiah’s obedience to God in purchasing a piece of real estate reveal about himself, given the context of the prophet’s situation?
  4. When was a time you sensed God moving you to make a life choice that others considered unwise? How did things work out?
  5. What guidelines can you suggest for determining whether it is God’s desires or our own that impel us to make certain life choices?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 14, 2014

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EPIDEMIC

The Ebola epidemic has been spreading across Africa for weeks. Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says the situation is “spiraling out of control.” There are over 3,000 suspected and confirmed cases, with more than 1,500 victims now having died from the disease. At this point, the primary hope for stemming the spread of the disease is several vaccines that are still in their experimental stages of development. For the time being, however, more misery and death are expected.

 

HOPE

The Babylonian exile would result in an epidemic of hopelessness for the Judeans (see Psalm 137). The people had broken God’s covenant time and again, and they were to suffer from God’s punishment for their sin. But Jeremiah, prophesying before the exile of 586 BC began, foretold of God’s promise of a new covenant. The new covenant would “vaccinate” people by putting God’s law in their hearts. The result would be new spiritual life.

1. In what ways, if any, is the Ebola epidemic similar to Judah’s Babylonian captivity in calling attention to the human condition of sin? Explain.

2. Why do some people still cling to the old covenant when the new covenant is so much better?

3. In what ways do Christians cling to the old covenant without realizing it?

4. In what ways might we look at the new covenant as being “a vaccine of hope”?

5. What blessings have you experienced from God’s new covenant? Be specific.

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – September 7, 2014

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VISION NEEDED

At the moment, leaders of the Western world seem to lack a clear vision of how they should deal with a multitude of threats. No long-term solution has yet been found for the Israeli- Hamas conflict. Last week, Russian troops and armaments entered Ukraine. Islamic State rebels continue to wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria. Americans are now joining ISIS as jihad fighters, and last week one of them was killed in Syria. On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned of a similar situation developing in England.

VISION PROVIDED

The prophet Jeremiah spoke specifically of one of today’s “hot spots” (Jerusalem), although he was talking about another time in history. He was turning a spotlight of calm assurance on a situation in which people and their leaders were in the dark about what the future would bring. The vision God offered through Jeremiah offered far more hope than any human leader could.

  1. Do you find any assurance about today’s events in any of the political or media voices vying

    for your attention? Why or why not?

  2. Were God’s words through Jeremiah only for ancient times, or can we expect a future

    fulfillment, as some Christians believe? Explain the reasons for your belief.

  3. What message of hope for our current life circumstances do you find in Jeremiah’s

    prophecy? Explain.

  4. In what ways have you seen God restoring and rebuilding life situations that sin has broken

    and destroyed?

  5. What role do you think God expects us to play in bringing back to God people whose sin has placed them in spiritual “exile?”

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – August 31, 2014

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GOVERNMENT AID

Northern California’s strongest earthquake in 25 years struck the Napa Valley last Sunday. Its measurement of 6.0 on the Richter scale indicated “moderate” intensity. Numerous businesses were forced to close, approximately 100 people were injured, and a many homes were made uninhabitable. Most homeowners do not carry the costly state-underwritten earthquake insurance, so their losses can be devastating. They are hoping for federal aid. It is too early to tell how Christian aid agencies may respond.

 

CHRISTIAN BENEVOLENCE

An earthquake of a different sort had struck the Christians of Jerusalem in Paul’s day, where persecution and impoverishment seemed to go hand in hand. Christians in Macedonia were also suffering, but poverty did not stifle their desire to help their fellow believers. So they responded positively to Paul’s challenge to come to the aid of those in Jerusalem. Their generosity continues as an example of Christian grace to this day.

1. What is the Christian’s responsibility to fellow believers when natural disasters strike?

2. What is the Christian’s responsibility to unbelievers when natural disasters strike?

3. How should Christian benevolence differ from secular humanitarian aid, if at all? Why?

4. What needs exist in your community for rendering aid in the name of Christ?

5. How can you and your church prepare in advance to offer help when tragedy strikes?

6. What Christian relief agencies are in need of your support right now?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 24, 2014

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RISING ANGER

On August 9, an African-American teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Vigils for the slain teen quickly turned to looting and rioting as many residents of the area reacted in anger to what they viewed as an unjustified use of deadly force. The violence continues as of this writing, with racial issues presenting themselves anew in the national conversation. The issues are multifaceted, as businesses owned by Asian-Americans have become targets of looting. Hope of reconciliation seems distant.

 

RECONCILING HURTS

Riots are nothing new (see Acts 19:23-41; 21:27-36). Unfortunately, participants on all sides may be too emotionally involved in the issues and events to see things objectively. Paul knew what it was like to be caught up in (and even be the cause of) civil disturbances (2 Corinthians 6:5, in today’s lesson). His solution for reconciliation is Christ. It’s a solution that requires great effort, but the rewards are greater still.

1. How can the love of Jesus, who reconciles us to the Father, be brought to bear in the situation in Ferguson, Missouri?

2. What other societal flash points call for Christians to be a force for reconciliation?

3. What does 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 add to today’s lesson text regarding reconciliation?

4. In what specific ways can our behavior contribute to reconciling warring groups within a church?

5. What attitudes and actions have you personally found to be effective and ineffective in reconciling parties who disagree?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 17, 2014

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OPPRESSIVE DARKNESS

After eliminating the Christian presence in northern Iraq, militant ISIS forces have caused tens of thousands of adherents to the ancient Yazidi sect to flee their homes. Many Yazidis have taken refuge in a mountainous region that lacks food and water, but there seems to be no better option. It’s either (1) flee and take one’s chances with starvation or (2) stay and face enslavement, forced conversion, or death.

 

MERCIFUL LIGHT

We see in Iraq almost daily how religious fanaticism uses a distorted view of God to justify oppression and murder. But a small beam of light will shine every so often. Having already been driven out, no Christians are in the vicinity to help save the Yazidis. Instead, Iraqi Kurds are coming to their rescue. Most of the Kurdish rescuers are Sunni Muslims, the same sect as that of the ISIS militants. A bit of merciful relief may come through supplies dropped by air, but mercy comes mainly through person to person contact. The Kurds are demonstrating mercy in a way that Christians should emulate!

1. How would you argue for or against the idea that God administers his mercy even through people who are not Christians, as in the case of the Kurds?

2. Is evil more prevalent in Iraq than elsewhere in the world? Why, or why not?

3. What can Christians do to bring the light of Matthew 4:16 and 2 Corinthians 4:6 to the Middle East?

4. What does 2 Corinthians 4:7 suggest about your role as a servant of Christ?

5. When was a time you shared Paul’s feelings of being perplexed, persecuted, etc., but still sensed God at work in your life? How did things turn out?

6. What is our responsibility when a fellow Christian is undergoing the negative experiences of 2 Corinthians 4:8, 9?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 10, 2014

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NOT REHABILITATION BUT RETRIBUTION

Joseph R. Wood III was sentenced to death in 1991 for murdering his ex-girlfriend and her father. His execution in Arizona on July 23 required nearly two hours, and the governor ordered an investigation. The report released last week noted that 15 lethal-injection doses were administered over those two hours. All this served to reignite the argument over the death penalty: Is it inhumane? Is it fair, racially or otherwise? Is it really a deterrent? Is it worth the cost of two decades of appeals? Whether one is for or against the death penalty, all seem to agree that its purpose is not rehabilitation but (at least) retribution.

 

NOT VENGEANCE BUT REPENTANCE

Christians can be found arguing both sides of the death-penalty question. Similarly, those in the church of first-century Corinth seemed to have been divided regarding how to treat the immoral man whom Paul ordered to be disfellowshipped. Paul had been stern in his verdict about the punishment to be imposed. But when repentance came, he was equally adamant in calling for forgiveness and restoration. Some might argue that that process was easier since a death penalty was not involved. But Paul was concerned about death—the eternal penalty of death that the offender (and anyone led astray by his sinful example) might receive on Judgment Day.

1. Was Paul advocating “tough love” as we use that concept today? Explain.

2. If the very same situation that Paul addressed occurred in your church, would the offender be excluded from fellowship? Why, or why not?

3. What do Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17, 18; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15; and Titus 3:10 add to the issue of disfellowshipping and restoration?

4. How would you respond to someone who says that exclusion from fellowship is “not a loving thing to do”?

5. What dangers might present themselves in this kind of church discipline?

6. How do we know when repentance is genuine?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – August 3, 2014

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A VIOLENT PURGE

The recent violence in Gaza has drawn attention away from the continuing extreme actions by ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Having conquered much of northern Iraq, ISIS is busy persecuting Chaldean Christians in the area. The city of Mosul, for example, has been purged of Christians, perhaps numbering 100,000. As one commentator observed, “Our worst nightmare is confirmed. Christianity in Mosul is dead, and a Christian holocaust is in our midst.” The goal of the radicals is to create an Islamic state with no room for dissenters. Christians are being forced to convert to Islam, face death, or leave.

 

A COMFORTING RESPONSE

We sometimes hear of (and complain about) Christians being persecuted in various ways in America as the country drifts further and further from its Judeo-Christian moorings. But what is happening in America in that regard pales in comparison with persecution of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. Paul’s words to the Corinthians remind us that when we share in Christ’s sufferings, we also can share in his comfort.

1. What can we do to aid persecuted Christians in Iraq and elsewhere?

2. What are some situations that we might be tempted to call persecution when in reality the suffering is self-inflicted?

3. Under what circumstances, if any, are Christians justified in using deadly force to defend themselves against persecution? Explain.

4. What troubles have you endured that seemed to have come about because of your Christian faith? How did God comfort you in those circumstances?

5. How have you been able to use that comfort in blessing others?

6. What can Paul’s use of his status as a Roman citizen to avoid persecution teach us today, if anything (Acts 16:37-39; 22:25-29)?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 27, 2014

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CONFUSION OF VOICES

At this point, we don’t know for sure who shot down the commercial airliner over Ukraine last week. The U.S. links Russia to the tragedy because it supplied pro-Russian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles. Denials and finger pointing have come from both the government of Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels. Nothing can be done at this point, of course, to undo the loss of 298 innocent people. But it’s safe to say that little if any progress will be made toward preventing future tragedies of this nature until the confusion of voices gives way to a singular, unified voice—a voice that says, “Never again!”

 

A SINGULAR VOICE

The church can accomplish its mission when Christians are of one mind and one voice (Philippians 1:27). There should never be a confusion of voices in the church. We eliminate such confusion when we take our eyes off self and focus on the good of others. When that happens, the gospel message will be clear and edifying to all.

1. What lessons can the church learn from the tragedy in Ukraine and its aftermath?

2. What can Christians do to be the hands and feet of Jesus in response to the tragedy in Ukraine?

3. How would you handle a situation where some members of a particular church believed in speaking in tongues and others did not?

4. When have you seen differences of opinion on the use of spiritual gifts result in a church split? What should have been done differently to keep the church together?

5. How will you use your spiritual gifts differently as a result of today’s lesson?

6. What can the confusion in the pagan assembly of Acts 19:32 teach the church today?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 20, 2014

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TEMPTED TO HATE

Several weeks ago, three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped and killed by Palestinians. These acts of hatred led in turn to a Palestinian youth being murdered in revenge, a crime for which three Israelis were arrested. The violence intensified when the terrorist organization Hamas fired a thousand rockets into Israel. Israel tried to put a stop to this with missiles and a commando raid into Gaza. By mid-week (the time of this writing), the death toll in Gaza stood at 185.

 

CHALLENGED TO OVERCOME

The sin of hating others on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, etc., infects many today. That may not be our own besetting sin, but we have others! Ours may involve temptations to engage in sexual immorality and/or idolatry as was rampant in the city of Corinth of Paul’s day. Paul challenged his readers on more than one occasion to address certain temptations by fleeing from them (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:9-11; 2 Timothy 2:22). Not to do so puts one in danger of believing that he or she can serve both Christ and the forces of evil.

1. How can we take Christ to the Middle East? What will be your part in this?

2. What temptations do people in your community struggle most with? Why?

3. Do Christians have fewer, the same, or more temptations than non-Christians? Explain.

4. What helps you to resist the temptations you are most susceptible to?

5. Considering the three possible reactions of fight, flight, and freeze, how do we know which is applicable in various situations of temptation to sin?

6. How can you help others overcome their temptations?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – July 13, 2014

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SEEKING FREEDOM ON EARTH

Between October 2013 and September 2014, some 90,000 unaccompanied minors, mainly from Central America, are expected to be detained for entering the U.S. illegally. Protests about this erupted over the Independence Day weekend just past, when freedom was the focus of American attention. Some protesters were opposed to allowing more immigration, but many were simply angry at politicians for failing to deal effectively with the immigration issue. The primary reason for the flood of child-immigrants seems to be the desire of their parents to free them from poverty and crime. The freedom that gangs and drug cartels strive to attain for their criminal operations comes at a cost of “freedom from fear” that those parents desire for their children.

 

EXERCISING FREEDOM IN CHRIST

Paul’s discussion of Christian freedoms in this week’s lesson includes cautions regarding the consequences of exercising them: thoughtless exercise of the freedoms we have in Christ may cause problems for others. Sometimes it is best to limit voluntarily the exercise of our Christian freedoms lest the consciences of others be enslaved in the process.

1. If you were to write to a member of Congress about the issue of child-immigrants crossing into the country illegally, what would you say from a Christian perspective?

2. What can Christians do outside the political process to address the problem of those who cross borders illegally in search of freedom?

3. What implications for other areas of life do you see in Paul’s discussion of dietary freedom?

4. In what ways can the exercise of Christian freedoms become stumbling blocks for others in the twenty-first century?

5. In your experience, how has careless use of the “knowledge” of which Paul speaks caused problems?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – July 6, 2014

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THE COURT RULES . . .

The U.S. Supreme Court decided on Monday, by a 5 to 4 vote, that religious rights extend even to some corporations under federal law. Hobby Lobby (an arts-and-crafts chain of stores) and Conestoga Wood Specialties (supplier of cabinet components) had challenged the requirement of the Affordable Care Act to provide insurance coverage for certain types of contraceptives. Specifically, the businesses objected on religious grounds to being forced to provide coverage for drugs and devices that interrupt a pregnancy after the egg has been fertilized, resulting in an abortion.

 

THE BIBLE SAYS . . .

Many of those who voiced objections to the court’s ruling have decided that their bodies are their own, to do with as they please. Thus they want each and every type of contraceptive readily available for greatest freedom in that regard. Those who think this way are forgetting about the one who created their bodies: God. Indeed, our bodies are not our own, for we have been bought back from eternal destruction by the price Jesus paid on the cross.

1. Besides the issue of sexuality about which Paul speaks, what other behaviors are included in his declarations?

2. What are some behaviors that are legal but unwise according to 1 Corinthians 6:12?

3. What makes the behaviors of question 2 unwise?

4. What level of obligation do we have, if any, to evaluate the extent to which other people are or are not glorifying God by their behavior?

5. How can we stand for biblical principles without appearing to be mean-spirited?

—Charles R. Boatman

 

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In the World – June 29, 2014

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DIVISION APPEARS IMMINENT

Last week the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to recognize same-sex marriage and to allow the denomination’s ministers to conduct such weddings in states where it is legal. Last month a group of 80 ministers of the United Methodist Church predicted an “imminent split” within that body of believers regarding this same issue. Both denominations have lost numerous congregations over the last few years because of dissension over the direction that leaders are taking. In both cases, rejection of a historic understanding of biblical teachings is at the heart of the division.

 

DIVISION WAS EVIDENT

Christians have long struggled with issues that threaten their unity. Paul had to deal with the problem very early in the church’s life. The letter we call 1 Corinthians reveals, as a whole, a church that was fragmenting over allegiances to human leaders and acceptance of unbiblical teaching. These same tendencies continue to work against unity today. It is a sadly repeating pattern.

1. Does Paul’s call for unity require us to stay in a church that we believe to be going astray? Why, or why not?

2. Under what circumstances, if any, would “agree to disagree” be a biblical model for handling a problem within a church? Why?

3. How would you know if the problems Paul addresses in today’s lesson were becoming problems in your church?

4. Considering Acts 15:36-40, is disunity always a bad thing? Why, or why not? Or does that passage even apply to the issue of church unity?

5. What does Paul tell us about the importance of faithful leaders in maintaining church unity?

6. Following question 5, how can we ensure the church has such leaders?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – June 22, 2014

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HOPE DESTROYED

For a couple of years now, at least some have hoped that the Iraq War of 2003–2011 would result in stability in that area of the world. Now it appears that those hopes are being dashed. Last week, the Sunni-Shiite battle within Islam that has torn Syria apart spilled over into Iraq. This week, Iran sent in a top-ranking general as an advisor, and the U.S. sent troops to protect the American embassy. Iraq appears to be on the brink of collapse, and other nations fear the fighting will spread across the region.

 

HOPE RENEWED

Hopelessness reigned as the people of Judah experienced the destruction of their nation at the hands of the Babylonian Empire (ironically, modern Iraq) and the captivity that resulted. Despair presented itself anew after the captivity ended as those trying to rebuild the temple faced opposition. Renewed hope came when God, through his prophets Haggai and Zechariah, promised to bless his chosen leaders. The real source of hope was that their success would not come about because of human effort, but because the Spirit of God was at work.

1. How might the Spirit of God be at work in the Middle East right now?

2. Are you more pessimistic about the future than a year ago? Why, or why not?

3. How does the promise of God’s Spirit working in human events affect your view of life?

4. How can we use Zechariah 4:6 to keep from becoming discouraged when trouble comes?

5. When was a time you believe God worked through you to reverse discouragement in others and provide renewed hope in difficult circumstances?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – June 15, 2014

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MISPLACED BLAME

Last week, California Chrome had a chance to become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978. But after winning this year’s Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the horse finished tied for fourth in the Belmont Stakes, a foot having suffered a gash coming out of the starting gate. One of Chrome’s owners intemperately blamed the loss on the rules governing the race at Belmont, unaware that his horse’s injury contributed to his failure to win. He later apologized for his outburst.

 

BLAME RIGHTLY PLACED

There was no moral element in California Chrome’s failure to win—no bribing of jockeys, no doping of horses, etc. On the other hand, ancient Israel suffered self-inflicted moral failures repeatedly, failures that defiled the nation spiritually. Israel’s situation was the result of its own deliberate choices, and God caused the nation to suffer the consequences of its sin. Israel could not blame its fortunes on anyone or anything except its own failures.

1. How do we keep from making hasty judgments that we will come to regret?

2. To what extent is a lack of moral purity to blame for our country’s failures in various areas? Why?

3. How should Christians respond to the charge of being intolerant when we point out impurity in society at large?

4. Under what circumstances, if any, can we say that various misfortunes today are the result of God’s judgment as they were in Haggai’s time? Why?

5. What examples can you offer of a moral cause and effect at work?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – June 8, 2014

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PRIORITIES NEGLECTED

Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, resigned from his post a few days ago as public attention continued to focus on the scandal in his organization. Systemic, nationwide problems at VA centers have resulted in delayed medical care for veterans and falsified records to hide the delays. “Looking good” on patient-care metrics seems to have taken priority over actually providing the care. President Obama, faced with the need for the country to keep its promises to its veterans, called for hiring more health-care providers and modernizing VA systems.

 

PRIORITIES REEMPHASIZED

In Haggai’s time, a scandal of neglected priorities also came to light: the Jews who had returned from exile were content to ignore the sad state of God’s house—the temple. They chose to focus instead on their own houses. But the prophet reminded the people that the nation’s discouragement and disillusionment could be overcome by trusting God’s wonderful promises as they made his priorities their own. God’s covenant people could be blessed anew!

1. Why does it so often seem that it takes a scandal to get corrective action regarding problems in government agencies, corporations, or churches?

2. Under what circumstances does a situation call for a change in leadership? (Compare Nehemiah 5:14-19.)

3. In what ways are Christians today like the Jews of Haggai’s time in failing to adopt God’s priorities as their own?

4. When was a time you changed your priorities to match God’s? How did things turn out?

5. When was a time you saw a church change its priorities to match God’s? How did things turn out?

6. Which Scripture passages help you keep God’s priorities as your own?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – June 1, 2014

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TIME FOR PEACE

No attempt to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East has succeeded. A few days ago, Pope Francis tried his hand at reactivating the peace process. Believing the time has come for a different kind of peace initiative, he invited Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the Vatican to pray together for peace. The pope said, “Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment.” The fact that Israelis continue to build settlements in places the Palestinians consider to be theirs adds to the animosity.

 

TIME FOR OBEDIENCE

Building projects in Haggai’s day also caused animosity. That animosity was not between people, however, but on the part of God toward the Jews: they were focused on their on houses to the neglect of his house—the temple. Haggai’s words remind use that procrastination in obedience to God can carry significant consequences.

1. Will a prayerful peace conference in the Vatican succeed in changing the priorities of the participants? Why, or why not?

2. In what ways do we build the spiritual house of God today? Be specific.

3. How can building our own house delay building the God’s house?

4. How do Psalm 127:1 and 1 Peter 2:5 help you answer questions 2 and 3?

5. Does God’s disruption of nature about which Haggai spoke say anything about the cause for the climate change of today? Why, or why not?

—Charles R. Boatman

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In the World – May 25, 2014

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EVADING RESPONSIBILITY

A psychiatrist in West Virginia recently added fuel to the fire that currently engulfs the Department of Veterans Affairs. She said she was told, when employed by the VA, to delay many veterans’ treatment for months, at least two of whom committed suicide in the interim. Other whistle-blowers have charged that VA hospitals keep secret waiting lists of patients to hide their failure to treat veterans within the prescribed amount of time. CNN reports that 40 veterans have died while on the waiting list at the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY

Jesus’ summary of the Old Testament law in today’s lesson addresses every situation in life, particularly those in which people need to be cared for. Love for God and love for others are our Christian responsibilities in helping to bridge the gap between what life is and what life should be. The two obligations to love are interlinked; they cannot be separated (see Matthew 25:41-46; 1 John 3:17).

1. What discrepancies do you see between Jesus’ view of the two greatest commandments and the alleged behavior at certain VA facilities? Be specific.

2. Do Christians have any “above and beyond” love responsibilities toward veterans of their country’s wars? Why, or why not?

3. What does love for neighbor (or the lack of it) say about one’s love for God?

4. How will you demonstrate love for neighbors this week?

5. What situations prompt you to focus more on the needs of others rather than your own?

6. What circumstances call for our loving acts to be done openly, for all to see (Matthew 5:14-16), rather than in secret (Matthew 6:1-4)? Why?

—Charles R. Boatman

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