Sunday School #24: Jesus the Good Shepherd

In the Middle East, shepherds often build a common sheep pen for their town. All the shepherds in the village would keep their sheep together in this pen overnight. They would build a wall to keep the sheep from wandering away and to keep wolves and other predators from attacking them. A watchman would guard the gate or door to the pen so that only shepherds could enter. This discouraged thieves.

When a shepherd was ready to feed his sheep, he would go into the pen and call them by name. A shepherd had an intimate relationship with his sheep. In some cases they would be as close to them as a pet is to us. So the sheep recognized the voice of the man who cared for them. When he called them by name, they would follow. The shepherd would take them to good, green pastures and nice, quiet waters. He would keep them from wandering off and would treat any wounds, binding them up. He would protect them from wild animals, often doing battle with them, as King David describes what he did as a young shepherd. True shepherds would risk their lives to save their sheep.

Kings often compared themselves to shepherds. They liked to be seen as caring for them and keeping them safe. They expected their subjects to willingly follow everywhere they wanted them to go.

In the Bible, God tells us He is our Shepherd. He will feed them, gather their lambs in his arms and hold them close to his heart. (Isaiah 40:11) Most of all, in Jesus, God is our Good Shepherd. He leads us with his word, guides us and protects us from evil. Like a good shepherd, he laid down his life for the sheep. He died so that we might be saved. On the last day of our life, he will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death safely home to dwell in his house forever. (Psalm 23)

©2019 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

God Can Do Anything He Wants to Do

Encore Post: When we say that God is almighty, it seems simple enough. We can even explain it to a three year old: God can do anything he wants to do. Yet the more we think about it, that God is omnipotentens, παντοκράτορ — all powerful, the more we have trouble taking it all in. We get a feeling of this when some child discovers the snarky question: “can God make a rock that he can’t lift?” or some opponent of the faith asks the classic question: “what did God do before he made the world?” The questions normally get the answer they deserve: an equally silly response like: “he made hell so he has a place to send people who ask such questions!”

What such questions point out is there is a limit to how much we can understand our maker. They show what happens when we try to pit one quality (attribute) of God against another. So… For God, who is eternal, time does not exist. There is no before or after creation for him. He makes all the rules, so he doesn’t have to follow them. That’s what makes a miracle possible.

Why it is important that God is almighty is it means he can — and does — what he promises. To save those who rebelled against him, ruined and still ruins his perfect world. He did so by being born of a virgin, died to pay for their sins and rose again from the dead. On the day he chooses he will call his children to rise from the dust to live with him forever. It means that he saves us and will bring an end to sin, death and the devil. So we confess: “I believe in God, the Father almighty” and marvel and all he can do, wants to do and will do for us.

See also: What’s a Creed, Anyway? | The Three Ways God Cares for Us | Calling God our Father and Meaning It | Understanding an Unknowable God |

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Calling God our Father and Meaning it

Encore Post: Calling God our father is second nature to Christians. After all, Jesus invites us to do so. We teach the Lord’s Prayer to our youngest children as their first prayer. So it may come as a surprise how unique that is among the world’s religions. Most religions hold their gods at a distance. The high god of native religions makes the world and goes away, leaving it to lesser spirits and humans. For Muslims, Allah is a strict, distant god you must tow the line to please. In Judaism, while God is seen as having a warm relationship with them, even to pronounce his name is considered disrespectful. For Hindus, Buddhists and other Eastern religions, god is not a person at all. The universe is their god and they see humans as god in a real sense.

For Christians, however, God is very much a Father who loves us and is a part of our daily lives. In a previous post, we spoke about how the Father adopted us as his sons and heirs with Christ. He invites us to call him abba — daddy — and approach us the way a little child approaches her father.

When we confess God as Father, we claim that he loves us, cares for us, wants The Three Ways God Cares for Us to be with us now and forever. It is incarnational – a statement that God cares for us so much that in person of his Son, he became a flesh-and-blood man, lived with us as one of us, suffered and died for us and rose again for us. By doing so, he restored the relationship between himself and us. He is indeed our father and a model of what fatherhood is all about.

See also: Adopted as Sons | God’s Name | What’s a Creed, Anyway? |

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

The Three Ways God Cares for Us

Encore Post: When we baptize a new Christian, we ask him to promise several things and to confess several things. Following the ancient tradition of the Church, we ask the candidate if they believe what the creed proclaims. But we do this with three questions: “Do you believe in God the Father…?” “Do you believe in Jesus Christ…?” and “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit…? We do this because each person of the Holy Trinity has His own role in our life and salvation.

This is a bit of a mystery, since all three persons are involved in all these acts of love for us, yet the Scripture speaks of each having these roles. Rather than try to puzzle out how this is so, we rejoice that each person loves us in his own way.

Martin Luther in his Small Catechism calls each person’s work an article and speaks about them separately. So, he talks about the good news that God the Father created and provides for us, God the Son redeems us with his own blood and the Holy Spirit makes us holy. This good news gives us joy, especially since we just considered his law in the Ten Commandments. We have been confronted by the fact of our sinfulness. Now we can have peace in the gospel of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

See Also: What’s a Creed, Anyway? | Understanding an Unknowable God | One God in Three Persons

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

What’s a Creed, Anyway?

Encore Post: We say creeds together every time we worship together. We study them in confirmation and memorize two of them. They contain the basic teachings of Scripture that all Christians believe. Even Protestant churches that reject formal creeds cheerfully confess what they confess. But what are they, anyway?

The word creed comes from the Latin word credo which means “I believe.” they are statements of what we know about God, especially the gospel. In one sense, they are salvation history — a statement of how God saved us and where we fit in his plan. They are short and sweet — something we can take with us forever.

While the Apostles did not write the creeds, the words and phrases reflect how the Bible proclaims the Gospel. When new Christians were taught the faith in the early Church, their teachers had them memorize short sentences and phrases that summed what they believed.  When they were baptized, they would recite them. Some of these are in the Bible. Here are a few:

Hear, O Israel…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5​)
“There is one God… one Lord…” (1 Corinthians 8:6​)
“Christ died for our sins…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)​
“Jesus Christ is Lord…” (1 Corinthians 12:3), (Philippians 2:11)​

Over three hundred years, these statements grew in size. Christians began to use the same words. In the 4th Century, they developed into the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.  They became ways in which all Christians knew Jesus’ story and where they fit in it. When we recite the Creed, it reminds us who we are and whose we are.

See also: We believe in One God | Faith

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

God the Jealous God

Encore Post: In our tour of the Ten Commandments, we learned that God wants more than just a casual keeping of his law. He wants our heart and soul to match our behavior. “Love your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) Of course, we know that we cannot keep the law perfectly in this life and God knows it, too. Jesus died to pay the price for our disobedience and earned us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. So, why should we try at all to be good?

The reason is that sin has its consequences in this world as well as the next. When Adam and Eve sinned, sinned multiplied and became a part of the lives of everyone of their children. It brought with it death, sickness, disaster, grief and pain. It destroyed the close relationship between people and between people and God. Since we were made to share our lives with God and each other, it harmed the very purpose for which we exist. It sin that God sent his Son to save us from, not to be a fire insurance policy against hell.

God describes the relationship he has with his people as a marriage. Sin amounts to being unfaithful with other gods, dividing our love for him by giving ourselves to others. So it is that God warns us in the First Commandment that he is a jealous God and there are consequences when we are unfaithful to him. (Exodus 20:5-6) God that the death of Jesus breaks the power of sin and death in our lives. With prayer and the help of other Christians, we can fight back against these sins and sometimes even be free of them.

After all, God’s warning comes with a promise. It is not only sins that travel from generation to generation, but blessings as well. With the help of the Holy Spirit, when we establish habits of doing good — attending worship faithfully, praying with our children, reading God’s word to them and caring for others, these, too, will be a part of their inheritance.

See also: The Law of God is Good and Wise | Fence, Mirror and Guide Book | The Two Greatest Commandments | The Ten Commandments | Fear, Love and Trust GodThe Problem is in the Heart

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

The Problem is in the Heart

Encore Post: To a serious believer, the Ten Commandments seem simple enough. Believe in God and don’t frequent idols — check. Don’t swear — check. Go to church every week, sometimes more — check. Love mom and dad — check. Never killed anyone, never took anything that doesn’t belong to you, never stepped out on your spouse, don’t lie — check on all counts. And then comes coveting… How do you deal with thoughts and feelings?

As we have considered the other commandments, we’ve learned they are not so simple. Still, they seem doable. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments point out the real problem. Our Old Adam and Old Eve want everything for themselves. Everyone at work gets a raise and yours is quite generous. But you know your teammate got more. So you’re jealous.

King David had everything, including many beautiful wives. Yet one look at someone else’s wife — and he took a bath. Committed adultery,  lied about it and arranged the murder of her husband. Later he put his finger on the problem. He was sinful from birth — sinful since he was conceived. (Psalm 51:1-5) Jesus summed it up when he said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:19-20)

Let’s face it. We cannot do this alone. Instead, we can turn to the one tempted in every way that we are, except he didn’t sin. (Hebrews 4:15) His suffering and death breaks the power of sin in our lives. When we remember our baptisms, we remember that the Old Adam and Eve were drowned there.  We can confess our sin to him, be forgiven and face our fight with the flesh. We also have those in this fight with us — our brothers and sister in Christ. Together we can resist whatever comes to our minds — and hearts.

See Also: Everybody’s Good at Heart? Right?|The Law of God is Good and WiseFence, Mirror and Guide BookThe Two Greatest Commandments | The Ten Commandments |

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Sunday School #23: Jesus Loves the Little Children

In the ancient world, the majority of children died before their 18th birthday. In fact, childhood death was common until the twentieth century. Every couple could expect to bury at least one child during their life time. That is why the childhood prayer was taught to generations of young people: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. If I should live another day, I pray the Lord to guide my way.”

Children and young people, therefore, were kept at an emotional distance and paid little attention. Besides, Children were disruptive, especially when a Rabbi was trying to teach. They do not understand abstract thought and so would look for other ways to entertain themselves and get attention. They were expected to behave, to be just like the adults with them. So, they were pushed aside so that adults could get on with “important” business. Keep them out of sight and out of mind.

Jesus made two points by bringing a child before them. First, all people are important to God, no matter how small. He loves them, cares for them. In fact, Jesus came to die for them, too. They are not the future of the church — they are the church.

Second, children trust adults to take care of them, live humbly and assume their love. In fact, they are better Christians than adults! To be Christians,after all, means to trust God to take care of us, to deny ourselves, knowing we are cared for and dedicate our lives to the service of others. This comes naturally to them. They are not bothered when they cannot understand something adults or God tell them. They accept the truth, rely on it and build on it because they trust their parents, their teachers and God. They may not know something but they know someone. So, ironically, if we want to grow in faith, we need to become like them and trust the God who made us, loves us, died for us, cares for us and will bring us home one day to be with him forever.

©2019 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Speak up for others

Encore Post: It all began with a lie. “You shall not die, but you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:4-5) Since then, falsehood has been the go-to sin — the way we try to wiggle out of tough spots. Sometimes it works — for awhile. The trouble with lies is that they multiply like rabbits and it is hard to keep them all straight. A variety of this strategy is to try to build yourself up by tearing others down. It is why it is the staple of garden variety gossip — and political campaigns. It is also when someone is in competition with us that we assume the worst of others — and spread it. The problem is, of course, such lies destroy reputations and lives. It is why God forbids lying about others. But you know all that. It is the common theme of preachers like me when we take up this commandment.

Martin Luther sees something more in this commandment. It is God’s call to speak up for others — especially those who cannot speak for themselves. So, when when the opportunity comes, we should speak well of others. We should praise people publicly when they do well, help others to see their good side and when we hear someone criticized, defend them. This is especially true if they are weak, defenseless, not present to defend themselves or are in danger. This can be challenging when the person is a friend or loved one, but difficult if they are opposed to us or even an enemy. We may discover that they are not as bad as we think.

Every day we fail to do this. Yet there is forgiveness for us. Jesus suffered the insults and lies of others — even his friends. These lies resulted in his crucifixion. He knew this would happen, yet he willingly suffered that we might be saved. Because he died and rose again, God now sees only the best in us — that we do good because we love him and that we are holy for Jesus’ sake.  He now gives us the ability to see the good in others, to pray for them and defend them.

See also: The Law of God is Good and Wise | Fence, Mirror and Guide Book | The Two Greatest Commandments | The Ten Commandments | Fear, Love and Trust God | Pray, Praise and Give Thanks | The Sabbath Rest | To Live Well, Honor Your Parents | Being for Life and not Death | God’s Good Gift of Marriage | Beg, Borrow and Steal

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com

Beg, Borrow and Steal

Encore Post: Advertisements are all around us. They call to us: “you can have that bright, shiny, car. If you act now, you can get it for hardly any money at all…” “Buy a lottery ticket and you will win millions of dollars.” The temptation to win something for nothing, to take a shortcut to get what you desire is strong in us. What we may not realize is that at the bottom of it all is taking something that is not given to us or earned by us. In fact, you could see the first sin as theft — taking the one fruit God did not give.

Stealing is obvious when someone breaks into your house and takes your T.V., when they drive off in your car or hold up a grocery store. Less obvious, but just as real,  is when someone steals your identity, charges you way more than an item is worth or sells you a property they know will need major repairs. What is less obvious is how each of us steals. We rob people not only when take something, but when we do not give others what we owe them. When someone pays us, we owe them our best work. When we do not help them to protect their possessions and improve their business, they are poorer for it. Even when we sue someone for damages and are awarded more than we need to recover from the harm done to us is a form of theft.

Thank God that he is merciful even to thieves. Jesus forgave the thief on the cross and died for his robbery and ours. Not only that, but in Jesus God gives us everything we need — life, salvation and faith to be generous to those in need. With the strength he gives, we can resist the temptation to steal and become, like him, people who give.

The Law of God is Good and Wise | Fence, Mirror and Guide Book | The Two Greatest Commandments | The Ten Commandments | Fear, Love and Trust God | Pray, Praise and Give Thanks | The Sabbath Rest | To Live Well, Honor Your Parents | Being for Life and not Death | God’s Good Gift of Marriage

©2018 Robert E. Smith. All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy, share and display freely for non-commercial purposes. Direct all other rights and permissions inquiries to cosmithb@gmail.com