Colossians 1:1-14

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Colossians 1:1-14

                  God must really love small churches; there surely are a lot of them.  Most churches that have ever existed would be considered small (fewer than 200 people).  Even today in the age of the multi-thousand member “mega church”, there are 177,000 churches with fewer than 100 members in America, while there only 40 with over 10,000 members (Hartford Institute for Religious Research).  The Church of the Nazarene is a denomination of small churches.  Most of those who have served as General Superintendents were called in small, country churches.  Our own church here in Denison has seen over 30 pastors and church leaders come from her altars.

The church at Colossae (koh LAW see) was a small church in small city.  From the letter to the Colossians, we learn that it was likely founded by a man named Epaphras (Ee PAF rus), probably a Greek converted under Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, a nearby larger city.  Epaphras traveled home to Colossae and preached the truth of the gospel (1:5), and a church was founded.  Colossians, like Philippians, is written while Paul is under house arrest.  Epaphras visited the imprisoned Paul and updated him on the condition of the Colossian church.  Upon hearing about some doctrinal trouble they were having, Paul wrote them this letter.

Colossians begins as most all Pauline letters, with a greeting, a thanksgiving, and a prayer.  The author begins by thanking God for what has already been done.  Remember, Paul was not the founder of the Colossian church, but its pastor, Epaphrus had been saved under Paul’s preaching.  Paul was the Colossians spiritual “grandfather”!  Even though Paul had not personally preached to the Colossians, his ministry had resulted in their faith in God, their love for the saints (other believers), and their hope of Heaven.  Faith, love, and hope—three elements necessary for a true church—were present and active in Colossae.

The author then turns his prayer to what he wants God to continue to do for the Colossians.  As always, Paul prays that they continue to grow in Christ, live holy lives, and remain strong in the face of difficulty.  Colossians is the “in Christ” epistle—variations of this phrase are used a dozen or so times in the letter.  The Colossian believers were once in pagan darkness, but in Christ they have been redeemed.  To be redeemed means to be rescued from slavery, have your inheritance restored, and be given your place of honor again.  The message of Colossians is one of salvation—full redemption is available in Christ, only in Christ, and in all of Christ.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

Take a look at phrases containing the word “in” in today’s scripture focus (“in Christ”, “in him”, “in whom”, etc.)  What does it mean to be “in” Christ? 

 

Have you ever had someone unexpectedly pay off a debt or obligation on your behalf—even something as simple as picking up your lunch tab?  Have you been able to “pay it forward”? 

 

We will be focusing on salvation as we study Colossians.  As a class, thank God for being saved today! 

Philippians 4:1-13

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Philippians 4:1-13

                  There are so many wonderful truths in today’s scripture focus that we are going to just jump right in to it.  Paul is concluding his letter to the Philippians, the theme of which has been joy and unity.  Paul now applies this teaching to a concrete example.  Two leading women in the church at Philippi were in conflict, and it had caused a division in the church.  Paul pleads with them to become “of the same mind” in the Lord.  Paul requests the other church leaders in the “book of life” , such as Clement, help them do this.  The book of life is the equivalent of government roles that listed citizens.  Those in God’s book were citizens in Heaven.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (v4)  Philippians is the “joy” letter.  Paul reminds his readers that the Lord is “near” – in other words, He is returning soon.  Therefore, instead of concerning themselves with  who is in the right in the division between Euodia and Syntyche, they should act with “gentleness” towards everyone.  If anyone has been wronged, just remain wronged, get over it, and serve God together.  Instead of spending time worrying about who is right, who is wrong, or the division in general, the Philippians should spend time in prayer and thanksgiving.  Then, God will give everyone supernatural peace and joy.

The Philippians had been generous to Paul, both when he first came to Macedonia and once again when he was in prison.  They had been doing a good job of proclaiming the gospel.  Therefore, Paul gives them general instruction for “keeping on keeping on”.  If they will focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, etc. then God’s peace will remain in them.  Paul reminds the Philippians that they have benefited more from giving to Paul than Paul has in receiving.  Paul had reached the state in his relationship with God that no matter how desperate his circumstances became, he remained content in the Lord.

What was the secret of Paul’s contentment?  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  Paul has laid out a clear choice in Philippians.  We can be the kind of person who worries, stays focused on our limitations, gets stuck on how someone else wronged us, grumbles and complains, argues to get our way, cares only about our immediate needs, and falls apart when things go wrong.  OR, we can have a “joy” mindset, take all of our needs to God in prayer, thank God for what we already have, focus on Heaven, not worry when we are wronged, and choose contentment no matter our circumstances.  Now, what kind of Christian would you rather be?

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

There are some verses in the Bible that stay in our mind and encourage us just when we need them.  What are some of those familiar phrases in today’s scripture focus? 

 

Philippians has a lot to say about attitudes (mind set).  What is the difference between a good attitude and a bad attitude? What is your first reaction when things go wrong—focus on the problem or focus on God? 

 

As a class, pray that we will develop a “Philippians 4” attitude as we journey together towards Heaven.  It will make the journey much more enjoyable!

Philippians 3:14-4:1

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Philippians 3:14-4:1

                 What does it mean to be a good citizen in your community?  Is a decent citizen one who is responsible, obeys the laws, keeps their yard clean, and pays their taxes? Or would we say a good citizen is one who participates in the electoral process by voting?  Maybe citizenship is measured by participation in local civic organizations,  or volunteering at community schools and churches?  There are many ways to evaluate citizenship, but a “model” citizen would be one who would excel at ALL of the these things!  In today’s scripture focus, Paul uses the terms “model” and “citizen” as he continues to urge the Philippians to stand together.

A major concern of Philippians is unity.  Paul spent the first half of chapter two appealing to his readers to follow Christ’s example of selfless service.  In the second half of chapter two, he lifts up his spiritual son Timothy and Philippian church member Epaphroditus as examples of selfless service.  Finally, in chapter 3, Paul uses himself as a shining example of selfless service.  This may seem as if Paul is bragging, but in fact the opposite is true.  Paul uses an ancient literary technique of listing all his accomplishments, not to brag on himself, but to say how he considers all the honors of his life before Christ as “rubbish” compared to serving Christ.

Paul says these things so the Philippians will follow his example of “pressing on”.  The words “example” and “model” are related to the  Greek term “typos”, a term referring to an impression left on writing surfaces from a stamp or seal.  Christ “left an impression” on Paul, so now Paul is moving forward towards Christ, rather than backwards towards his former religion.  The Philippians have also been “stamped”, so they must look forward as well!  Paul’s enemies would have them look backwards by following their old ways.  Paul wants the Philippians to be united in standing together and pressing forward with him.

Paul reminds the Philippians of their citizenship.  To be a citizen in Paul’s day was a great privilege.  Citizens had rights not available to others.  It was in Philippi that Paul used his Roman citizenship after being arrested  (Acts 16:37).  Most of the residents of Philippi were retired soldiers who had been given citizenship as a reward.   It was something of which they would be quite proud.  For Christians, their Roman citizenship  couldn’t come before their “heavenly” citizenship.  What mattered was not earning all the right religious badges or good standing in the community.  The only “standing” that matters to the Christian is standing firm while pressing forward towards Christ and His Heaven, our final goal.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

In Philippians 3:15, Paul speaks to those who are “mature”.  What does it mean to be a mature Christian?  Do we ever stop maturing in our faith?

 

How is being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God similar to being a good citizen in Denison, Texas (or your community?)

 

As a class, pray that you will be able to help one another continue to grow as Christians as we make the journey to Heaven together. 

Philippians 2:1-13

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Philippians 2:1-13

                  Do you ever get a tune “stuck” in your head?  It seems the older we get, the more songs are added to our mental juke box, and memories seem to often evoke melodies.  This can be a positive thing as a Christian.  When we are in a challenging situation, we will recall the words to a favorite hymn from childhood long before the last Sunday’s “words of wisdom” from the pastor.   Our scripture focus today contains what may be the oldest Christian hymn of which we have record.  Paul used a song that would have been familiar to the Philippians to teach them about being “like minded” with Christ and with one another.

Philippians 2 is a continuation of the thought begun at the end of chapter 1.  Paul’s is overjoyed that the church at Philippi has been obedient to God and remembered him in his trouble.  The only thing that will give him greater joy is for them to have the same care for one another.  We don’t know what was going on in the Philippian church, but there are hints throughout the letter of some sort of internal conflict (example—4:2).  Paul, knowing that his death is a possibility, is concerned that this great church with which he has such a special relationship may divide after he’s gone.  They must stand together, or they will fall apart.

Verses 6-11 are believed to be an early hymn.  These words very likely didn’t originate with Paul, but he and the Philippians would have sung them together in worship.  This early first century hymn was meant to teach new Christians.  Remember that the churches Paul founded didn’t have a New Testament yet, and most early believers didn’t know much about Jesus.  The hymn uses the word form to convey that Jesus went from being equal with God to becoming a man, then went as low as one could go by becoming a slave and dying on a cross, only to be exalted to the place of God again, and was crowned Lord over every creature in the universe.

It’s a very theological hymn, but Paul used it to teach a practical truth—if Jesus humbled Himself to serve others, then Christians must humble themselves to serve others.  Only when we consider the needs of others as greater than our own can we have the mindset necessary for a church to thrive.  In light of Jesus’ example, Paul admonished his readers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  This isn’t talking about having to earn your own salvation from sin.  Paul is saying that as Christians, we must work at loving one another, or we are lost.  Putting others first and not caring if we get credit doesn’t come to us naturally—we must allow God to do that work in us and through us! (v 13)

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

What are the benefits Paul lists in Phil 2:1 of serving Christ?  What does Paul say in verse 2 his readers should do if they have received these benefits? 

 

Talk about some ways that songs have been especially meaningful to you or helped you in your walk with Christ. 

 

“To live above with saints we love; oh that will be glory.  But to live below with saints we know—well, that’s a different story.”  Are there “saints” you are having trouble serving right now?  As a class, pray that you will allow God to show you ways to lovingly put yourself in their shoes. 

Philippians 1:20-30

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Philippians 1:20-30

                  Have you ever been really embarrassed?  All of us have had moments in life that cause us to cringe when we remember them, even years after they happen.  Sometimes those moments turn into funny stories; other times, they become painful emotional wounds.   Lately, it seems more and more celebrities, professional athletes, and even prominent pastors have faced public embarrassment as skeletons have jumped out of their closets—sometimes skeletons so serious they lead to arrest and imprisonment.  Few things in our culture are more humiliating than going to jail.  In our culture, prison is a shameful place to be.

However, if you are an ex-con you are in good company.  Paul wrote the letter of Philippians from prison.  Being imprisoned in Paul’s day was just as humiliating as it is today.  Prison, however, served a different purpose in the Roman Empire.  Prison was not a punishment—it was a placeholder.  You were only put in prison for three reasons: 1) to extort money from your family, 2) to await execution, or 3) to keep the peace.  Paul’s preaching often caused a disturbance of the peace, so he was most likely under house arrest until things settled down.  Execution remained a real possibility for him, though.

Paul’s circumstances were meant to disgrace him, but Paul expressed confidence that he would not be shamed (v 20)!  Because Paul had been imprisoned, he had been able to preach to his guards, and the Christians in his city have been empowered to proclaim Jesus (Phil 1:12-19).  Remember, Philippians is the “joy” letter.  Paul wants the Philippians to be encouraged and rejoice that the work of spreading the good news of Christ is continuing, unhindered.  Even when Paul’s enemies tried to use his circumstances to discredit him, the end result was that the gospel was still proclaimed.  Paul rejoiced in his humiliating circumstances!

In today’s scripture focus, Paul is torn between his personal desire to die and be with Jesus and the greater good of remaining alive and continuing his fruitful labor.  Paul concludes that remaining alive to build up the Philippians’ faith is the better choice, and expresses confidence that he will do so.  Therefore, he encourages the Philippians to keep working together to proclaim the gospel.  We can be encouraged by Paul’s example.  We do not have to let our circumstances humiliate us or divide us.  Instead, if we are servants of Christ, God can take our tough circumstances to take us from “disgrace” to proclaiming “His grace”!

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

Look at Philippians 1:20-26.  What are the reasons Paul gives for wanting to die, and the reasons he gives for wanting to remain alive.

 

What are some ways that society “shames” people today?  Have you ever been purposely embarrassed by someone, a victim of “shaming”, or been in a situation in which you felt everyone looked down on you? 

 

Paul had such a deep relationship with God that no matter what his circumstances, he maintained a joyful, thankful, encouraging attitude.  Can the same be said of you?  Pray as a class that it will be so. 

Philippians 1:1-11

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Philippians 1:1-11

                 Have you ever received a “thank you” card?  Though not as common as they once were, it is still customary to send cards of thanks after receiving a gift at a shower or upon a special occasion.  As a pastor, I have often received notes and cards of thanks when something in a sermon was of particular help to someone.  Everyone likes to hear the words “thank you”, but it extra special when someone takes the time to handwrite a note and put a stamp on it.  The book of Philippians is a “thank you” letter.  Paul wanted to express to a group of people how much he appreciated their effort in caring for him.

Philippi was at one time the westernmost of Paul’s churches.  The city mostly consisted of retired soldiers.  Paul had traveled there after receiving the “Macedonian Call” in a dream (Acts 16:6-10).  Upon sailing to Macedonia, Paul and his traveling companion Silas decided to start their ministry in Philippi, the largest city in the region.  Unlike most of Paul’s places of ministry, there was no synagogue in Philippi, so Paul preached on the river banks.  It was in Philippi that Lydia was converted, the slave girl had a demon cast out of her, Paul and Silas were arrested, and the jailer and his family were saved and baptized.

Though he wasn’t there long, Paul enjoyed a very special relationship with the church at Philippi.  Philippians is a joyful, happy book.  The words “rejoicing” or “joy” appear sixteen times in its four chapters.  The key verse of Philippians is 4:4— “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!”  This is remarkable, considering Paul wrote Philippians while in prison!  Upon hearing of his imprisonment, the Philippians sent a gift to Paul with a man named Epaphroditus.  This man worked so hard along side Paul that he ruined his health and nearly died.  Once he recovered, Paul sent Epaphroditus back home with this letter, his “thank you card”.

Philippians begins with the traditional format of a Pauline epistle—a salutation identifying the sender and recipients, a greeting identifying all as servants of Christ, and a thanksgiving.  The theme and tone of the book is conveyed in the thanksgiving section (verses 3-11) as Paul reminds the Philippians that he never forgets to thank God for them.  Paul takes time to remind them that God is still doing the work begun in all of them, but that the work will eventually be finished when Christ returns.  Until that time, Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians continue to grow in love, and keep doing the good things they are doing, “to the glory and praise of God.” (verse 11)

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

What are the different things Paul prays for the Philippians in verses 3-11? 

 

Can you think of a time you received thanks from someone (either a card or verbally or some other way) that was especially meaningful to you? 

 

Though he was in prison, Paul had a thankful, joyful attitude in Philippians.  Have you ever struggled with a bad attitude?  As a class, pray God helps you focus on the many reasons you have today to be thankful.  Then, tell somebody “thank you” this week who has blessed you! 

Song of Solomon 2:8-17

Today’s Scripture Focus: Song of Solomon 2:8-17

                  Song of Solomon is a book in the wisdom section of the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon.) You may sometimes hear this book referred to as “Song of Songs”. The actual Hebrew name is “Solomon’s Song of Songs”. Anytime in scripture something is “_____ of _____”, it means it is the best or greatest (King of kings, Lord of Lords, etc.) So, another way to identify this book might be “Solomon’s greatest song”. Song of Solomon is a series of lyrical poems, written in the tradition of ancient bridal songs, which were sung at weddings and banquets. The book could be written either by Solomon or about Solomon.

Why is Song of Solomon in the Bible? It contains no references to God, Israel, or any of the themes normally found in Old Testament writings. In fact, all of the poems use sensitive language to describe romantic intimacy between a woman and her lover. Although the book is identified as Solomon’s song, it is mostly written in the voice of a young woman. Having met her intended husband, she pines and longs for the day they can be together and fully consummate their bond. In most chapters, she states this overwhelming desire, then a response is given either from her lover or from a chorus of her friends, the “daughters of Jerusalem”.

So, again, why is a book of love poems in the Bible? There are a number of reasons. For one, remember that Song of Solomon is wisdom literature. Wisdom literature is not like the Law or the Prophecy sections of scripture, which tell God’s story. Wisdom writings deal with the reality of everyday life. In today’s scripture focus, a young woman begs her lover to overcome the many obstacles between them (mountains, walls, foxes, winter) in order for their relationship to succeed. Obstacles to successful relationships are something most people dealt with then, and most people deal with now.

Also, almost from the time it was written, the people saw a “meaning behind the meaning” in Song of Solomon. They read it as a description of Israel’s longing for God. In chapter 2:8, a woman begs for her lover to leap across mountains to come to her. In the same way, Israel cried for God to cross the heavens and overcome every obstacle standing in the way of perfect covenant relationship. As Christians, we see Song of Solomon as descriptive of our relationship with Christ. The cry of the Church’s heart is for Jesus to return for His bride! Song of Solomon causes us to examine our hearts. Do we burn with passion for God, or have we let obstacles grow up between us?

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

What are some of the obstacles mentioned in 2:8-17 that stand in the way of the woman and her lover?

 

What kind of obstacles get in the way of having good relationships with others today?

 

Have you allowed little (or big) things to come between you and God? Do you long for your relationship with Jesus to be described as “passionate”? As a class, pray for the Lord to come and revive our hearts.

Nehemiah 9:16-20, 32

Today’s Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 9:16-20, 32

                 Today we conclude our time in Ezra and Nehemiah. Remember that these were originally one book that told the story of post exilic Israel. Post exilic means “after the Exile”. The people of Ezra and Nehemiah were the survivors. They were the descendants of royals, nobles, and priests that had been forced to move to Babylon after Jerusalem was captured and destroyed beginning in 597 BC. 70 years later, Babylon was conquered by the Persians. The Persian king found favor with the Jews, and allowed them to return home and rebuild their city. Once the city was rebuilt, the resettled Israelites had one question: what now? Are we still God’s people?

Remember that Israel was now just a fraction of what they had been before they Exile. Could God restore them to greatness again? Today’s scripture deals with that issue. It is part of the section known as the “prayer of the people”. Nehemiah 9 is the longest communal prayer in the Old Testament. The prayer wrestles with three questions: where did we come from, how did we get here, and what now? There are three main players in the prayer that correspond to these questions—”You” (God) answers where the people came from. “They” (ancestors) answers how the people got here. “We” (the people) answers what they must do now.

Much of the prayer is spent in penitence. Penitence is the action of feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong . It has the same meaning as “repentance”. After spending considerable time praising and thanking God for creating, choosing, and calling them, the people admitted that their ancestors had messed up. They had continually turned their backs on God, even when God provided for them over and over. In spite of the people continually being “stiff necked” (stubborn), God sent manna to feed them, water to quench their thirst, and the Spirit to empower them. Still, the ancestors refused to repent, which led to their downfall.

Last week we focused on the preparation and praise aspects of prayer. Today we have covered penitence in prayer—we must admit we need God. In the second half of Nehemiah 9, the tone shifts. Finally, the people state their petition in prayer. They briefly and simply state what they want God to do for them. They want to remain God’s people (v 32). It has been said that we are living in a post Christian culture. If that is true, we would do well to learn from the Nehemiah 9 prayer. Where do we come from? How did we get here? What now? God still has a use for a people willing to admit their need, ask God to use them, then commit to live differently!

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

How many times in today’s scripture do you find the words “they” or “them”? To whom is this referring? How many times do you see the word “you”? Who is the “you” in the passage?

 

In what ways are we living in a “post Christian” world? Does God still have a job for the Church to do, or should we just give up hope and wait around till Jesus comes?

 

Take time as a class for silent “penitence” (admitting your need for God) and “petition” (telling God what you want Him to do.)

Nehemiah 9:6-15

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Nehemiah 9:6-15

                 Let’s spend a couple of weeks talking about the importance of communal prayer.  We all know that prayer is important, and hopefully all of us spend time in prayer on a daily basis.  Private prayer most certainly has its place in scripture.  Great heroes of the faith such as Moses, Hannah, David, Elijah, Peter, and even Jesus spent time praying by themselves.  Most often, however, prayer takes place in groups, whether it be one person leading and everyone else affirming what the leader prays (we see this often with kings such as Solomon), or everyone praying together at once, like in today’s scripture focus.  There is power in corporate prayer.

Today’s scripture focus takes place at the end of Israel’s 24 day celebration of the Law.  After Nehemiah had led the people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, they gathered and listened to their priest Ezra read the Torah, which is the first five books of our Bible.  The people originally responded by weeping as they realized how through every tragedy that had befallen them, God had been at work, had protected them even when it didn’t seem that way, and still had great plans for them.  Ezra, Nehemiah, and the priests told the people that now was not the time to cry but to rejoice!  In obedience to the Law, the people celebrated the Feast of Booths. 

This feast was a commemoration of how God had protected the Israelites while they wandered in the wilderness.  It involved sleeping in temporary structures.  The people went outside the city and cut down branches, making tents on top of their houses.  After this festival was completed, the people prepared for a time of prayer.  They began to fast, which means to go without food.  They put on plain, simple clothing and put dirt on their faces to symbolize their impurity before a holy God.  They did these things to indicate the seriousness of the task before them.  Before they began to pray, they listened to the word of God for six hours!

Only after spending a quarter of a day listening to God’s Instruction did the people began to pray.  They started their prayer with praise.  Praise is recognizing God for who God is.  The people acknowledged that God was above all, God’s glorious name, and that the words didn’t even exist do describe God, who was above all blessing and praise.  Then, the people continued the prayer with thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is recognizing what God has done.  The people began to recount all God had done for them, including creating them, choosing them, delivering them, and protecting them.  The lesson for us is clear:  before you tell God what you need, praise God for who He is and thank God for what He’s done!

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

What are some words of “praise” we use to describe God today? (ex:  Almighty, Holy, Loving, etc.)

 

What are some things we can thank God for today? (ex:  giving us live, saving us, our families, our jobs, etc.)

 

Spend time as a class in prayers of praise and thanksgiving.  Either have one or two people lead, or go around the room and have everyone give a once sentence prayer including praising God for who He is and thanking God for what He’s done. 

Nehemiah 8:1-10

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Nehemiah 8:1-10

                  Have you ever had a “God moment”? Maybe you were in church, and you really connected with the words of a song that seemed to speak just to you.  Perhaps you were reading your Bible and it seemed a verse just jumped out at you, reminding you of a truth you desperately needed.  Have you sensed God’s presence especially during the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one, or the testimony of a saint?  In our faith tradition, we believe when God speaks to us, we can “feel” it!  We respond to our God moments in different ways.  Some raise their hands and shout “Amen!”, others weep quietly, and some just enjoy an inward peace.

Today’s scripture focus tells the story of a community “God moment” in the life of God’s people.  The book of Nehemiah is a continuation of the story begun in Ezra.  The Jews have been allowed to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem.  After rebuilding the Temple, the work stalled.  The city’s walls lay in ruins, leaving the people vulnerable to attack.  This greatly disturbed Nehemiah, who served in the Persian court as the royal cupbearer.   He asked permission to return to the land of his ancestors and rebuild the city walls and gates.  The king appointed him governor of Judah, gave him an official letter, and sent him home.

Nehemiah, like Ezra before him, found opposition from without and within.  Not only did the enemies of the Jews constantly taunt and threaten him, he found the Jews who had settled in Judah were taking advantage of one another.  Some were in such debt to others that they had to sell their children into slavery.  After correcting this injustice and eliminating this practice,  Nehemiah worked tirelessly and fearlessly to get the city walls and gates completed.  He assigned sections of the wall to various families, and had everyone work in shifts—sometimes with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other!

Miraculously, the walls and gates were completely finished in 52 days.  Upon completion of the work, the people gathered to celebrate.  Nehemiah was their political leader, but Ezra was still their spiritual leader.  The people had Ezra read the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) in their presence.  As the word was read and explained to them, the people had a community “God moment”.  Overcome with emotion, they began to weep.  Ezra and Nehemiah commanded that the people’s weeping be turned to joy.  The festival lasted 24 days—the longest celebration recorded in scripture.  As we hear from God’s Word today, let’s wait for a God given holy joy!

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask these three questions. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

 

Why do you think the reading of the Torah made the people weep? 

 

Have you ever had a “God moment”?  When was it, and how did you react?

 

As a class, pray for God to speak to us today in worship in such a way that we can feel it.  Pray that we will be especially sensitive to the Holy Spirit as God’s Word is shared.