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No Inmates Beyond This Point!

PrisonNO INMATES BEYOND THIS POINT!

This was the sign that warned us each time we departed the prison grounds at the women’s federal prison in Texas. As we crossed the boldly red striped line each day we understood what a privilege we have to be free and able to leave the grounds knowing that those who watched us walk away could only dream of the day they could do the same. 

For three days Shelley and I have been conducting a series of workshops to the inmates on job readiness skills once they would transition back into society. For some, the departure date would be decades from now but they were none-the-less engaged as if their freedom was in the near future.

The group of women we served covered a broad spectrum. We had young women all the way to grandmothers that were in the years when most are planning retirement. We had multiple races and ethnicities.

During our time together we learned a little of each woman’s history. Some had been millionaires (not wanna bees), others had never really held a job. We had skilled artisans of a wide variety and even someone who had broken a racehorse in her previous life in the Midwest.

We were struck with how normal many of the ladies were yet through bad decisions they chose to make, they were now convicted felons. We shared useful job readiness information on how to move forward in life once they would be released. But even more important than that we were also able to share example after example of how Jesus had a habit of meeting people at their worst and changing their lives in ways they could have never dreamed.

Meeting people at their worst…, I might have to write something else along those lines.  

Living Like Christ – Lesson 7

Walking on Water (300x123)Where have all of the nice Christians gone? I know they still exist. I have seen them. They stand out because of their constant cheerfulness, even in trying situations. They never have anything negative to say about anyone, including the growing online internet bashing and mocking of others (check out a typical Facebook feed). They always appear supportive of others and are known for their willingness to lend a helping hand.

Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. Luke 7:39

I hear stories of their selfless acts of charity and kindness. It is astounding to hear the reports of families that have opened their homes to strangers who were in need. We’ve all seen the grieving parent who, by human standards, should hold hatred to someone who has injured or taken the life of their child, yet they manifest a forgiveness that can only be described as miraculous.

And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” Luke 9:54

I know of stories of Christians who have with great sacrifice gone into remote and dangerous parts of this world to help bring relief to the suffering. They are also found on some of our own dangerous inner city streets laboring with the disenfranchised and forgotten. Their patience, sympathy and compassion shine as a bright beacon light showing the power of a true Christian lifestyle.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. Luke 10:31-32

We all have so much to learn about living like Jesus. I admit that my actions have much too often been contrary to the examples left by Christ. We are shaped by our cultures and upbringing, and we have so much to unlearn. Even those who walked and talked with Christ on a daily basis were so slow to learn of the depth of His goodness and compassion.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. Luke 18:11

We live in an increasingly angry world. If ever there was a time when the softening influence of love demonstrated through the deeds and words of Christians is needed, it is now.

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

  • What does “living like Christ” mean to you?
  • What is the process that God employs to change our hearts?
  • What, if any, is the difference between a Christian and a person of good morals who makes no claim of Christianity?
  • Is it realistic to expect a Christian to always speak and act like Christ? Why yes or no?
  • Is it true that God is more concerned with your heart than any of your actions that might appear on the surface to be contrary to being Christ like? Explain your answer.
  • Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: It would be easier to live like Christ if one is secluded from society such as being in a monastery. Explain your answer.

We close this week with the wise words of Paul written to the followers of Christ in Philippi:

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:1-8 The Message

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

For online lessons please visit  http://www.ssnet.org/lessons/14c/less07.html

Growing in Christ – Lesson 6

Growing (300x186)The people did not see that coming. They were hoping for and expecting an announcement that the long-awaited kingdom would soon begin. There was no denying that Jesus was more than a normal man. It was not only the miracles He performed but His king-like bearing and an authority that none could deny.

As they sat gathered on the mountainside everyone was in rapt attention, listening to the words He spoke. In the crowd were all classes – from the lowly to the distinguished members of Jewish society. Each with their own dreams of the Jewish nation being restored.

Spell-bound they listened as Jesus began to talk about the kingdom of heaven in ways that they had not heard before. He pronounced blessings upon mourners and the meek, upon the merciful and the peacemakers.

Then He made a statement that must have turned their religious world upside down:

“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20

How to be Saved – Lesson 5

DungeonHis name was Nelson Mandela. He is enshrined in history as a testament to the greater impulses of man. After being imprisoned 27 years of his life, much of it in brutal conditions, Mandela emerged with a message of forgiveness and tolerance. His witness was so compelling that his name has become synonymous with greatness, dignity, and honor.

His story of unjust imprisonment has been sadly only one of countless others who have suffered indignity, pain and torture without just cause. For those that are fortunate enough to find freedom, many do so with a bitterness that strangles joy and hope from their remaining years.

Then there are those who inexplicably see their unjust imprisonment as a disguised blessing. The Bible records our most famous example in the imprisonment and eventual release of Joseph. What others meant for evil, God turned into good.

But for today, as we study this week’s topic of How to be Saved, we turn to a similar incident recorded in the Book of Acts. Paul and Silas had taken the gospel to a new region and encounter and release a women who was under demonic possession. Consequently a riot ensues and the apostles are taken into custody, brutally beaten and thrust into prison. Their response to this injustice would set in motion events that would prove life-changing.

And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. Acts 16:25

Salvation – Lesson 4

Doubt (300x232)When did we stop believing? When did we begin to take pride in declaring our doubts about our salvation?

I was in a Sabbath school class recently when, during a discussion about salvation, a long-time member raised a hand for comment. “We should never say that we’re saved!” A partial but oft-quoted Ellen White statement was the basis of the admonition to the class. Thus began a lively exchange about the assurance of salvation.

Rebuttal texts like the following were then quoted:

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. Acts 16:31

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. John 3:36

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.Ephesians 2:8-9

So when did we become hearers of the Word but not doers of the Word when it comes to our belief in our own salvation?

The Holy Spirit – Lesson 3

Fiery DoveTheir mission was simple – find Jesus and ask him a very direct question. The expected answer would either be yes or no. The reason for this simple question was more complex. The imprisoned John the Baptist was a believer in Christ. Yet, through the insinuations of others and his own misconceptions of the role of the Messiah, doubts began to arise in John’s mind. He needed an answer from Jesus confirming who He was and to this end he sent his disciples to inquire. Luke 7 records this event.

When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. Luke 7:20-23

The evidence spoke for itself. Jesus’ character, works and words all revealed His divinity. There was no greater answer than what Jesus demonstrated as He walked this earth as a man.

This week as we look at The Holy Spirit much will be discussed about who He is. Speculation outside of what is written consumes many. His existence is a mystery to man, but the evidence of His presence is ample for those willing to see.

The Son – Lesson 2

Jesus & ApostlesI never really thought about this until this week’s lesson on The Son. Hyperbole in speech is so common that unconsciously I took for granted some of the words Jesus spoke to His disciples. But this week, examining who Jesus is, gave me an opportunity to look deeper into my beliefs and convictions.

Jesus had been intensely preparing His disciples for the climatic events that would soon follow. Who He was to them would determine their futures. The nation was stirred and on everyone’s lips was the subject of who Jesus was. Jesus asked His disciples what was being said about who He was.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. Matthew 16:13-14

Our Loving Heavenly Father – Lesson 1

 

heaven I don’t know where heaven is. Those who study space constantly find that what they understood to be the limits of space in reality are only gateways to more expansive space. Using man’s fastest conception of speed it would take millions of light years just to reach parts of what our most powerful telescopes reveal. It is mind boggling to consider the size of the known universe and just how tiny our little planet is compared to the countless galaxies that surround us.

And beyond what we can see or even imagine, is a place called heaven. Is was there that Daniel was taken in vision.

As I was watching all this, “Thrones were set in place and The Old One sat down. His robes were white as snow, his hair was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, its wheels blazing. A river of fire poured out of the throne. Thousands upon thousands served him, tens of thousands attended him. Daniel 7:9-10 The Message

God is so big and powerful that human expression is unable to define Him nor can mortal man ever hope to explain Him. He speaks and life begins. Before there was time He was. He is God and God alone.

Yet man, with all of his frailties and steeped in a life of sin, is the object of God’s love and compassion. It is humanly illogical that God would concern Himself with our little world, let alone give Himself to save us. It is an outworking of a love that defies logic and is as unexplainable as the galaxies that surround our little planet.

Christ’s Kingdom and the Law – Lesson 13

Entrance to KingdomBound, beaten and bruised he stands as a Royal King. He is in the clutches of the most powerful kingdom on Earth. He has no advocates and a chorus of voices are crying out for a sentence of death. There standing before Him, holding the scales of life or death, is the powerful governor of Rome.

With wonder Pilot examines the Accused and notes the peace that He has while all around a storm of anger and hate is raging. He is hesitant to pronounce Jesus guilty. There’s something profound about His kingly bearing – something Pilate has never seen in any man, let alone a prisoner.

Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” John 18:33-35

It is the answer that Jesus gave next that we will examine for this week’s lesson on Christ’s Kingdom and the Law. This exchange is filled with vital insight into Christ’s kingdom.

Christ’s Church and the Law – Lesson 12

Baton HandoffConstantly on the go, they are best known by the attributes of teamwork, planning and perseverance. From one generation to the next they focus on their primary goal. Although often challenged with huge obstacles they find a way to overcome.

Theirs is not a life of inactivity. Theirs no stopping and basking in the accomplishments of yesterday. Theirs no static mission, but one that goes from one victory to the next.

Many seem to serve only rudimentary purposes and appear far removed from the center of influence. Their wide-ranging excursions for the cause often appear fruitless yet they are never discouraged and begin each day with the same intensity as the previous.

Many pay the ultimate price and give their lives for the cause. It’s a serious undertaking and not one for the faint of heart. It’s in their DNA to be givers. All for one and one for all. They are family.

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Proverbs 6:6