MINOR PROPHETS, MAJOR MESSAGES Primary Scriptures The words of six of the Minor Prophets He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Objectives 1. THINK: Help students understand that the Old Testament words of the Minor Prophets are valuable and applicable to their life today. 2. TODAY: Increase student’s devotion to obeying all of the Word of God. 3. APPLY: Help students apply Old Testament passages to their lives. Series Overview There are 12 Minor and 4 Major Prophets in the Bible. They are defined as such not by the significance or influence of their words, but by the volume of recorded material. So Daniel is a Major Prophet based on how big the book of Daniel is and Obadiah is a Minor Prophet based on the fact that his writings fit on one or two pages. Here is the list of Minor and Major Prophets we find in the Bible in order of their appearance. The Minor Prophets in red are the ones we will examine in this series. Major Prophets 1. Isaiah 2. Jeremiah (wrote Jeremiah and Lamentations) 3. Ezekiel 4. Daniel Minor Prophets 1. Hosea 7. Nahum 2. Joel 8. Habakkuk 3. Amos 9. Zephaniah 4. Obadiah 10. Haggai 5. Jonah 11. Zechariah 6. Micah 12. Malachi One important characteristic of all the prophets is that they are historical documents, meaning they existed a long time ago. This means you’ll come across names that are hard to pronounce and because these events happened so long ago you will be tempted to believe they no longer apply today. Another common trait is they all declare some sort of judgment, so they’re not the most encouraging words to read. Because of these two characteristics, reading the Minor Prophets is rarely on a Christian’s reading list. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to say to the church today. This series provides an opportunity to help students understand that the Old Testament is not outdated and unneeded. Instead, it is deeply historical in our faith and applicable to our lives today. These Minor Prophets have a major message that is worth revisiting and repeating again today. A word about translations: Because of the difficulty of reading many of the Minor Prophets, it is important to choose a readable translation to use in your small groups. You don’t want to add unnecessary confusion to your group or spend all your time pronouncing words and looking words up in a dictionary. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read translation, you might try the New Living Translation or the Contemporary English Version. Both have gone to great lengths to make them readable for high school and middle school students, limiting word usage to around the 6th grade reading level. The Message and The Living Bible are other good options. If your group is a little more advanced and likes to read the more direct translations, you might try the Today’s New International Version or English Standard Version. Regardless of the translation you choose to teach with, you’ll benefit most by preparing for these lessons by reading the passages using several different translations. Table of Contents Been There. Done That. Wouldn’t Recommend It (Amos 2:4-16) Don’t Just Stand there, Do Something (Obadiah vs. 1-14) Do What I Say, Not What I Do (Jonah 1:1-3 and Jonah 3:1-4:1) When Leftovers Just Won’t Cut It (Haggai 1:1-13) It All Adds Up (Zechariah 7:8-14 and 8:14-17) Are You In Possession of Stolen Goods? (Malachi 3:6-18) BEEN THERE. DONE THAT. WOULDN’T RECOMMEND IT. Amos: Sin Has Ugly Consequences and a Healthy Fear of the Lord Would Help Us Avoid Them Primary Scripture Amos 2:4-16 Secondary Scripture Psalm 1 Objectives 4. THINK: Understand that we abuse God’s grace and test His patience with our sin. 5. TODAY: Recognize that sin has negative consequences. 6. APPLY: Develop a healthy fear of the Lord so that we avoid sin and its consequences. Overview This lesson examines the words of the prophet Amos to the rebellious nation of Israel. An honest read of this text is depressing as it reveals impending punishments that Israel will receive because of its failure to obey God. But sometimes, it’s good for us to be reminded that God is not just a friend who forgives us when we repent, but He is also a righteous judge. It is an important reminder for believers that sin is not only evil, but it also provokes the anger and wrath of God on our lives, which is neither desirable nor wise. We would all benefit from a deeper respect and fear of God. Getting Things Started Everyone knows what it’s like to do something wrong and have a consequence as a result. For example: Speeding and getting a ticket. Cutting a class and getting a detention. Telling a lie and being grounded. Repeatedly showing up late for work and losing a job. Skipping practice and not being allowed to play in the game. We all know what this is and how it feels, yet when it happens to us, we’re both surprised by the consequences and offended. After all, don’t we deserve another chance? We rarely respond to a consequence by saying, “I guess that makes sense. You’re right.” Think of a time when you did something wrong and received a consequence. How did you feel before and after getting caught? Here’s another issue to wrestle with related to consequences: Should a consequence be the same for every individual, or is it ever OK to be more strict or more lenient, depending on the offender? Teaching Guide Amos was a prophet in the Old Testament. He is considered a “minor prophet” because the volume of his writing is less than the “major prophets.” Though Amos is only a nine chapter book, it is packed with lots of interesting history and life lessons that are worth taking the time to learn from. Today’s text looks at a time when the nation of Israel is split into two kingdoms (Judah and Israel) and God sends a prophet from Judah—the southern kingdom— to declare judgment on Israel, the northern kingdom. As we read part of Amos’ recorded words from God to this nation, consider how we can learn from their mistakes. Read Amos 2:4-16. Some Observations to Make Along the Way 1. Notice these are not consequences for “first time” offenses. God is punishing them for repeatedly doing these things. Thus the phrase, “for three sins of _______ and for four_______ (vs. 4, 6) 2. God gave blessings first. The judgment came after they rejected God in spite of what He’s done for them (see verses 9-11). Instead of responding with gratitude and service, Israel chooses to rebel and experience the consequences of that choice. How to Avoid the Negative Consequences of Sin When God speaks, choose to listen and obey. Most of us don’t need to hear more of God’s Word in order to grow spiritually. Instead, we need to simply obey what we already know. Israel’s problem was not that they had not heard the laws or commands of God, it was that they chose to ignore them and do what they wanted instead. When God provides, be thankful. God had done a lot for Israel, dating all the way back to the days when He used Moses to free the nation of Israel from being Egyptian slaves. However, instead of offering lives of reverence and thankfulness, they chose to ignore the prophets of God and trusted in their own strength and abilities. When God loves, don’t forget he judges, too. Israel had forgotten that God is their judge. They took their relationship with God for granted and assumed God would protect them, regardless of their behavior. This text is a painful reminder that God will not continually turn a blind eye to our sin. When sin knocks on the door, think of the consequences before opening it. Before choosing to sin, think of the consequences. Israel had plenty of warnings from God’s prophets before receiving the judgment proclaimed by Amos, and we do, too. Pay attention to the warning signs you receive before venturing into dangerous territory. Discussing the Text Which of these statements best describe how you most often think of God? Why? A: God is my judge and I have a respectful fear of Him. B: God is my friend and I know He loves me unconditionally. Which of the above two options do you think is most critical to have: an understanding of God’s unconditional love or a healthy fear of Him? Why? What are some of the specific sins that Amos addresses? Translate them into a modern day language that reveal what sins people struggle with today. Of the sins that Amos points out in this text, are there any that you personally struggle with? Read Psalm 1 together. How does the message of Psalm 1 compare with the message of Amos 2? Possible group activity: Assume the role of prophet to a school represented in your group. It might even be good to pick a “Christian school” if you have kids who attend one since this text is written to a nation that is supposed to be “God fearing”. Make a list of the ways that God has provided for that school. Then make a list of some ways that school or those who represent it have chosen to rebel against God. Finally, discuss the consequences for those acts of rebellion and what could be different if the school chooses to honor God instead. Applying the Text What are you thankful for today? How do you see the blessing of God on your life today? If you decided today that you wanted to avoid the negative consequences of sin, what practical things do you need to do in order to honor God in the areas you most commonly struggle with? In what ways can we help you be more thankful or avoid certain sins? For Keeps (Memory Verse) For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will be destroyed (Psalm 1:6 TNIV). DON’T JUST STAND THERE, DO SOMETHING Obadiah: Evil Prevails When God’s People Cease Doing Good Primary Scripture Obadiah vs. 1-14 Secondary Scripture 1 John 3:16-18, Matthew 5:43-47 Objectives 7. THINK: Understand that we are not just held accountable for what we do, but also what we don’t do. 8. TODAY: Since evil prevails when good people don’t do anything to stop it, students will commit to do something about a problem. 9. APPLY: Identify needs and consciously and humbly help those in need. Overview This lesson looks at the words of the prophet Obadiah given to the people of Edom. Edom was another name for Esau, Jacob’s brother, and the land of his descendants also bears this name. (Remember that Esau was his fraternal twin who was “older” but “lost” his birthright to Jacob, through whom the Abrahamic covenant has now been passed). This book consists of just one chapter and it proclaims a judgment from God against the inhabitants of the land of Edom. At first, it’s a list of what they’ve done to deserve judgment. Then, God judges them for what they have NOT done—specifically, coming to the aid of Jacob or Jerusalem when that city was under attack. This is the section of the text from which we will make most of our observations, challenging students to not ignore needs around them or assume they are not their responsibility—even with “enemies.” Getting Things Started Consider the following situations and share how you would normally respond during these times. Give your “real” response, not how you wish you would respond. Your family is driving and you see a car with a flat tire on the side of the road with a mom and her young kids staring at it. Is this your problem or someone else’s? What do you do? You see a student at your school using a cell phone to cheat on her test. Is this her problem or your problem? What do you do? It’s late at night when you return from being out when you notice your neighbor’s kids left their bikes out and the garage door is open. You know several items have been stolen from your neighborhood in the past. Is it your problem or theirs? After youth group, you see trash everywhere—under chairs, tables, a spilled soda in the corner, etc. Your problem or someone else’s? You’re on the roadside with a flat tire. It’s 7pm, raining, and getting dark. Is this your problem or do you hope someone else will see it as theirs? There are problems all over the world, every day. Most of them we’re never aware of. But, these are not the real problems. The problems we really need to question are the ones we are aware of and yet do nothing about. Sometimes they are big problems like world hunger or poverty or broken families. Sometimes they are small ones, like trash that needs to be picked up or a car with a flat tire. But either way, big or small, we have to ask ourselves if God has called us to do something about them or to just walk on by? There are consequences to both decisions. Teaching Guide God brings his judgment on Edom for two primary reasons: 1. they were proud 2. they didn’t care about the needs of others These two things often go hand in hand. When we become so self-confident that we end up proud, we also end up apathetic to the problems of others around us. If we are to be the people that God has called us to be, then we will need to embrace humility and not ignore the needs of others. Read Obadiah vs. 1-14 Lessons from the Book of Obadiah Avoid pride at all costs for it is a source of sin. A Bible verse that many people recognize is “pride comes before a fall” (a paraphrase of Proverbs 16:18). Obadiah tells Edom that they are illustrating this verse (vs. 3). Their pride has caused them to think they are above even the access of God. Pride is a dangerous character trait that leads to other sins. When we are proud, we are not humble, thankful, teachable, or likely to listen to God. This puts us on a road headed straight to regret. Help others because their problems are your responsibility. Edom is judged for their refusal to come to the aid of the city of Jerusalem when it was under attack. They did nothing to help it. Like a man who sits in a restaurant enjoying lunch and watches a man break in and steal a car in the parking lot, Edom ignores the plight of others. And much like an accomplice in a murder, Edom is guilty even though they didn’t actually commit the crime. When we ignore the problems of those around us, we are also guilty and follow Edom to a godless place. Be wise about what you choose to do and not to do. Both are important. We often think about what we do as either sinful or not. Like is going to “such and such” a movie a sin? Or is it a sin to do such and such on a date? But we don’t often ask if it is sinful to NOT take action. In this case, Edom is guilty of both. Pride is what they did do. Care about the problems of their brothers in Jerusalem is what they did not do. Both were poor choices. Do not find joy in the trials of others. The final words of rebuke from Obadiah to Edom come as a command to never rejoice in the plight of others. Don’t dance on your enemy’s grave, so-to-speak. We are not called by God to hate our enemies. We are called to love them. Discussing the Text Read 1 John 3:16-18. How do the words of Obadiah to Edom compare with John’s words? What does this mean for us today as we live our lives? What does it feel like to have a need that no one will help you with? What would it have felt like to live in Jerusalem while it was under attack and have no one come to your aide? There are 3 main things in this text that come out as sins of Edom: 1. PRIDE: Total consumption of yourself. 2. APATHY: Refusing to care for the problems of others. 3. VENGENCE: Rejoicing in the trials of those viewed as enemies. Of those 3 areas, which do you think was the biggest problem for Edom? Which do you sometimes struggle with most and how so? Applying the Text Read Matthew 5:43-47. Who is the hardest person or group of people in your life to love? What is one way you can begin to change that? In what ways are you actively helping others? Perhaps a friend or someone at school or a family member or co-worker? Can you think of something you could do this week? What do you think is the biggest problem in the world today? Hunger, poverty, illiteracy, war, disease, etc? Do you think God is calling you to do anything to help solve it? If yes, how so? If no, why not? If you start to care too much about every problem in the world, you’ll end up overwhelmed and stressed out. If you care about no problems other than your own, you’ll end up selfish and proud like Edom. So, somewhere in the middle is a balance. It’s well illustrated by the command in airplanes for an adult sitting with a child to put their own oxygen mask on before helping a child with theirs. So, how do you find the balance? How do you know when to ignore a problem instead of taking action? For Keeps (Memory Verse) Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18 TNIV). DO WHAT I SAY, NOT WHAT I DO Jonah: A Prophet Who Taught Us More About What Not To Do, Than What To Do Primary Scripture Jonah 1:1-3, and Jonah 3:1-4:1 Secondary Scripture Matthew 23:1-3 Objectives 10. THINK: Understand that some actions aren’t worth taking. 11. TODAY: Learn from other’s mistakes, not just your own. 12. APPLY: Remain teachable and observant as you humbly obey God. Overview This lesson looks at the words and actions of the prophet Jonah. Despite the fact that the pagan King of Assyria shows more respect and response to the Words of God than Jonah does, Jonah remains a life lesson on how “not to follow God.” But Jonah is not the only Biblical, nor modern day, example of this. King David had moments like this and you and I have moments like this. Students need to learn to be critical thinkers who wisely examine the life experience of those whose lives they want to emulate as well as those whom they have no desire to ever be like. Because we will likely be exposed to more examples of what not to do, than what to do, being a critical thinker is an essential life skill. Getting Things Started Some people are a horrible example for others and live lives that we wouldn’t want anyone to follow. On the other hand, some people are such great examples that we wish they could be cloned. The apostle Paul saw Jesus as one such person and is why in 1 Corinthians 11:1 he invites people to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Believe it or not, however, both positive examples and negative examples can mentor us— it’s just that they do it in different ways. The first group does so by teaching us what not to do, whereas the second teaches us what to do. If you’re choosing a personal mentor, you’d obviously, pick one from the second group. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot about life from those in the first group. Can you think of celebrities or sports stars on both sides of this coin? Who are some people making the news these days that you would encourage others to emulate or that you would like to be mentored by? Who are some people that we couldn’t pay you to follow, whose lives are clearly teaching us more of what not to do than what to do? Teaching Guide Modern day culture is not the only place that you can find examples of people you should and should not follow. Ironically, the Bible is full of examples of both. Within its pages you can find the acts of men and women recorded that you should never repeat. You can also find some you should go out of your way to follow. Today we’re going to examine a popular Bible Story that you may have first heard when you were a kid, the story of Jonah. And even though Bible scholars classify Jonah as a “minor prophet” of God, he would be better known as the “rebellious prophet” or the “bitter prophet”. The life he leads that is recorded in the pages of the Bible would land him more often in the category of a bad mentor than a good one. As a group, read Jonah 1:1-3, and Jonah 3:1-4:1. (If your group time allows, you might just read the whole story. It’s only 4 chapters long and while our discussion will focus largely on chapter 3, it might be worth it for context to refresh their memory by reading the whole story.) Lessons from the Life and Book of Jonah Be a people watcher. People watching is not merely a fun hobby when you’re bored in the mall or in the airport. It’s a necessary life skill that we all need to develop and practice regularly. People watching is the ability to learn by observing the decisions and consequences of those around us. This is also a great life skill to apply when reading the Bible. When the Scriptures are read with a high level of observation, it helps us ask good questions and learn lessons we never would have anticipated from stories we may be very familiar with. Be teachable and don’t learn everything the hard way. You don’t need to do drugs to know it’s addicting and destructive. You don’t need to discover the pain of having something valuable stolen from you to learn that you should not put your hope or trust in temporary stuff. You don’t need to commit sexual sins to know they are regrettable and destructive to yourself and to those you really care about. And you don’t need to find yourself in the belly of a great fish because you’re running from God to learn what a bad idea rebellion is. We can learn all of this by observing others who learned it the hard way without having to experience the lesson first hand. Expect God to sometimes use ungodly people to do very godly things. If we limit the teachers around us to only those who claim to follow Jesus, then we miss out on a lot of what God is doing. When a police officer who is an atheist arrests a man for beating his wife, God is using this officer to do his will. Several times in the Scriptures, including in this text, God uses foreign kings who do not follow Him to cause others to follow Him. For the Assyrians, it wasn’t Jonah’s words that inspired them to repent but the command of a Godless king. Their repentance led to the blessing of God. Seek compassion first . . . God does. God does not find joy in judgment. He wants people to seek Him. God doesn’t want Jonah in the gut of a fish. He wants him to take a message to a people that don’t serve him. God doesn’t want to destroy Nineveh. He wants to see the city repent. In the same way, God wants us to learn the lesson of Jonah and be obedient to his voice and use us to lead others to Himself. Discussing the Text In your own words (either let an individual try to do this or do it as a group), try and repeat the story of Jonah from memory, not just the belly of a fish bit, but hit all the key points. [Side note: It might be fun to make a mini drama out of it or use a white board and have students draw it out in scenes with stick figures and such or maybe you can scour the closets of your church and find an old felt board you could use to retell the story!] If you had to boil the story of Jonah down to one main point—even one sentence— what do you think God is saying to us in this text? Who are the people in life that you learn from the most? Who are your best teachers and mentors? Read Matthew 23:1-3. How are the words of Jesus about the Pharisees similar to what God might say about Jonah? Compare and contrast how the people of Nineveh and how Jonah responded to God’s instructions. Why do you think the king of Nineveh chose to call for repentance? Was if fear? Was it peer pressure? Was it genuine on his part? What causes you to repent of your sin? Do you think Jonah 3:10 means that God changes his mind? Why or why not? Do you think we can cause God to change his mind? Applying the Text Have you ever fasted from food? What is a fast? What are some reasons for us as a group or you individually to choose to fast? (Note: if your small group has students that are struggling with eating disorders, you may need to revise this question to ensure it is not misunderstood. You also may want to provide other options from which students can fast, i.e. TV, video games, talking on the phone, etc.) Are there any life lessons you’ve learned the hard way that you’d say to someone else, “Don’t follow me here, it’s not worth it”? Jonah has a hard time obeying God because he sees Nineveh as the enemy of God and deserving destruction, not forgiveness. They, after all, are the ones who took over the nation of Israel. Can you relate? Are there people in your life that it’s hard to show compassion for because of things they have done to you in the past? Can you think of a movie or a song or a book that is not necessarily “Bible-based” but one that God has used to shape you? Have you made any observations about following God from some unlikely, even ungodly, sources? What are they and what have you learned? This one is risky to share: Are there things in your life that you think God is calling you to do, but currently, you’re not willing to fully obey and you’re a little more like Jonah than you really want to admit? How can we help? For Keeps (Memory Verse) When God saw that they had put a stop to their evil ways, he had mercy on them and didn’t carry out the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3:10 NLT). WHEN LEFTOVERS JUST WON’T CUT IT Haggai: God Wants My Best, Not Whatever I Can Scrape Together at the End of the Day Primary Scripture Haggai 1:1-13 Secondary Scripture Matthew 6:31-33 Objectives 13. THINK: Understand that God wants and deserves our best. 14. TODAY: Begin serving God by serving the needs of His church. 15. APPLY: Make God’s priorities our priorities. Overview This lesson looks at the words the prophet Haggai proclaimed to the nation of Judah. God confronts them because while His temple is in ruins they live in posh, decorated homes. God tells them their priorities are backwards and they need to give Him their best, not their leftovers. Getting Things Started Think about food. What is your favorite food? What is a meal you love so much that you would eat it all the time if you could? Does your family have a recipe that makes you salivate? Like a pie Grandma makes or your aunt’s baked beans or Uncle Joes’ famous salsa? [Note: this would be a great time as a leader to bust out your family’s favorite dessert to share with your small group.] I’ve noticed that what goes into great food and a great recipe is not yesterday’s leftovers. Even if you think that Thanksgiving leftovers are to die for, they didn’t start that way. Nobody freezes the leftovers from last year’s Thanksgiving and hopes people will be just as excited about them by serving them the following year. Instead, we prepare the best we can on those special days and enjoy the extras as long as they’ll last. Now imagine inviting God to dinner. It’s not that He’s too holy to eat your leftovers, but would you really want to hand God half of yesterday’s sandwich and some microwaved mashed potatoes? No, we would want to give God our best “made-from-scratch-secret- family-favorite-recipe”. However, it’s easy to begin to slip into laziness with God. Instead of giving God our best hours of the day, we give him a few spare moments. Instead of donating a new TV to the church, we give them our old one we just replaced with a sweet flat screen. Instead of offering God the first and the best we have to give, we sometimes offer him the leftovers. God wants more than our leftovers. He deserves more. He deserves our best. Teaching Guide Plain and simple, the nation of Judah has become consumed with stuff, specifically their own stuff. They work hard to insure they have food and water and nice homes, but they evidently are not concerned about the public temple. In our language today, it would be like people caring for their own homes, and neglecting the church campus. For students, it might mean caring that their own car is clean while ignoring the fact that the church van is covered in dust and grime and has a flat tire. In this case, Haggai says the people are living in nice personal spaces, but the place they come to worship God together is a dump. And it’s not because God has not provided financially for them to solve the problem. It’s that they are selfish and spend endless amounts on themselves. As a group, read Haggai 1:1-13 and afterwards, share the following teaching points: Lessons from the Book of Haggai Regularly examine your priorities. Haggai confronts Judah because their priorities are out of whack. They are more concerned with themselves than they are with God. This attitude can subtly creep up on us if we are not careful. 2 Corinthians 13:5 challenges us to make spiritual self- examination a regular spiritual discipline. In Haggai 1:5 and again in verse 7, it says it is time to “give careful thought to your ways.” Take the time to ask yourself how you’re doing when listening to the voice of God. Consider how you’re caring for the poor. Think of ways you can regularly evaluate your life. Be content with what you have. Selfishness grows when we think we deserve more. When we’re not content with our house, friends, car, computer, or whatever, then we begin to justify spending more and more time and money on ourselves to try and fix the problem. Haggai confronts the nation of Israel because they keep their wages in “bags with holes.” Enough is never enough. They always want more, and as a result, they never have anything to give to God or anyone else for that matter. Care about the image and reputation of the church. Too often we think that it’s not our job to pick up the trash at church. It’s not our problem that the weeds are overgrown or that the walls need painting or that the chairs need to be stacked after youth group. We assume someone else will take care of it. The reality is it’s no one’s responsibility but our own. We cannot claim to be following God and then turn a blind eye to the needs of His church. Just like students understand that their reputation can be shaped by how they dress, so the church’s reputation in a community can be shaped by how the building is viewed from the outside. Decide to give God your best, not your leftovers. Notice the response of the nation in verse 12 to Haggai’s warning. They repent of this behavior and decide that they will stop caring for themselves alone and start caring for the community of faith and the temple. They decide that instead of merely giving God their leftovers, they are going to give him their focused best effort. This results in God declaring in verse 13, “I am with you in this,” a sharp contrast to the first 11 verses. We would be wise to do the same. Discussing the Text What physical thing in your life are you most discontent with? For example, if you could replace an item with a new one, what would it be? Do you think it’s wrong to care about how your own house looks? Is this what Haggai is saying? Why or why not? How do you know if you worship your stuff more than God? What are some signs? Read Matthew 6:31-33. How are the words that Jesus shares with the crowd on this mountainside similar to the words of Haggai? God uses Haggai to confront the people saying that they have busied themselves with their own concerns before God’s. What do you think students are most concerned about in our world today? What do we busy ourselves doing? The chief concern of God in this text is His own Glory (vs. 8). How is that not just selfishness on God’s part? How is that different than us seeking our own glory? APPLYING THE TEXT: EVALUTATION TIME: Create a list of 5 or 6 questions that are appropriate for your small group age level and such. Perhaps make one question for each of the 5 purpose areas if your church uses a PDYM model. Then give them some time alone to do what Haggai 1:5 says and “give careful thought to your ways.” Leave enough space between questions for them to Journal their response. Then bring the group back together and see if anyone is willing to share a response or two. Regardless of their response, it would be good as a leader for you to have taken some time to do this in advance and to share some of your own thoughts to model this. Encourage students to continue this exercise on their own later. What do you think your church facility says to others about God? Do you think people show concern for your church property? Make a list of things that need to be done around the church or your youth group. Then decide if you—individually or as a group—could do something about those problems. For Keeps (Memory Verse) Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:5 TNIV). IT ALL ADDS UP Zechariah: Four Commands That Add Up to Loving God and Others Primary Scripture Zechariah 7:8-14 and 8:14-17. Secondary Scripture James 1:22-27 Objectives 16. THINK: Understand that all of God’s commands should be obeyed. 17. TODAY: Commit to not harden your heart or turn a deaf ear to the commands of God. 18. APPLY: Commit to live for God by making daily decisions to obey Him. Overview This lesson looks at the words of the prophet Zechariah to Israel. In chapters 7 and 8 Zechariah confronts Israel for their refusal to obey several specific commands, but he also shares that God promises to forgive them and bless them. Zechariah reminds them of God’s original commands and reminds them that God hates it when we disobey and that obedience demonstrates a love for God. The 4 commands are stated as the 4 points of the main teaching for this lesson. Getting Things Started If you ever take a speech class in high school or college, you’ll be asked to write and present several types of short speeches, usually an autobiographical, persuasive, and informative speech. The informative speech is a “how to” presentation where you teach the audience how to do something. Break up in groups of 2 or 3, and take 3-5 minutes to prepare a short, 30 second informative speech for our group that has exactly 4 steps. In 4 steps, tell us how to do something you know how to do. Ride a motorcycle, prepare a PB and J sandwich, cut a class without getting caught (that was a joke), find a sweet deal when shopping, etc. Today we are going to look at a Bible passage where God expects us to do four things if we are going to live for Him. Consider it God’s “how to” speech. Teaching Guide Jesus boiled the Old Testament law down to one sentence we know as the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.” He then added a second, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He also said that all the law and the prophets hang on these two things (Matthew 22:37-40). While this might be the most significant summary of God’s word for us, it is not the only place in Scripture where a list of God’s instructions are summarized. One similar list is found in Zechariah 7:9-10 that is repeated in part in James 1:27. It’s not the longest list of commands—not even close. But it is among some of the shortest summaries of a Godly lifestyle. Let’s examine it together. Read Zechariah 7:8-14 and 8:14-17. (If you have the time and a more Biblically literate group, you may want to just read all of chapters 7 and 8.) Lessons from the Book of Zechariah Be honest The city gates were a place where people would come to settle disputes. Elders of the town would sit in a chair called the judgment seat and make decisions after hearing people state their case. God says those decisions should not involve favoritism or deceit, but truth. This is true for not just the Old Testament judgment seat, but all our lives today. A mouth that speaks truth is a Godly mouth. Share mercy One of the things God has clearly done with each of us is show mercy. We have wronged God too many times to count and the fact that He has withheld judgment is truly amazing. Since mercy is therefore something we have been given by God, it is something we must share with others. If we are to be God’s people, we must be merciful. Care for the neglected One of the truths in the Bible is that God has a very large heart for the poor, neglected, and abandoned in our world. Part of the law He gave Moses insured that money and food be set aside for people who needed it. The story of Ruth and her interaction with Boaz is a demonstration of this command in action. Proverbs 14:31 goes so far as to say that if we neglect the poor, we show contempt for God himself. This is no small deal with God. It is at the core of what it means to follow Him. Turn from evil One of the reasons Satan picked Job as the one to in such an extreme way is because Job 1:8 says that he was a man who feared God and shunned evil. He had no interest in Satan or his ways. Perhaps, we could define holiness as the absolute absence of evil. Zechariah 8:17 says, God hates evil. And since God has called each of us to be holy, this means that our lives should be absent of evil. As Paul said in Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.” Discussing the Text The reason the nation of Israel was not doing these four things was not because they didn’t know they were supposed to, it was because they deliberately chose to “stop up their ears” (vs. 11). What does this mean? In your own words, how does one stop listening to God? Do you think if we stop listening, God stops speaking too? Why or why not? Another thing they did was to “harden their hearts” (vs. 12). What does this imagery mean? What does a hard heart look like? What does a soft heart look like? How do you seek to keep your heart soft? When you read in 8:17 that God hates evil, what image of God does this put in your head? Read James 1:22-27. How does this text define someone who is following God? What character traits are both Zechariah and James calling us to have? Applying the Text Who do you need to give mercy to? Why is it hard for you to do this? What can you do today or this week? It seems ridiculous that someone would desire evil. But we all do. What is it about evil that makes something so horrible, sometimes seem so desirable? What is the evil desire that you most often have to chase out of your thoughts and actions? How can we help you be successful? How do you care for the poor? Are there regular patterns in your life where you help meet the needs of those who are often neglected in our world today? (For example, feed the homeless, sponsor a child, volunteer at a shelter, donate your clothes, etc.) How does it feel to be lied to? Is this something you struggle with yourself? When is it easiest to “justify” a lie and not tell someone the truth? Is there someone you need to confess to this week? For Keeps (Memory Verse) Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27 TNIV). ARE YOU IN POSSESSION OF STOLEN GOODS? Malachi: Learning God’s View on Money, Tithing, and Serving Primary Scripture Malachi 3:6-18 Secondary Scripture 1 Timothy 6:8-10, Proverbs 3:7-10, Colossians 3:23-24 Objectives 19. THINK: Recognize that God calls us to tithe and serve Him. 20. TODAY: Be aware of the ways in which we live in a culture that worships money and serves itself. 21. APPLY: Understand that when we tithe, we kill the god of money and serve the God of all Creation. Overview This lesson looks at the words the prophet Malachi shares to the Israelites. He challenges them to be faithful to the Lord by giving the first portion of their money to God and by giving their lives to serve him. This lesson examines the stronghold money has on the world and how the discipline of regular giving can free us from that grip. Getting Things Started Have you ever had something stolen from you? If so, what? When? How did it make you feel? (Share your own list of things you’ve had stolen from you.) It has got to be one of the worst feelings in the world to have something stolen from you. You feel violated, insecure, and angry. In addition, if the item has sentimental value and is therefore irreplaceable, you experience a sense of loss. Or, if it’s an item that contained valuable information such as a credit card or computer or cell phone, you have to go through the hassle of making sure the person who stole your property doesn’t also steal your identity. What a drag! When you think about how this makes you feel, it brings a whole new meaning to the text we’re going to read today which says that sometimes we steal from God. That is a bold statement and one we should not take lightly. Since the last thing we want to do is play games with God, let’s see what the Bible says about how to avoid this. Teaching Guide We don’t always intentionally find ourselves rebelling against God. Sometimes, it creeps up on us when we least expect it. Maybe we start out intending to go to church every weekend, and then one thing after the next happens and we eventually find ourselves not going at all. Or in school, maybe you don’t intend to stop doing your homework, but you get behind on one assignment and then before you know it, you give up. This is what has happened in this Bible text as God confronts the Israelites through the prophet Malachi. This claim surprises them and they ask, “How have we done this?” Malachi reveals they have stolen from God in two areas: their tithes and offerings and their attitude towards serving. As a group, read Malachi 3:6-18 and then make the following teaching points: Lessons from the Book of Malachi If God feels distant, stop walking away. Malachi reminds his audience that God has not changed. It’s not as if His commands or His character are a moving target. Slowly, over time however, the Israelites have wandered off until God finally says enough is enough! God desires that they stop wandering and start returning. This may appear to be simple but in fact it is usually the opposite of what we do. When we don’t feel close to God, we often stop reading our Bible, or stop praying, or stop going to church, or stop worshipping. It’s no wonder He feels so distant! Returning to God may not feel natural, but it’s certainly necessary. Be a giver and money won’t be your God. Money easily distracts us from God. Because we all need some money to live, it’s easy for us to live for money. Our jobs, the money we make, and how we spend it becomes the focus of our lives and before we know it, money has become our God. When we develop the regular discipline of giving, not only do we stop “robbing God”, but we also give away the hold it has on us, too. Plus it’s a constant reminder that God is the One who provides both the job and the ability we have to perform the job! Serve God, not people. If we want to serve God, we have to silence the voice of the world. We don’t have commercials on T.V. that encourage us to live a life devoted to God; instead, we experience the opposite. Malachi cautions Israel that even though some in their community say serving God is a waste of time, God disagrees. (See Malachi 3:15.) Honor God with your life and He will honor you. There is a one-to-one relationship between serving God and stay connected with God. The more you serve Him, the more you give your time and money to Him, the more connected you will be with God and the more God will be connected to you. He even says to test Him on this one. Give God your time and money and see if He gives it back to you. So try it. You just might find you’ll end up closer to God than you’ve ever been. Discussing the Text What do you think about the fact that God says His people are robbing Him? Do you feel like you’re robbing God when you don’t give? In this text, God says to test Him in being a faithful giver. Does this mean that God is going to make us rich if we give our money to Him? If not, what does it mean? Read Proverbs 3:7-10. How does this verse apply to the subject of giving? How is this similar to what the prophet Malachi is saying? Read 1 Timothy 6:6-8. Do you agree with this warning? Have you seen people ruined or ruled by money? If so, what was/is their life like? Verse 16 commends those who fear the Lord and honor his name. In your own words, explain what it means to fear the Lord and honor his name. What specifically does that look like? SERVE GOD vs. SERVE SELF WHITEBOARD EXCERCISE: Verse 18 says there is a difference between those who serve God and those who do not. What would you say that difference is? What character traits or habits do you think are true of those who consistently serve the Lord? How are they different from those who do not? Take a white board or a sheet of paper and compare and contrast the two. One column could be for character traits of those who serve God and the next could be for their self-serving counter parts. Applying the Text How do you develop a good giving habit such as a tithe of 10% of your income? Do you think this is easier to do when you’re younger and have less money or when you’re older and have more money? Why do you think that? [Teachers note: Don’t forget to point out that 10% of $50 means giving $5 whereas 10% of $50,000 a year is $5,000.] Do you need to make changes in your giving pattern? What will you do? Can you give specific examples of how you serve God? What are some new or additional ways you can serve God this week? Have you experienced the rewards of serving God or giving money to Him? If so, how has God blessed you and others through your obedience? What would you encourage others to do this week? For Keeps (Memory Verse) Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything your land produces (Proverbs 3:9 NLT). LESSON SECTION LEGEND Primary Scripture This is the primary section of scripture on which the lesson is based. Secondary Scriptures This is a list of any other scriptures referenced in the lesson. Objectives There are three objectives for each lesson. The first centers on what we are going to learn— what is the objective content that students need to understand? The second relates to the angle that is being taken to connect the knowledge of the lesson to the students in the small group. The third focuses on the application of the knowledge and how it connects to a student’s life that we want to challenge them to follow through on. Getting Things Started The Ice Breaker isn’t a game, though you are highly encouraged to make these lessons your own and add in any elements or ideas that you want. The Ice Breaker is a quick illustration with a few opening questions to focus your small group time. You don’t have to use any of them. But they have been prepared so that if you want to just read this section verbatim, it will still work. Teaching Guide There is nothing worse than asking a closed ended question and then getting a lot of empty stares from students. This usually happens for two reasons. Either the question is easy no one wants to take the effort to answer it, or no one really knows the answer and they know if they wait long enough you will just tell them. We want the discussion time of your group to actually be a discussion. This is the value of this teaching guide. It is a reference point for you to use to help students get acclimated with main points that the scripture/story teaches. Again, we encourage you to review the content and make it your own. Personalize the illustrations, re-write the points or main words, or don’t use it at all and simply have students read the scripture and go right into the discussion. If you do want to read all of the content verbatim the curriculum is designed to allow you to do this successfully. Discussion This is the best part of small group time, getting a chance to connect what has been taught from the Bible to the lives of the students in your group. We have committed to provide open-ended questions that will get students talking. The point of the discussion time is to start with easy questions and then to go deeper, leading into the last section of the lesson, which is application. Application This is the whole point of the lesson—to look at how we are to respond. There is always an opportunity for students to implement a “first step” sometime in the next couple of days. The retention of a lesson is radically increased when students—and you—apply what you have learned within the first three days following the small group.
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