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With The Wired Word Bible study curriculum, we provide everything you need for your adult Sunday school lessons or small group Bible study lessons to link the latest headlines and current events to appropriate Scripture — with minimal preparation time. Each weekly email includes two Bible study lessons that are as current as this week's news.

About the Teacher Lesson

Each teacher lesson includes two lessons that discuss a current news event that is making headlines. We provide a quick summary of the news item, as you can see below, in the In the News section of the lesson.

Each lesson provides 3-6 critical questions (The Big Questions) sparked by the topic that can be used as a framework for your class discussion, as well as 5-6 Scripture verses that help your Sunday school students see how the news item fits into a biblical context.

Use Discussion Questions to generate in-depth discussions to really explore together how the Scripture can be applied to our everyday lives.

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After you’ve decided the lesson you want to use, you can send the lesson to your class members. The student lesson is an abbreviated version of the teacher lesson to help your class members be familiar with the news item before class begins. The student lesson includes the same questions (The Big Questions) and Scripture verses for additional background and to provide your students the opportunity to prepare for the discussion prior to the class.

The student lesson can be emailed from our website to each student with the default greeting or you can create a custom greeting if you wish.

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With New Year Come New Laws

1/12/2020

Dear Teacher,
With the new year has come a flurry of new laws, voted on last year and set to take effect with the dawn of 2020. While not delving into the specifics of these laws, we are taking the occasion of their launch to look from a biblical perspective about the kinds of legal boundaries we need to live safely and peaceably in community with others. So that will be the topic of this installment of The Wired Word.

If you'd prefer a different topic, look at our second lesson, which tells stories of senior adults who chose to be baptized late in life. We take this opportunity to dive into some of the biblical texts about baptism, to better understand the meaning of the practice and how it fits into the life of the believer and the church as a community.

You are welcome to email the student version of either lesson to your class members, depending on which lesson you prefer to use for your class time. To do so, click here.

May God bless you as you teach the scriptures this week.

The Editorial Team of The Wired Word

With New Year Come New Laws
The Wired Word for the Week of January 12, 2020

In the News

The new year has arrived and so have some new laws. They include:

  • Twenty-one states and 26 cities and counties have raised their minimum wage, and several more jurisdictions will follow later in the year. 
  • Recreational use of marijuana is now legal statewide in Illinois.
  • In Nevada, employers now cannot refuse to hire someone who tests positive for marijuana use.
  • In Hawaii, restaurants must now offer something "healthy" to drink as part of the standard option for drinks that come with a child's meal, such as low-fat milk, water or fruit juice with no added sugar.
  • The toughest privacy law in the nation went into force in California. State residents can now demand that companies disclose what data they have collected on them, and companies must delete that data upon residents' request.
  • New laws in California and Illinois have removed the existing statute of limitations for victims to report sexual abuse and gives them an expanded time frame in which to file civil lawsuits.
  • Colorado's "red flag" gun law took effect; it allows family, household members and law enforcement agencies to petition for a court order to temporarily remove firearms from someone deemed a danger to themselves or others without the person affected being given any opportunity to contest it. Within 14 days, the accused is allowed to contest it, but must prove innocence. 
  • Tennessee has passed regulations making it easier for residents to get a concealed carry handgun permit.
  • New York has ended the cash bail system for nearly all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases, a law that is expected to free thousands of incarcerated people from pretrial detention.
  • Plastic bag bans have started in Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • Texting while driving in Florida is now illegal and will be in Massachusetts starting in February.
  • In Oregon, cyclists are not permitted to treat stop signs and blinking red lights as if they were yield signs.
  • California has outlawed discriminating against people based on their natural hair, and made it illegal to enforce grooming policies concerning such hairstyles as afros, braids, cornrows, twists and dreadlocks. 
  • Washington state now requires that kids who have outgrown their harness car seats must now sit in booster seats until they are four feet, nine inches tall or have reached the age of 13.
  • Almost everyone in Rhode Island must now have health insurance or pay a penalty.
  • New Hampshire allows a change to the driver's licenses it issues as of January 1. Residents can have the state mark their sex as X instead of M or F.
  • Medical professionals in Minnesota are now required to be specifically instructed on government-approved opioid painkiller prescribing practices as they go to renew their licenses.

This is not an exhaustive list, but gives some idea of the range the new laws cover. 

More on this story can be found at these links:

From Plastic Bags to Natural Hair, Here Are the New Laws Coming in 2020. CNN
2020's New Laws: Gender-Neutral 'X' Licenses, Stronger Id, Wear Your Hair the Way You Want. NBC News 

Applying the News Story 

Have you ever heard someone say "There ought to be a law" or perhaps said it yourself? Typically, when we say that, we're indicating our disapproval of something -- such as when our neighbor is mowing his grass with his loud power mower at 6 o'clock on Saturday morning while we are trying to sleep in. In those cases, we may or may not mean the statement literally, but this lesson invites us to think about the things about which there really ought to be a law. 

It is worth contemplating what is meant by "a law." When something is a law, it means that some level of government is to use threats and force -- not persuasion -- to make someone do whatever is required, or to use threats and force to stop someone from doing whatever is banned.  

While not usually stated this starkly, "There ought to be a law" against doing something I don't like means that I advocate that someone should be forcibly made to yield to my wants and desires, and that those who believe or desire differently than I do -- and act on it -- should be punished.

Of course, there are many times when such threats and force behind laws are not only appropriate but necessary for people to live together safely, especially as some people will not voluntarily curtail behavior that is harmful to others. But it's possible to make laws about matters that in fact are only differences of preference. As Christians, aware of our own sinfulness and finitude, we should approach the idea of what ought to be a law with as much grace as possible.

Our goal is not to consider the specific new laws that have gone into effect with the dawning of 2020, but to let the idea of new laws help us think from a biblical perspective about the kinds of legal boundaries we need to live safely and peaceably in community with others.

The Big Questions

1. In your opinion, do we have too many laws in our country, too few, or about the right amount? Explain your answer. Differentiate between laws that are on the local, state and federal levels.

2. People in the United States have political views ranging from the libertarian and classical liberal (people are free to do what doesn't directly harm others) to progressive and socialist (people should do what those holding power in government declare is best for the overall good). How, if at all, can and should these be reconciled?

3. If you were charged with writing the laws for a newly formed country, and your goal was to create a society that functioned for the good of all, what single principle would you use as a starting point? Why?

4. What new law that does not now exist would you like to see put in place? Why? What current (or new) law(s) would you like to see removed? Why?  What are some laws that you think actually encourage wrongful behavior?

5. As Christians, what should be our attitude toward the laws of the various jurisdictions in which we live and operate? Given that many religions are practiced within the United States, to what degree should the laws of the land reflect religious values, and if so, whose religious values?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:

Exodus 20:16
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (For context, read 20:1-17.)

This is but one of the Ten Commandments, and we've quoted it as representative of all 10.

We once heard someone refer to our U.S. system of laws as "Thousands of laws to enforce Ten Commandments," but a comparison of U.S. laws with the Ten Commandments suggests that's not exactly the case. If we try to pair each Commandment with national, state and local laws in existence today, several of the commandments have no legal equivalent.

Certainly the commandments against murder, stealing and bearing false witness are matched by criminal laws against homicide, theft and perjury, and in some locations, state laws against Sunday liquor sales may reflect some heritage in the commandment about keeping the Sabbath holy. Historically, we had some state laws against adultery, but the ones that still exist aren't enforced. 

But there are no secular laws against having other gods ahead of the Lord, making graven images, taking the Lord's name in vain, failing to honor one's parents, or coveting.

On the other hand, many laws cannot be derived from the Ten Commandments, at least without some rather esoteric and vague twisting. 

All of that said, many people choose to personally abide by the Ten Commandments.

Questions: If you faithfully obey all 10 commandments, what secular laws do you also need to obey to live safely and peaceably with your neighbors? Why?

How many of your activities on your Sabbath (including watching local news) require others to work? Can you think of other activities of yours that make it difficult for other people to obey the biblical laws about the Sabbath?

Galatians 5:14
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (For context, read 5:13-15.)
1 John 3:4
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (For context, read 3:4-10.)

One of the difficulties of using the Bible to comment on criminal or civil laws made by human governments is that almost every use of the term "law" in both testaments refers to God's laws given through Moses, often referred to as "Mosaic Law." Thus we should understand Galatians 5:14 as meaning, "For the whole [of God's] law …" and 1 John 3:4 as "Everyone who commits sin is guilty of [breaking God's law]. ..."

Nonetheless, Paul's statement that the whole [of God's] law is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" is an excellent (and godly) principle by which to live, and one that can keep you from violating a host of secular laws. What's more, Paul's point is that by keeping that single principle, one is keeping the spirit of all of God's laws regarding living together with others.

This "reduction" of God's laws regarding human relationships to a single principle is often termed "freedom in Christ."

Questions: How do we know that freedom in Christ is not a license to do anything we wish?

Does a desire for your country to be first among other nations constitute breaking the law against coveting what others have? >

Romans 13:3-4
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. (For context, read 13:1-7.)

In the time of ancient Israel, there was no conflict between God's law and human law because the Israelites saw their kings as God's shepherds, and understood themselves and their nation as being under God's law (though we can be sure that the kings, ruling by decree, had plenty of additional "laws," even if not called by that term, including tax laws, for their subjects to abide by). 

But by Jesus' day, the Jews were scattered throughout several nations and were under not only God's laws but also the laws of the nations or empires in which they lived. Thus, the way the New Testament refers to human laws is by urging obedience to the ruling authorities.

Occasionally, however, the early followers of Jesus found the two kinds of law in conflict. Thus at one point, when ordered by the Jewish authorities to stop proclaiming Christ, Peter and his fellow apostles declared, "We must obey God rather than any human authority" (Acts 5:29). We should note, however, civil disobedience was not the primary mode by which the early believers functioned. It occurred when there was obvious conflict between the two kinds of law, but the rest of the time, they lived by the laws of the lands where they were.

Many of us today only quote Romans 13 if someone we like is in power. However, the cultural subtext in Paul's time was that no one could change the government without either assassinating someone (which did not change the government's culture) or heading an invading army. In our day, people can usually work nonviolently to change laws or governments. 

Questions: What law of the land do you object to the most? How do you think God regards that law? What law of the land do you appreciate the most? How do you think God regards that law?

Which new law listed at the head of this article would you negate nonviolently if you could. Is there a new law you would like to support?

Luke 15:4-6, 8-9
Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost." … Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost." (For context, read 15:1-10.)

In the Mideast of Jesus' time and long before that, there were no farmhouses scattered over land, as there are in America. Thanks to bandits and other threats, it was too dangerous for farmers and their families to live alone near the land they tilled. Instead, they built their homes in villages and commuted to their fields in the daylight hours. These small villages were, in effect, neighborhoods, which were important centers of life for the residents. 

The proximity of the neighbors meant that these were the folks you invited whenever there was occasion for sorrow or joy. One of the proverbs alludes to how important neighbors were: "... do not go to the house of your kindred in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is nearby than kindred who are far away" (Proverbs 27:10).

Quoted above are portions of two of Jesus' parables -- the lost sheep and the lost coin. Note how in both cases, once the lost sheep/coin is found, the finder calls neighbors together to help with the rejoicing.

So important were the neighbors, that there were even guidelines that weren't exactly laws, but were "wise practices" to maintain harmony, such as these:

  • [Those] who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; … shall never be moved" (Psalm 15:3, 5).
  • "Do not plan harm against your neighbor who lives trustingly beside you" (Proverbs 3:29).

And for those who didn't recognize proper boundaries, there was this: 

  • "Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor's house, otherwise the neighbor will become weary of you and hate you" (Proverbs 25:17).

Good "laws" helped to make good neighbors.

Questions: What are some values of neighbors? How are you valuable to your neighbors?

For Further Discussion

1. Describe what you know about how your U.S. senators and/or member of Congress create new laws. Do you know if that process involves any exploration of whether the proposed new law is in intentional harmony with any religious tradition? If it does, should it?

2. Regarding the new bail reform law in New York, there are apparently already discussions to possibly modify it.
            Sometimes, no matter how well intended a new law is, there can be consequences of it that were not intended. What laws can you think of that did not achieve their purpose or had an unintended effect -- whether negative or positive? 

3. Talk together about how Matthew 22:17-21, applies to today's topic: 

[The Pharisees and Herodians said to Jesus,] "Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

4. Discuss this statement by Christian thinker C.S. Lewis from his book God in the Dock:

My contention is that good men (not bad men) consistently [imposing "the good"] would act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants. They might in some respects act even worse. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some points be satiated; but those who torment us for their own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to heaven yet at the same time likely to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on the level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

Responding to the News

Now might be a good time to look again at the two laws that Jesus, drawing on Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, said were most important: Love of God and love of neighbor. Ask yourself how well you're doing with those and how you might improve.

Prayer

O Lord, help us to be people who internalize your law so that we contribute to the common good and love our neighbor as our self, whether laws of the land demand it or not. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Other News This Week

Hospice Patient's Last Wish to Be Baptized Fulfilled

In the News

Navy veteran and retired air traffic controller Jenis James Grindstaff, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, had lived a full life in his 84 years, but sensed "something missing." While he had been raised in a religious home and always read the Bible, he had never been baptized, although everyone else in the family had been.

A terminal cancer patient, Grindstaff recently told Hospice Chaplain Terrell Jones he wanted to be baptized before he died.

"He wanted to show he believed more than anything else," said his son Jim, who came down from Ohio with his wife Sondra and children Lexie and Joshua to support his father as he took this step of faith. 

"I've always loved Jesus," Grindstaff said.

"He wanted full immersion," Jones said. "He said, 'I don't want sprinkles.'"

That meant Grindstaff couldn't be baptized at the home of his son Craig and daughter-in-law Pam, where he lives. Because of his medical condition, he can't manage to get in and out of their tub. So the service was held at the Spartanburg Regional Hospice Home, using a 60-gallon walk-in tub with a built-in seat.

The hospice staff helped Grindstaff into the bath and filled it with water, inviting the family in as soon as he was ready. 

"My beloved son, Jenis James Grindstaff, I now at this time baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Ghost, and in Jesus' name," Chaplain Jones said. A second hospice chaplain, Katie Harbin, dipped a square pink basin into the tub, and together the two women poured water over Grindstaff's bowed head. 

"That felt good," said the white-haired gentleman as he wiped water from his face.

"Amen!" exclaimed Jones. "Come on and let's celebrate, family. Hallelujah."

After the ceremony, the hospice staff washed his hair, oiled his skin, and massaged his feet.

Tameka Irvin, nurse manager at the hospice, said, "Being able to honor wishes like this baptism is heartwarming. Seeing that smile on his face fills my heart with joy." 

Grindstaff hoped the video of his baptism, which has been viewed more than 200,000 times online, would bless others. "If I reach one person, it's a great deal," Grindstaff remarked.

He said he'd like to spend whatever time he has left drawing heaven as he imagines it.

Another elderly hospice patient, Tommy Reid of Burkburnett, Texas, was a long-time churchgoer at the Burkburnett Church of Christ, but had never been baptized. Diagnosed with cancer shortly after his retirement, last summer he asked the minister of the church, Tom Box, for baptism.

With the help of a local Tractor Supply store, which loaned the church a cattle watering trough for the ceremony at the Hospice of Wichita Falls, Box immersed Reid, after the terminally ill man removed his oxygen tube.

"We practice immersion," Box said. "No sprinkling or pouring. We believe you are devoting your entire self, not just your head or your hands, to Jesus Christ. So you're completely immersed."

"He wanted to do it," Box said of Reid. "He wanted to do it right."

"You're a Christian now," Box told his parishioner as he emerged from the water.

In 2016, Ophelia White professed her faith in Christ and was baptized at Cook Baptist Church in Ruston, Louisiana, at the age of 94. White had assumed she was a Christian until conversations about faith with her roommate, Joy Campbell, led her to the realization that she had never really made a public commitment to follow Christ.

"I want people to know it's never too late," White told The Baptist Message at the time. "Get with it."

Discipleship and administration Pastor Todd Free called White's story "a gift from God" to the church that inspired people, especially seniors, "to know that God is still touching hearts even in the elderly years."

More on this story can be found at these links:

The Baptism of Jenis James Grindstaff. Discoverhealth.org
Hospice Baptism Is a Final Wish Granted as Dying Man Prepares to Leave for Heaven. God Updates
94-Year-Old Woman's Inspirational Baptism Proves It's 'Never Too Late' to Find God. Faithwire

The Big Questions

1. What is the most memorable baptism you have experienced or witnessed? Why was it significant in your memory?

2. What is the relationship between repentance and baptism?

3. Think of a time when you would have preferred not to have the obligation your baptismal vows bring. How did you handle it?

4. According to Matthew 28:19, Jesus' final instructions to his followers were to make disciples of all nations, by teaching them to obey his commands and by baptizing them "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Why do you suppose Jesus included baptism as an integral part of disciple-making and Gospel-teaching?

5. What role do godparents or sponsors play in a baptism? What is the role of the larger church in baptism? How do you and your church fulfill that role? Be specific.  

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:

Matthew 23:23-26
[Jesus said,] "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean." (For context, read 23:1-7, 23-28.)

As Jesus edges ever closer to Jerusalem, where danger awaits, he exhorts the crowds and his disciples to pay attention to good teaching, but not to follow bad examples. He pointed out these flaws in the character and behavior of their religious leaders:

  • They didn't practice what they preached (vv. 2-3); 
  • they burdened others with oppressive burdens while refusing to lift a finger to help those carrying a heavy load (v. 4); 
  • any good deed they performed, they did not because it was the right thing to do, but only to gain something for themselves: recognition, status or some personal advantage (vv. 5-7); 
  • they focused on legalistic nitpicking about the law, while neglecting what God considers most important: justice, mercy and faith (vv. 23-24); 
  • they concerned themselves only with outward appearances, without addressing the condition of the heart, making their apparent religiosity a hypocritical farce (vv. 25-28).

Questions: What makes a person a true Christian? How important is baptism in the process of becoming a Christian? Does it belong in the category of what a person looks like on the outside, or what a person is actually like on the inside? Is baptism more like tithing herbs, or paying attention to weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith? Explain your answer.

Matthew 3:1-2, 11
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. … I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (For context, read 3:1-12.)

Paul echoed Matthew's description of John's baptism as an occasion for repentance and faith in the Messiah to come, Jesus: "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus" (Acts 19:4).  

After his own baptism and his cousin John's arrest and imprisonment, Jesus picked up the same message when he began preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Matthew 4:17).

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter repeated the theme, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38).

In response to John's message, people came to him to be baptized in the river Jordan, confessing their sins (vv. 5-6).  But some who came to John for baptism were not prepared to repent (v. 7). John warned them not to rely on their religious pedigree, but to "Bear fruit worthy of repentance" (vv. 8-10).

The word "repent" comes from the Greek verb metanoeō, which means "to change one's mind, feel remorse, be converted." John calls people to change their minds about the way they were living, to recognize their sins and turn away from them.

The reason for repentance was that "the kingdom of heaven has come near" …  in other words, God's kingdom is coming soon! Get ready for the King!

Questions: What might misbehaving children do when they hear that their parents are home after a night out? When workers have been goofing off, how might they react upon learning that the boss is in the elevator and will soon be back on the floor? How do these examples compare with how people might respond to the call to repentance?

Why is repentance so central to the kingdom of God?

What happens when people seek baptism without repenting of their known sins? Can we be serious about the reign of Christ if we don't turn from our sins? Why or why not? Can Christ reign in an unrepentant heart?

In what sense was your baptism, or confirmation of the baptism vows, an act of repentance?

What kind of "fruit" is "worthy of repentance"?

Isaiah 40:3-5
A voice cries out:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
(For context, read 40:1-10.)

John the Baptist identified himself with the voice crying in the wilderness of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke (John 1:22-23). His task was to "prepare the way of the Lord," that is, to construct a straight highway that the king would use to enter his kingdom. Isaiah uses the analogy of a civil engineering project that involves lifting up valleys, filling holes up, leveling hills, making tunnels through mountains, and smoothing out rough ground to remove obstacles that might hinder the arrival of the king.

While this passage may legitimately be applied to an individual's transformation, we don't want to miss the potentially revolutionary nature of the message John preached. If people took seriously the call to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah, the landscape of the human heart and of human relations would literally be transformed so that "the glory of the Lord" would be revealed on such a scale that "all people [would] see it together." 

Questions: How might this analogy apply to your personal preparation to welcome Christ the King into your life? How might it apply to the way the community of faith prepares for the coming of the Lord? 

What are some of the obstacles that could hinder the coming of the Lord in your community? What is your church doing to remove some of those obstacles? 

Romans 6:1-4, 11
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (For context, read 6:1-14.)

We learned about a retired missionary, whose name we do not know, who related this story to some of her supporters. She visited a village in Africa, where a young missionary was preparing to baptize three converts to Christianity in a shallow river. The Africans sat in the sand as the missionary dug a hole in the sand so there would be enough water for the baptism. When everything was ready, the baptismal candidates stood among their friends and relatives to hear a message from the scriptures about the meaning of the sacrament. Then they quietly entered the river, one at a time. 

When they emerged from the water, they shouted with excitement and joy, sparking a noisy response from the people gathered on the shore. The missionary later learned that because of his limited capability to communicate effectively in the language of the tribe, the baptismal candidates heard his message, but didn't understand the symbolism of the scripture text.

"When I told them that they would be 'buried with Christ through baptism into death ... and raised to walk in the newness of life' (Romans 6:4) they actually thought baptism would kill them!" the missionary said. 

Since baptism is a symbolic action, the amount of water used makes about as much difference as the size of a wedding ring makes to married people. You are just as married, whether your ring is tiny or huge. 

It should be noted, however, that in the history of the church, people have fought and died over various aspects of the practice of baptism, including what age (infant vs. adult) baptismal candidates should be, method of baptism (sprinkling, pouring, or immersing) and the amount of water used, whether baptism should be in the name of Jesus only or in the triune name of God, etc. 

Baptism by immersion does graphically depict drowning and sudden deliverance from death, reminding us that when we are submerged into the waters of baptism, we are putting to death all within us that is opposed to Christ, and when we are raised out of the water, we are being "resurrected" as newborn children of God entering a new kind of life that comes from God through Christ. 

We would do well to keep in mind Paul's plea that, whatever our beliefs regarding baptism, we should humbly, gently, and patiently bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, since we are all members of one body, the body of Christ, joined by one Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, called to one hope, servants of one Lord, sharing one faith and one baptism, children of the one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6).

Questions: According to the context of the scripture, what does it mean to be "buried with Christ by baptism into death"? Practically speaking, how do you flesh out that change in your life?

Genesis 6:18, 22
[God said to Noah,] "But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you." ... Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (For context, read 6:9-22.)
1 Peter 3:21
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you -- not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ ... (For context, read 3:18-22.)

The story of the flood to which Peter refers is found in Genesis 6-8. God saw that the earth was full of violence and corruption, and informed Noah, a righteous, blameless man, of his intention to "make an end of all flesh." God instructed Noah to make an ark and enter it with his family and animals of every kind, along with food to keep them alive.

Peter compares the ark to baptism as means of salvation.

Questions: Who saved Noah and his family from extinction? How did God provide for their preservation? What did Noah and his family do to avail themselves of the salvation from drowning that the ark offered? What is the relationship between baptism and saving faith in Jesus? 

For Further Discussion

1. During Martin Luther's great struggle to reform the church in the 16th century, when the Holy Roman Emperor was seeking to silence him, he spent some lonely months in Wartburg Castle under protective custody. There, as he fought despair, he scribbled the words "I am baptized" on his desktop as a reminder that he was living according to an ongoing call from God. He did not write, "I was baptized," but used the present-tense verb, for he rightly understood that in his baptism, he had not merely undergone a one-time liturgical rite, but had accepted God's call to follow -- for the rest of his life -- the path God placed before him.
            Later, in his Large Catechism, Luther wrote that "To be baptized in God's name is to be baptized not by human beings but by God himself. Although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own act."
            Do you think of your own baptism primarily as an event that happened in the past, or as an ongoing lived experience and covenant relationship to which you and God have an enduring commitment? What difference does your perspective on this matter make?

2. Discuss this: TWW team member Stan Purdum recalled a time when he received a call on a Friday evening after a long, tiring day of ministry to his church in northeast Ohio. A woman in a township 15 miles away said her children were hungry and she couldn't find anyone to help her at that hour. There was no way to check whether her story was true, as the county welfare offices were closed, and all the ministers at other churches closer to her were unavailable, she said. Purdum agreed to give her a food voucher to use at a local supermarket, but then she said she had no transportation. Could he deliver it?
            A 30-mile round trip was the last thing Purdum wanted to do, but then he remembered his baptism. "I remembered that I am -- not just had been, but am -- baptized," Purdum wrote. "My baptism acknowledged that I am -- not just had been or was when it was convenient -- a child of the heavenly Father. That meant my behavior would be a reflection on him. Realizing that, I had to ask myself what ought I to do that would reflect rightly on him?  Baptism is not something we can take off like clothing that has gotten uncomfortable."
            Even though it certainly would have been more convenient for Purdum not to be baptized, he was. He made the delivery.
            When he arrived at the woman's house, there were signs that suggested to Purdum that she may have been gaming the system, but that was beside the point for him. "I needed to live up to my baptism, and I found that did not regret that I had," Purdum said. 

3. Living the baptized life has sometimes been called "living wet." What does that suggest to you? What would "living wet" look like in your life?

4. Reflect on this: Nobody at the Last Supper had been baptized as a Christian, since there were no Christians yet. The thief on the cross had not been baptized Christian when he received the promise of salvation from Jesus.
            "Just as the wedding ceremony is an outward sign of an inward conviction," TWW team member Frank Ramirez wrote, "baptism is an outward declaration of a relationship that already exists."
            TWW team member Stan Purdum's parents, who were active in The Salvation Army, dedicated him to the Lord when he was an infant. He made a personal decision to follow Christ when he was 12, and believed he experienced an inner baptism at that time. But he did not pursue water baptism then, since The Salvation Army views the ritual as symbolic of a person's acceptance of God's grace through Christ. The denomination emphasizes inner baptism, but does not use an outward rite to signify it.
            At age 20, as part of his decision to join The Methodist Church, Purdum agreed to be baptized as a symbol of the commitment he had made a few years earlier. Methodist teaching does not claim that actual forgiveness of sins and spiritual rebirth happens at the moment the water is applied.
            "As time went on," Purdum noted, "I found that remembering my baptism became an important means of deciding how I would behave in given situations … [and] served as a reminder that I belong to Christ."
            How important is it to you to be baptized in water? Explain your answer.

5. What theological truths are emphasized in the baptism of infants? In believers' baptism? Is there a difference between being baptized as an infant and being baptized at an older age? If yes, what is the difference?  If no, why is there no difference?

6. TWW team member Frank Ramirez, who comes from the Brethren tradition, wrote: There's the story of an old sinner who finally agreed to be baptized into the Triune name of God. After he came up from the third dunking, he shouted, "Praise God, that's over!" The Dunker minister replied, "No, brother, it's only beginning."
            What do you think the minister meant by his comment?

7. Watch this video from Siberia showing the lengths to which some believers will go in order to be baptized by immersion in the dead of winter. What do you think would be going through your mind if you were one of the baptismal candidates, realizing what was involved? Would you be more, or less, inclined to go through with baptism, under these circumstances? Explain.

Responding to the News

1. If you have not been baptized yet, this might be time to consider taking that step in your journey of faith. You may find it helpful to pray about this and discuss it with your pastor.

2. When preparing for a baptism, you may find this collection of hymn titles or this guide to hymns that are appropriate for such a service helpful.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, immerse us in your Holy Spirit, that our old sinful ways might be drowned, and that we may rise to newness of life by your resurrection power. To the glory of God the Father we pray. Amen.

Copyright 2020 Communication Resources

 


Student Lesson

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Your subscription will also provide you with a student version of the weekly lesson, which you can freely edit prior to sending it out to your class members. Here's a sample of what your students will get:

Dear Class Member,
With the new year has come a flurry of new laws, voted on last year and set to take effect with the dawn of 2020. While not delving into the specifics of these laws, we are taking the occasion of their launch to look from a biblical perspective about the kinds of legal boundaries we need to live safely and peaceably in community with others. So that will be the topic of our next class.

If you wish to start thinking about our topic in advance, below is some introductory material.

With New Year Come New Laws
The Wired Word for the Week of January 12, 2020

In the News

The new year has arrived and so have some new laws. They include:

  • Twenty-one states and 26 cities and counties have raised their minimum wage, and several more jurisdictions will follow later in the year. 
  • Recreational use of marijuana is now legal statewide in Illinois.
  • In Nevada, employers now cannot refuse to hire someone who tests positive for marijuana use.
  • In Hawaii, restaurants must now offer something "healthy" to drink as part of the standard option for drinks that come with a child's meal, such as low-fat milk, water or fruit juice with no added sugar.
  • The toughest privacy law in the nation went into force in California. State residents can now demand that companies disclose what data they have collected on them, and companies must delete that data upon residents' request.
  • New laws in California and Illinois have removed the existing statute of limitations for victims to report sexual abuse and gives them an expanded time frame in which to file civil lawsuits.
  • Colorado's "red flag" gun law took effect; it allows family, household members and law enforcement agencies to petition for a court order to temporarily remove firearms from someone deemed a danger to themselves or others without the person affected being given any opportunity to contest it. Within 14 days, the accused is allowed to contest it, but must prove innocence. 
  • Tennessee has passed regulations making it easier for residents to get a concealed carry handgun permit.
  • New York has ended the cash bail system for nearly all misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases, a law that is expected to free thousands of incarcerated people from pretrial detention.
  • Plastic bag bans have started in Oregon and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • Texting while driving in Florida is now illegal and will be in Massachusetts starting in February.
  • In Oregon, cyclists are not permitted to treat stop signs and blinking red lights as if they were yield signs.
  • California has outlawed discriminating against people based on their natural hair, and made it illegal to enforce grooming policies concerning such hairstyles as afros, braids, cornrows, twists and dreadlocks. (Some observers have speculated that it meigh
  • Washington state now requires that kids who have outgrown their harness car seats must now sit in booster seats until they are four feet, nine inches tall or have reached the age of 13.
  • Almost everyone in Rhode Island must now have health insurance or pay a penalty.
  • New Hampshire allows a change to the driver's licenses it issues as of January 1. Residents can have the state mark their sex as X instead of M or F.
  • Medical professionals in Minnesota are now required to be specifically instructed on government-approved opioid painkiller prescribing practices as they go to renew their licenses.

This is not an exhaustive list, but gives some idea of the range the new laws cover. 

More on this story can be found at these links:

From Plastic Bags to Natural Hair, Here Are the New Laws Coming in 2020. CNN
2020's New Laws: Gender-Neutral 'X' Licenses, Stronger Id, Wear Your Hair the Way You Want. NBC News 

Applying the News Story 

Have you ever heard someone say "There ought to be a law" or perhaps said it yourself? Typically, when we say that, we're indicating our disapproval of something -- such as when our neighbor is mowing his grass with his loud power mower at 6 o'clock on Saturday morning while we are trying to sleep in. In those cases, we may or may not mean the statement literally, but this lesson invites us to think about the things about which there really ought to be a law. 

It is worth contemplating what is meant by "a law." When something is a law, it means that some level of government is to use threats and force -- not persuasion -- to make someone do whatever is required, or to use threats and force to stop someone from doing whatever is banned.  

While not usually stated this starkly, "There ought to be a law" against doing something I don't like means that I advocate that someone should be forcibly made to yield to my wants and desires, and that those who believe or desire differently than I do -- and act on it -- should be punished.

Of course, there are many times when such threats and force behind laws are not only appropriate but necessary for people to live together safely, especially as some people will not voluntarily curtail behavior that is harmful to others. But it's possible to make laws about matters that in fact are only differences of preference. As Christians, aware of our own sinfulness and finitude, we should approach the idea of what ought to be a law with as much grace as possible.

Our goal is not to consider the specific new laws that have gone into effect with the dawning of 2020, but to let the idea of new laws help us think from a biblical perspective about the kinds of legal boundaries we need to live safely and peaceably in community with others.

The Big Questions
Here are some of the questions we will discuss in class:

1. In your opinion, do we have too many laws in our country, too few, or about the right amount? Explain your answer. Differentiate between laws that are on the local, state and federal levels.

2. People in the United States have political views ranging from the libertarian and classical liberal (people are free to do what doesn't directly harm others) to progressive and socialist (people should do what those holding power in government declare is best for the overall good). How, if at all, can and should these be reconciled?

3. If you were charged with writing the laws for a newly formed country, and your goal was to create a society that functioned for the good of all, what single principle would you use as a starting point? Why?

4. What new law that does not now exist would you like to see put in place? Why? What current (or new) law(s) would you like to see removed? Why?  What are some laws that you think actually encourage wrongful behavior?

5. As Christians, what should be our attitude toward the laws of the various jurisdictions in which we live and operate? Given that many religions are practiced within the United States, to what degree should the laws of the land reflect religious values, and if so, whose religious values?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
We will look at selected verses from these Scripture texts. You may wish to read these in advance for background:

Exodus 20:1-17
Galatians 5:13-15; 1 John 3:4-10
Romans 13:1-7
Luke 15:1-10>

In class, we will talk about these passages and look for some insight into the big questions, as well as talk about other questions you may have about this topic. Please join us.

Copyright 2020 Communication Resources