Fear(Less) Bible Study Session 6: Holy Week

Welcome to our 6th and final week of our Fear(Less) Bible Study! We’re going to do something a little bit differently to conclude our study. With this being Holy Week, I feel that we should understand our rituals that take place during this special time of the church year. Hopefully by learning more about this week, you’ll be able to appreciate more fully the church services we have planned for this week through Easter, and, in the context of this study, you’ll gain a fresh perspective on why we can be fearless through our lives.

 

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter, and it is the first of three days that mark the remembrance of the events leading up to and immediately following the the crucifixion of Jesus. For any budding etymologists out there, the word maundy comes from the Latin mandatum meaning “commandment.” The reason behind this comes from John 13:34.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (NRSV)

Maundy Thursday may also be referred to as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries. It initiates what is called the Easter Triduum which is the period that commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. These days include Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and ends Easter evening. John 13:1-5 records one act by which churches remember Jesus.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour and come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. (NRSV)

By this act, we remember Jesus lowering himself to the level of a servant to the already humbled disciples. As a result of this passage, some churches incorporate foot washing into their Maundy Thursday services, and the trend is gaining popularity within United Methodist churches.

 

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Jesus’ Last Supper. Read Luke 22:14-20.

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (NRSV)

It is because of this passage and the corresponding passages in Matthew and Mark that we take communion during our Maundy Thursday services.

 

Good Friday

ood Friday commemorates the passion and crucifixion of Christ. Some of you may wonder why we call it “Good” at all. There are several theories as to how this came about. First, “good” could be derived from a word meaning “pious” or “holy.” The other option is that it is a corruption of “God’s Friday” that became “Good Friday” over time, much like “goodbye” is a corruption of the original “God be with ye.” German speakers may refer to it as “mourning Friday,” and our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters know it as “Friday of Preparation.” Our services for Good Friday are solemn since they mark the execution of our Lord. There is an acknowledgement of our communal sins as well as of our own personal sins. I’d like to share with you Oscar Wilde’s poem E Tenebris as it came about from a Tenebrae service which was a medieval Good Friday service.

Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach Thy hand,

For I am drowning in a stormier sea

Than Simon on Thy lake of Galilee:

The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,

My heart is as some famine-murdered land

Whence all good things have perished utterly,

And well I know my soul in Hell must lie

If I this night before God's throne should stand.

'He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,

Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name

From morn to noon on Carmel's smitten height.'

Nay, peace, I shall behold, before the night,

The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,

The wounded hands, the weary human face. 

Some churches do what is called the Stations of the Cross, where they remember the different points of Jesus’ suffering on the way to Golgotha to be crucified as a rebel. Other times, churches do a Tenebrae service in which candles are extinguished one by one until none remain lit while scripture is read. It is a period of introspection awaiting Easter.

 

Easter/Eastertide

aster commemorates the truth that Christ is risen. Technically, Easter begins with Easter Eve which occurs at sundown on Holy Saturday. What may be unknown, however, is that Easter is not just one day. Easter is the beginning of an entire season known as Eastertide, which lasts for 50 days and ends on Pentecost. Lent, in the ancient church, was a time of learning and preparation for new converts who would be baptized on Easter Sunday. Eastertide then was a time to continue faith formation within the community. Today, Eastertide “gives us time to rejoice and experience what it means when we say Christ is risen. It’s the season when we remember our baptisms and how through this sacrament we are, according to the liturgy, ‘incorporated into Christ’s might acts of salvation.’” Here at Lewis Center UMC, we have already begun our ALPHA recovery program, we have reached out to our community with our Free Store, we are active with PIN and with Church for All People, our youth go on a mission trip yearly, and we have established a missions team. Daily, it seems, we are living into our calling as church, but there is always more work to be done. “As ‘Easter people,’ we also celebrate and ponder the birth of the Church and the gifts of the Spirit (Pentecost), and how we are to live as faithful disciples of Christ.” Just because Lent has ended and we worship a Risen Christ does not mean that what we’ve learned about God and ourselves can be shelved. During this period of Eastertide, it is my hope that you continue to ask yourself “how can I live as a more faithful, fearless disciple of Jesus Christ.” After all, it is because Jesus was crucified and rose again that we have hope. It is because of Jesus that we can follow God without fear in all we do. Thanks for journeying with us for the past 6 weeks, whether in person or online. We hope to see you at our Maundy Thursday service at 6:30pm, our Good Friday prayer and meditation from 3-6pm (it's not a 3-hour long service, just come when you can and leave when you must; just allow for about a half an hour), Easterbash on Saturday from 9:30-11 am and our Easter Sunday services 9 & 10:30 am!

Fear(Less) Bible Study Session 5: Leap of Faith

Welcome to week 5 of our Lenten Bible Study! In case you missed it from the last post, I’ve posted 4 comments (1 for each of the sections of the bible study) that you can respond to with questions or comments from each section as you work through the study at your own pace throughout the week. I encourage you to read what others may have posted and to respond to them in order to be in dialogue with one another.

 

I. Introduction

s Pastor Dan mentioned in the video, we're talking about a leap of faith this week. I think that the connections we have with Thomas even today deserve some time here. We've all doubted just like Thomas, but, in echoing Pastor Dan, I'd like for us to think about a time we may have been like Thomas and followed Jesus regardless of what might or might not happen. Can you think of a time in your life that you followed Jesus with reckless abandon; a time when you said with Thomas, "Let us also go, that we may die with him"? Feel free to share below!

 II. Digging into the Text

  Read John 11:1-16. The NRSV translation is provided below. 

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard of it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to his disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him." The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

Does anything jump out at you from this passage?

Who do you see as taking a leap of faith? Why?

Context is always important when we look at scripture, so it's probably useful for us to take a look at who's who and what's going on in this passage. The sisters, Martha and Mary, are the same women who served Jesus and sat listening to him, respectively. These were by no means acquaintances of Jesus, these were his friends. Lazarus is the man that Jesus ends up raising from the dead, and the same individual about whom the shortest passage in our bible is written: "Jesus wept." These people were incredibly important to Jesus.

Immediately prior to this story, Jesus and the disciples had been in Jerusalem, and the Jews became enraged against Jesus and tried to stone him, so he escaped across the Jordan River. It was while Jesus was there that he received word about his friend Lazarus. The Bethany that was hometown to Mary and Martha was just east of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives.

After the setup of the story, Jesus announces his intentions to go to Bethany, to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The disciples are immediately concerned and afraid for themselves and for Jesus. This is just outside of Jerusalem where the Jews had only just prior tried to stone Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus is focused on what needs to be done, and he and the disciples travel to Bethany. Thomas makes the faith-filled statement, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." This is clearly a leap of faith. It's not necessarily that Thomas doesn't know what's going to happen, rather in his mind it's likely to end in certain death for him and his friend, but he decides to go anyways. He had enough faith in Jesus that he was willing to follow him, even to death. Clearly Thomas was not alone in his resolve; the other disciples accompanied Jesus and Thomas to Bethany.

I'd like to offer another take on this story as well. I'd argue that Jesus takes a leap of faith in this moment. It's with this decision to go to Bethany that Jesus sets in motion the events that lead to his crucifixion. He didn't have to go to Bethany; he could have stayed where it was safe, but that's not what he did. He showed us that we should have the utmost trust in God. It may not always end well for us, but God is with us. Jesus, though God incarnate, demonstrated that we can take leaps of faith for the building of the Kingdom.

III. Discussion

 

Could you take a leap of faith like Jesus and his disciples did?

Are there any ways, big or small, that you might be able to start trusting God enough to take a leap of faith that God might be calling you to?

IV. So What?

Is Jesus the ultimate Judo master?  In Judo, the idea is less to go on the offensive and more to defend yourself by turning an opponent's attack into something else. Jesus takes the evils of the world and turns them into our salvation. Jesus redeems things. Thomas had no expectations of Jesus redeeming anything, and yet he follows Jesus to Bethany. Thomas doesn't know anything other than the fact that they'd be going to certain death. How much more willing should we be given what we know of and about Jesus? The idea of taking a leap of faith is directly linked to last week's topic of fear of the unknown. We don't take leaps of faith precisely because there's some unknown thing that is keeping us from doing whatever it is that we're called to do. As we strive to move past our fear of the unknown, we can begin to take leaps of faith, knowing that God will be with us, whether it ends badly or well. What leap of faith is Jesus calling you to this Easter? My hope is that you can respond affirmatively to Jesus' call and take that first step on faith that you can trust God and his promises.

Fear(Less) Bible Study Session 4: Fear of the Unknown

Welcome to week 4 of our Lenten Bible Study! In case you missed it from the last post, I've posted 4 comments (1 for each of the sections of the bible study) that you can respond to with questions or comments from each section as you work through the study at your own pace throughout the week. I encourage you to read what others may have posted and to respond to them in order to be in dialogue with one another.

 

I. Introduction

o, as Dave mentioned in the video, this week we're talking about fear of the unknown. Dave's personal example was one relating to his job and ministry in general. I'd like for you to take just a few moments to think through some times that you've been afraid of the unknown. It might have been a medical diagnosis where you didn't know what to expect or how you would get through it, it might have been job security and that nagging question of "what if?" It might have been where you were going to live, especially if your job was taking you to a different city or state. Maybe you were or are concerned with questions of what kind of world we're going to leave for our children and future generations. Maybe the concept of the afterlife and what heaven is really like is fear producing since it's basically unknown to us. Maybe the future in general causes a fear in you since none of us really know what it holds. Maybe this Lent your going through something that is rooted in the fear of the unknown. Hopefully as we move through this study, we'll find scripture and other ways that God will speak to that fear in your life.

 

II. Digging into the Text

This week's main text is Matthew 6:25-34. Below the NRSV translation is provided. Read through the passage several times either in the NRSV or in your favorite translation until you internalize the passage.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith?Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

What strikes you most about this passage?

Do you find anything difficult about this teaching of Jesus?

If so, what is most difficult?

When I read through this passage, I'm struck by how simple it is. I have to confess that when I have read this passage before, it never struck me as a difficult teaching - it seemed straightforward and simple. It didn't seem to have the challenges some of Jesus' other teachings like the Beatitudes or Jesus' comments like  that it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle than for the rich to see heaven. But at its core, this passage is just as a challenging, if not more so, for us I think. This passage calls on us to give up everything, including our fear of the unknown. God cares for the birds and lilies, how much more would he care for us, human beings whom he created in his image? How many of us could (much less would) not worry about any of our needs in life?

I think that this misses part of the point of the passage however. Jesus claims that life is more than food and the body more than clothing. While not discounting the importance of basic necessities, Jesus is advocating for us to really live our lives - something that is difficult if we are busy worrying about the unknown; about things we really have no true control over.

This week, I'd like for us to do something a little different than what we have done in the past: I'd like for those of you doing the online version of the study (we'll be doing the same thing in person) to share with the rest of this online community any scripture verses or passages that come to mind that challenge the idea of fear of the unknown so that we can hopefully have a more complete picture of what the bible tells us.

 

III. Discussion

Below is this week's podcast featuring Pastor Dan, Dave, and myself. Take a listen and feel free to note anything you find helpful or something you may disagree with in the comments below. As always, questions are encouraged!

IV. So What?

Throughout this study, we've taken a look at fear of the unknown. This fear is something that is particularly difficult to deal with since by definition we cannot name precisely what it is that we fear in many cases. However, God routinely promises to be present with us through these times and to provide for us if only we were to trust in him. While it is difficult to implement, it seems clear that since worrying can't add a single day to our lives, the recourse that God intends us to have is to spend our time in relationship with him and with our brothers and sisters around the world and to spend it making the world a better place in God's name.

Fear(Less) Bible Study Session 3: Fear of Failure

Welcome to week 3 of our Lenten Bible Study! In case you missed it from the last post, I've posted 4 comments (1 for each of the sections of the bible study) that you can respond to with questions or comments from each section as you work through the study at your own pace throughout the week. I encourage you to read what others may have posted and to respond to them in order to be in dialogue with one another.

 

I. Introduction

s mentioned in the intro video, this week we'll be talking about failure and our fear of it. Did you know that more people are afraid of failing than are afraid of spiders? I think this is pretty telling of our relationship to success and failure. Before we go too far, I want to ask each of you to think of a time that you feared failing and you ended up succeeding. Feel free to share with the group if you feel led to. What was it that was so fear-producing about that given situation or scenario? What was it that ultimately allowed you to succeed? How did you feel after succeeding? Now I'd also like for you to take a moment to think of a time that you feared failing and then actually failed. Again, what was so fear-producing about that given situation or scenario? How did you feel after failing? In hindsight, was there anything you could have done differently to succeed or anyone that you could have leaned on to at least alleviate the impact of the failure? Try to remember these stories and feelings as we go through the rest of the bible study this week.

 

II. Digging into the Text

Read Acts 18:5-11 in the NRSV below, or in your favorite translation as many times as necessary to really internalize the passage. If you are using a different translation and there is something noteworthy about the difference(s) in wording, please mention in it in the comments below!

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people." He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Post any questions, comments, or reflections about your initial reading of the passage in the comments below.

So in this passage, Paul is in Corinth proclaiming the gospel. Most of the Jews, though not all of them, refused to believe the gospel. If the story were to stop here, then I'd have to say that Paul's efforts were a failure, and it's far to easy for many of us to skim over this initial portion of the story to get to his success. But I'd like to sit for a minute with his "failure" here. In order to get into the frame of mind that Paul may have been in at this point in his ministry, we have to go back to the preceding chapter (Acts 17:16-32). Paul had just left Athens where he had met with mixed success/failure in converting the learned Greeks. He then met with failure in converting many of the Jews of Corinth, though he had some success with a gentile audience. How might you react if, after modest success in Athens of people receiving the gospel, your time in Corinth began with little-to no success? I know that I'd begin to feel dejected, and then I would likely begin to really fear failing (again) to the point that I might freeze up and not even try anymore. Maybe some of you would react the same way. But this isn't the end of the story. The risen Christ tells Paul to not be afraid and to continue preaching the gospel, and Paul obeys and begins to experience a degree of success. It seems as though Paul experienced success when he fully leaned on Christ and Christ's word.

Another story is helpful to fill out our understanding of our fear of failure. I'd like for you to read Jeremiah 32:1-15 (NRSV translation is provided below).

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, "Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the LORD: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; King Zedekiah of Judah shall not escape out of the hands of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye; and he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I attend to him, says the LORD; though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed?"

Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, got witnesses, and weighed the money on the scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judea's who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought and sold in this land.

So, in this passage, Jeremiah is effectively under house arrest for prophesying against the king of Israel and on trumped up charges of deserting to the enemy (Babylonians) in his trying to go to Anathoth to obey God. In this story, the city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonians, and the Israelites are about to be deported to Babylon, and, yet, God tells Jeremiah to purchase land. Why would God do this? Jeremiah is obedient and does just as God asks. Jeremiah is obedient even when he knows that it is going to end in certain failure. He buys a field that he won't be able to use. The jar and the deeds are a reminder to the people that they will indeed return and reclaim their land.

What do these two passages together tell you? What might they mean for us?

 

III. Discussion

If you have any thoughts or questions combining the first two sections, feel free to comment below and then listen to this week's podcast!

f you have questions about anything in the podcast, let us know in the comments section, and, as always, feel free to mention anything for the betterment of the group or anything that strikes you.

 

IV. So What?

At this point, I'd like for us to briefly take a look at all the other biblical figures that "failed." Adam and Eve failed, Cain failed, Abraham failed, Moses failed (and was actually quite afraid of failure), the Israelites during the conquest failed, Saul failed, David failed, Solomon failed, the disciples failed, Jesus even appeared to fail. What do all of these individuals (or groups) have in common? God never gave up on them. Even Cain, the first murderer, received grace-filled protection from people who might seek vengeance upon him. Abraham did not trust God enough that he lied about his relationship with his wife Sarah multiple times. Moses, who saw God and yet still did not fully trust in Him failed. Peter denied Christ and Thomas doubted - even the people who walked with Jesus failed. And yet, even after failures such as these, God never gave up on any of these people. What should this tell us about our fear of failure? It is my humble opinion that some failure is simply inevitable in our lives. The best we can do is recognize that God never gives up on us, and if God never gives up on us, then why should we fear anything, especially failure?

As always, discussion below is encouraged. I hope to see you all on Sunday. Have a blessed, fearless week.

Fear(Less) Bible Study Session 2: Being Exposed

Before we begin, I apologize for the change in website. Unfortunately, the prior setup was not allowing comments to be posted. That wasn't working well for us since we wanted some interaction among those utilizing the online format of this bible study. At the bottom of each blog post will be 4 comments that I will have already made at the posting of each week. If you have comments/questions in any given section of the bible study, reply to the corresponding comment that I have made. Feel free to reply to others' comments/questions as you are able! Thank you for journeying with us this Lenten season!

I. Introduction

 

As Pastor Dan noted in his video introducing this week’s theme, we are often afraid of being exposed. We are afraid of being exposed as the imposters, frauds, phonies we really are. This relates to the idea of imposter syndrome. Cal-Tech ’s counseling website defines this as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart student, that you are only imposing as such.” (https://counseling.caltech.edu/general/InfoandResources/Impostor). The American Psychological Association even recognizes it. Have you ever felt this way in your career, your education, your relationship with family and friends, maybe even your relationship with God? I think we might hide from these feelings, or, maybe we hide behind these feelings. If we can make light of feeling like frauds, then we can laugh it off without really confronting why we feel that way. Through our scripture this week, we’ll deal with our all-too-common fear of being exposed. I’m glad you’re able to join us this week!

 

II. Digging Into the Text

Read Genesis 3:1-19 in the NRSV below, or in your favorite translation. As I mentioned last week, you may wish to read it through several times so that you can internalize what the passage is saying to you.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

What are your initial insights of this passage?

So Adam and Eve are in the garden which is, by all accounts, paradise on earth. After a period of time, the serpent comes along and absolutely wrecks things for the happy couple and God. The serpent basically tells Eve (and by extension Adam) that they will be like gods if they would eat of the forbidden fruit. This is a tempting proposition, and they accept this offer. Immediately they become aware of their nakedness and hide out of fear from God. After being questioned by God, Adam breaks very quickly and blames Eve as “the woman whom [God] gave to be with [him].” Talk about throwing his partner under the bus. It’s worth noting here that Adam is effectively hiding behind his wife at this point. He is afraid of being exposed; he is afraid because he has been exposed. It is worth pointing out that Adam also seems to blame God, as God was the one who “gave” the woman to be with Adam. If this is the case, then Adam is also hiding and trying really hard to not be exposed by blaming God. The woman, likewise, is quick to throw the serpent under the bus for having convinced her to eat of the fruit. This might be rightfully so, but, again, she’s hiding behind the serpent now. She, like her husband, is afraid of being exposed, especially after having been exposed.

So Adam and Eve disobeyed the only commandment that God gave them of what not to do, and what follows is the expected punishment of their disobedience. However, this punishment is what should give hope to those who read this passage. God curses the serpent, who initiated this whole failure on the part of humanity. What God does not do, though, is specifically curse Adam and Eve. The word for curse in Hebrew is actually never applied to either Adam or Eve or even their descendants in this passage. The only other thing that God curses here besides the serpent is the ground itself. As a result of their disobedience, women were to experience pain during childbirth, but God does not curse them. As a result of their disobedience, men have to work the ground in labor in order for it to produce food, but God does not curse them. God leaves the door open for redemption of humanity, which should give us reason for hope in the midst of this story.

 

III. Discussion

I’d like for there to be some discussion on any insights you may have regarding the scripture for the week, whether on its own or its connection to our introductory material. Respond to others’ insights as you are able, and then check out this week’s podcast below.

If you have anything you wish to contribute to the discussion from the podcast, or if it triggered anything in your mind, feel free to share.

 

IV. So What?

    If God was willing to overlook not just Adam and Eve disobeying him, but actively hiding their actions and themselves from him in his decision not to curse them, does it not make sense that he would overlook what we’re hiding from him and the masks we’re hiding behind? For me, personally, I struggle with feeling like an imposter in my capacity as student pastor here at Lewis Center UMC. At the ripe old age of 26, I’m given authority I haven’t necessarily earned. I haven’t gained all of the abilities and skills necessary to effectively lead a congregation or even a small group, and, yet, here I am preaching to this congregation and leading this Bible Study. I frequently ask myself who thought that this was a good idea. This is a pretty good example of imposter syndrome. I’m not supposed to have all of the answers. I’m supposed to fail and learn. And yet, when I manage to succeed in my leadership and teaching, I don’t readily accept that it was more than mere luck or someone else’s work or effort.

Do you have similar experience with this? My challenge to you this week (and to myself) is to step back when those thoughts and feelings creep in. Take off the mask you’re hiding behind, whatever it is, and hand it over to God. Maybe you could say the prayer I’ve included below when you need the additional encouragement and strength. God created each of us for a given purpose, and we cannot afford to ignore his call on our lives out of fear of being exposed.

God, our Creator and Sustainer, we all too often hide behind masks out of our fear from being exposed. Give us strength to be the persons you created us to be in your image. Remind us of who we are in you, and in the Body of Christ, the Church. Amen. 

Fear(Less) Bible Study Session 1: Faith vs Fear

Hello everyone! Welcome to the first week of our Fear(Less) Bible Study! Before we get started, I want to lay out how the online study will work in case you missed it on the Bible Study homepage. Each study is broken down into 4 different sections enabling you to complete each session over a period of time, or in one sitting if that's what you'd prefer.

 

I. Introduction

 

s was mentioned in the video, we’re going to spend the next six weeks talking about fear. Fear can take a variety of different forms as we noted. Spend a few moments thinking about some of your fears or the times you have been afraid. Also, think about the thoughts and emotions that are connected with that experience.

    Fear is a very real force in the world. It’s been around from the Fall of Adam and Eve to the present. Early human beings feared predators that were able to kill them if they weren’t careful. These same people had to be fearful of the weather and the catastrophes that it could bring about. A little later in history, people came to be fearful of other clans and tribes and even kingdoms that might invade, enslave, or kill them and their families. Today we deal with the specter of drug-resistant diseases, terrorism, and war. We become fearful of what will happen if the economy falters, whether we’ll be able to put food on the table, of whether there will be a roof over our heads. All of these things frighten us, and these fears are not unfounded. It might be why the Bible contains the command to “be not afraid” 80+ times. It’s why we’re dedicating this Lenten season to uncovering why we should be fearless in spite of whatever our fears my be.

Fear is connected to doubt. Think back to the fear you identified at the beginning. It is likely that this fear was coming from our lacking confidence at the time. This could have been doubt in our ability to achieve something, maybe God’s willingness, even ability to provide for us, whatever our need at that moment of fear may have been. Regardless, in the end, a great many of our fears are simply derived from our doubt. That being said, there seems to be something that we can about it.

As Christians, we are a people of faith. Jesus proclaimed the radical gospel of the forgiveness of sins. If we are to live into this faith that has been handed down to us for the past 2000 years, we have to address our fears, and the relationship of fear itself to our faith. Fear seems to stem more from our animalistic tendencies than it does our reasoning abilities — think fight or flight. How does this relate to our faith? Is fear as opposed to faith as it seems to be? 

Check out this video and respond to the questions that follow as you’re able.

 

  • Are fear and love opposites as the video claims?
  • Do you feel that the human brain feels only two emotions fundamentally and that all other emotions are derivative of one or the other?
    • Is this adequate or is it an oversimplification?
  • In 1 John 4:8, we read:
    • Whoever does not love does not love God, for God is love.

  • Based on 1 John 4:8, if God is love, then what is Satan? And is Satan’s number one tool fear?
    • What might it look like if this is the case?

 

II. Digging into the Text

Read Isaiah 43:1-3 (Below is the passage from the NRSV). Feel free to read and reread slowly in your preferred translation until you feel as though the passage has totally sunk in.

    But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Now that you’ve read the passage at least once, what truths about God are on display here?

    What questions does this passage bring to mind?

    In this short passage, we have a considerable amount of material to draw on. I’d like to highlight the very first statement. The opening introduction of this passage states: “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, Jacob, and formed you, O Israel (My emphases).” In this short statement we find God’s immanent presence. God created Israel, and just like he created him/them, God has also created you as well. In the same vein, God also formed you just like God formed Jacob. The God who created the universe and who rules it intimately created and formed each of us. This is a powerful truth that cannot be overstated.

    The consequence of this initial statement is found in the first three words that God speaks: Do not fear. The fact that God is so intimately involved in our creation and formation should give us freedom from fear — God has everything in his control. The next section elaborates more on why we should not fear. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” God calls each of us by name, and in this way, God offers us his reassurance. The following statements offer examples: the waters won’t carry us away and the fire won’t burn us. The point becomes clear — even that which can kill us, God has our best interests and our very lives in his control.

    The next statement is equally important. God is establishing himself as Israel’s God and Savior. The fact of the matter is that God owes humanity and Israel nothing. In the historical context of the book of Isaiah, the Israelites are about to be exiled by the Babylonians for their disobedience. Even in the midst of their punishment for disobeying God, he is making it clear that he will still redeem his people. It’s important to note a difference between what might be our Christian understanding of this portion of the text and that of the Israelites that would have been engaging with this text. We, as Christians, might see Jesus being referenced here as the coming future savior. While this isn’t wrong, I’d also like to dig in and see how the Israelites would have interpreted this idea of God as savior during that period.

    The ancient Israelites that would have been engaging with this idea would have either been under siege, in the process of being exiled, or, ultimately, living in exile in Babylon. They weren’t necessarily looking for God to save their souls, they were looking to God to save them and their fellow Israelites physically. They were captives in a foreign land, and some of them were looking to the future when they would return to Jerusalem in order to worship God in the Temple, and have an independent monarchy once again.

    Truths about God this scripture demonstrates:

  • God is faithful
  • God intimately knows us
  • God wishes for us to not be consumed by fear
  • God’s redemption is continually working in some form throughout history

    What other truths about God can you think of that this passage demonstrates?

2 Timothy 1:7

    For God did not give us a spirit of fearfulness, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

When we read 2 Timothy 1:7, we find that God created us to be without fear.

    Given the discussion above, how does 2 Timothy 1:7 change or reinforce what Isaiah 43:1-3 says?

 

III. Discussion

Before listening to the podcast below, I’d like for us to take some time to engage with one another in conversation as best we can with what we’ve covered so far in the first two sections.

 

 

 

Now that we've listened to what Pastor Dan, Dave, and I have had to say about this week's topic, I think that it would be good to, again, engage with one another since we all bring something unique to the table based on our life circumstances.

 

IV. Life Application

So by this point, we’ve thought about our own fears and looked at how they made us feel and what they made us think. We’ve also seen what God has to say in several different passages about our fear. Since we, as Methodists, consider scripture as true and worthy for teaching as the Apostle Paul writes, what does all of this teach us? What implications does any of this have on our day to day lives? I know that for me, personally, having the knowledge that God is near and is with me allows me to reassess my fears and how much I let them affect me. I, like many people, have a fear of dying. Knowing that God is with me through everything is a comfort to counter that fear. While this is my takeaway from this passage, I’m curious as to what yours has been. I’d like for us to share with one another what each of your takeaways has been from this text. Feel free to be in dialogue with one another as best as this technology allows. We will all get the most out of this with a rich variety of perspectives.

I’d like to conclude in prayer.

    God our Savior and Redeemer, thank you for this time together that has allowed us to engage more fully in your word. We appreciate the gift of technology that allows us to do this when time and distance might not allow us to otherwise. May you bless this time that we have had together that it might bear fruit in each of our lives. In your name, we pray. Amen.