God’s Powerful, Humanizing Grace

This Sunday we’ll be reading Luke 8:26-39. This is the second in a series of four miracle Jesus does in Luke’s gospel which reveal his authority over every aspect of this fallen world.

In the account we’ll be reading, Jesus is confronted by a demonized man. There is a lot in this text that carries a worldview that is very different from a modern, Western worldview. The bible assumes an unseen realm of spiritual beings that empirically minded moderns do not. There is a lot of mystery in this passage – but I think we’d do well to avoid the hubris of our modern thinking and be willing to accept that there is more going on in this world than we can pin down and dissect.

In our text, demons appear to challenge Jesus and implore him to go away. Does there appear to be a struggle in this from Jesus’ perspective? What can we learn about the power of evil touching us when we are in Christ? This man’s condition reveals the nature of our fallen state through an extreme example. If you were to examine his condition, how might it describe what sin does to humanity?

After the man was delivered, Jesus gave him a mission. What does that indicate about our own lives after Jesus has saved us? What sort of theological training do you suppose this man had? What message did Jesus send him out with? How can we apply his commission to our own lives?

Hope you can join us on Sunday at 10 AM!

Where Obedience Leads Us

This Sunday we’ll continue reading through the Gospel of Luke – reading v22-25 of chapter 8.

It’s a very familiar story – one that I believe is meant to teach us not only the nature of this Christ we follow, but the nature of our following him.

Often times when storms arise in our lives, we tend to look around wondering if we’re being punished or corrected about something. However, this story reminds us that things don’t always add up like that. Who’s orders were the disciples following when this storm hit? What might that tell us about storms and chaos we sometimes encounter in life?

When the disciples wake Jesus up, he calms the storm and looks at them with a rather harsh question – “Where is your faith?”. There’s no qualifier there. Faith in what? They seemed to have faith that the storm would kill them…so they did have faith. What (or whom) do you believe Jesus is challenging them to have faith in?

The result is that the disciples have a whole new set of questions about Jesus. What do we learn about the nature of Jesus from this story? What events in life that we can’t control are out of Jesus’ control? What areas of life can we learn to trust Jesus with?

Hope you can join us this Sunday at 10 am!

The Great Family of God

This Sunday we’ll be reading a famous parable told by Jesus – the parable of the sower and the soils. We’ll be reading Luke 8:1-21. It’s really interesting to me that Luke places this parable sandwiched between two glimpses of the demographic of Jesus’ followers and Jesus’ radical definition of family. To me, they are all related – the radically inclusive family of God, which the parable explains the formation of.

In the mindset of 1st century Israel, the whole idea of being the family of God was tied to being in the family of Abraham. It was an assumed, automatic right of birth for the Jewish people.

Jesus shows up forming a strange, new kind of family of followers – made up of outcasts and women – something highly unusual for that time and place. Then he makes a statement indicating that genealogical lines were not an indicator of who was in or who was out of God’s family – but obedience is.

This brings us to the parable. Jesus uncharacteristically explains this story to his disciples. The soil represents the state of a heart. I think, given how truly nuanced human beings are, one heart could easily contain elements of each type of soil . What are areas of life are difficult for you to surrender to God’s rule? What areas come more easily for you? How might we tend to the soil of our hearts to make them more receptive to God’s purposes and plan?

Hope you can join us this Sunday at 10 AM as we continue our exploration of this wonderful gospel!

Forgiven Much, Loving Much

So…I’d never heard of Barry Bremen. Apparently, he’s Michigan marketing executive who dressed as the San Diego Chicken, an umpire and a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader to sneak into big events. Bremen ended up in the third row at the 1985 Emmy Awards and jumped on stage to accept the supporting actress award for Betty Thomas. Bremen usually got caught and arrested, but he once said he didn’t mind paying bail [source: mercurynews.com].

He seems to have gotten really famous from those stunts.

We’ll be reading about a party crasher in our study of Luke this Sunday, reading Luke 7:36-50. She has been famous for much longer, and for far more noble reasons.

This story in Luke is similar to ones in Mark, Matthew and John – though scholars mostly consider this to be a unique incident, not associated with the others.

A good idea when reading this is to put yourself into the place of each the characters interacting with Jesus. Why do you suppose the Pharisee didn’t see himself as someone who had to be forgiven very much (the point of Jesus’ parable). The woman, on the other hand, seems overwhelmed by the forgiveness she received. Where do you fall on this line – as one who feels they’ve been forgiven little or much? How comfortable or uncomfortable are you in demonstrating your gratitude to Christ in worship? There’s a lot to ponder from this little vignette.

In the parable, what did the debtors have to do in order to be forgiven what they owed? What does that tell us about the nature of our forgiven status? How might a knowledge of grace impact our sense of gratitude to God?

Hopefully you can join us this Sunday at 10 AM as we dig into this wonderful gospel!

The Radical, Restorative Reign of God

This Sunday we’ll be progressing forward in our examination of the Gospel of Luke – we’ll be reading ch 7:18-35 – be sure to read it over and use your imagination to step into the sandals of the characters.

I imagine the dank, dark cell; hewn from rock under Herod’s desert palace. John the Baptizer has been cold and hungry, but he hasn’t stopped praying and trusting that Jesus will reveal who he is and come deliver him from this miserable place. When two of his disciples show up and call to him through the small hole that served as a window, John askes for news before receiving the bread they brought him.

They communicate to him all the stories they have heard about Jesus’ activity. Hesitantly, they share the latest thing they’d learned. Jesus had healed the servant a Roman centurion, one under Herod’s command.

John unconsciously takes a step back, starring at the messengers in disbelief.  His mind shuffles through the memories of the cruel treatment he received at the hands of soldiers under Herod’s orders. Without realizing it, he rubs the scabbed over wounds on his head.

“But….why?” A tear begins tracing a line through the dust on his cheek. “What is he doing?” he says, his voice trailing off.

“Send a message to him…a question.”

That’s the dramatic backstory we need to have in view as we read the passage this week.

As a human being living on earth, you certainly have experienced disappointment at some point. Have you ever experienced disappointment in God, with how God is handling things here on earth? The people of Jesus’ day had high expectations for a messiah who would come and raise a supernaturally empowered army to overthrow their evil oppressors and bring salvation to Israel. When John asks if Jesus is really the Messiah, he’s wanting to know where the army is.

What do we learn about God’s activity from Jesus’ response? What is the focus of Jesus’ activity? What should we be looking for when trying to discern Christ’s activity today?

Even though Herod held John in prison, Jesus elevated him in his commendation, indicating his superiority over the puppet king who held him prisoner. But then he indicated that those who come after John…after Messiah has accomplished his work, would all be greater than John. Read Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:1-5 to gain some insight on that. How might this help us understand our place and purpose in God’s kingdom?

We’ll have a lot of interesting things to chew on this Sunday – I hope you can join us as we get into God’s word together!

Crucial Questions

This Sunday we’ll be reading the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, reading Luke 6:39-49. Jesus shoots off a series of parables (NLT translates them as illustrations) – but in reality, they are humorous riddles. Some of the imagery used is intentionally funny, and if you are uncomfortable imagining Scripture with a sense of humor, I don’t know what to do for you.

By starting with a question – can the blind lead the blind? – we are invited into an exercise in self-examination. Who am I following, who am I examining, what is my life producing and on what am I founding my life-choices? These become crucial questions we must ask ourselves to determine where we are on this journey of following Christ.

In what way might we be blind to God’s purposes? In thinking of guides, who can we think of who knows God’s intent more than any other person? How can we use Jesus as a guide and still listen to other teachers?

Is it difficult or easy for you to deal with your own issues before ever trying to correct others? How can we change our habits in this area, if focusing on others is our go-to response?

These are some of the things we’ll be considering in our study. Hope you can join us – in person or online at 10 AM on Sunday morning!

The Divine Ethos

There’s a famous story of a 100 year old man who was being interviewed for the news on his birthday. The reporter asked the man what he was most proud of during his century-long journey. The man replied with a smile, “I don’t have an enemy in the world.”

The reporter said “That’s so beautiful and inspiring to hear!”

“Yep,” said the man, “I outlived them all!”

I suppose that reflects many people’s approach to an enemy, a hope of outlasting them in the end. It’s only natural, in our present world, to do all we can to ensure we have the upper hand in life, especially against those who may oppose us. Then along comes Jesus, who flips the status quo on it’s head like he’s flipping over tables in the temple.

We’re going to be reading Luke 6:27-36 in our study this Sunday, and I’ll warn you ahead of time, this won’t be easy. Jesus continues his “Sermon on the Plain”. He goes from describing a blessed life in the context of hunger, lack and mistreatment to prescribing an ethos that seems unthinkable. We’ll be digging in as deeply as we can in the limited time we have – touching on what it may look like to speak blessings on someone who curses us…or the dreaded turning of the other cheek.

It appears that Jesus is asking us to become door mats – but as we examine this, we’ll see that isn’t really the case. Much of what Jesus is presenting has to do with themes of how we interact with our fellow persons – how we can re-frame our sense of honor by basing it on something other than our own ego.

A good way to mentally prepare for this teaching would be to imagine the people in your life that have hurt or upset you – then imagine how kindness, generosity and grace might change the way they act. Imagine creative ways in which you could treat them in ways that demonstrate the qualities of Jesus. It’s not an easy thing to imagine, but it will get us thinking in ways that are in harmony with God’s intent for this world. Any good we may do is going to be a work of the Spirit – so we can be praying for God to fill us with the Holy Spirit in ways that help us engage our fellow human with grace.

As I said, this study isn’t for the weak of heart…but, they are Jesus’ words, and therefore the words of eternal life, so it’s worth the struggle that may ensue. Hope you can join us on Sunday!

The Kingdom Culture

Awhile back I was looking at a first generation iPad that was still lying around our house. Oddly, my brain still classifies iPads as new tech even though they’ve been around for 10 years. The old tablet turned on just fine – but when I tried to open an app, I got a message that it needed to be updated. When I tried to update it, I got a message telling me that only new iPads could get the updated app. This iPad had become a coaster through antiquity. It wasn’t’ that the old iPad was corrupt or even broken…it was just outdated and therefore no longer significant.

That’s similar to a point Jesus will make in our text this Sunday as we continue our journey through Luke. We’ll be reading Luke 5:27-39.

The first part of this text tells us about the calling of Levi, the tax collector. This is very intriguing, given how tax collectors were viewed in that time. “Some of the common terms for the tax collectors were ‘licensed robbers and beasts in human shape.” You can read an article about them here.

What might Jesus’ approach to this socially untouchable person tell us about who God focuses on, and how God’s kingdom treats people? What sort of person in our present time and culture might exemplify a person who is off limits or cancelled? How might Jesus treat that person, based on this text? What sort of culture might we develop around Jesus’ approach to people?

Jesus then goes to a party with a whole herd of hated tax collectors – and of course, the religious elite get their undies in a bunch over it. In response to their complaints, Jesus gives his famous statement – “it’s the sick who need a doctor, not the well”. How might eating with people who are considered sinners by popular standards be spiritually medicinal? What message does it send to those who feel cut off from God? What do we learn from that?

The Pharisees then try to shame Jesus about feasting when John the Baptist and his disciples, as well as the Pharisees were fasting. Jesus’ answer indicates that the reason they fasted was to implore God to invade this world with his Kingdom…and that time had already come through Jesus. The party Jesus attended was a sign of God’s inbreaking reign. Ponder that for a bit.

Jesus finishes off with two illustrations that contrast the living, expanding work of God with that of rigid, immoveable religious structures. Just like with outdated tech – it’s not that the law of Moses or the Hebrew scriptures were wrong or bad – they simply ran their course – and God is moving in new ways through Christ. That’s exciting news…albeit…as the church we have had a hard time retaining that truth. Historically, we have tended to become very rigid in our religious practice and expectations, only to be awakened by reformers, who breathe revival into our midst….only to find that reformation becomes rigid, awaiting yet another reformer to come along. As the church, we’ve proven we’re not very good at this…but that’s okay. God is still on the move.

What are some ways we might be tempted to turn our faith into rigid, religious expectations? How might we counter that temptation?

I hope you can join us online or in person this Sunday at 10AM.

God is Willing

On Sunday we’ll be reading Luke 5:12-26 in our ongoing series. We’ll be examining two notable miracles Jesus did during the early days of his ministry. It might be helpful to read Lev 13 to get a bit of an idea of how seriously the people of that time and place took skin ailments. The man who was a leper appeals to Jesus for help – why do you suppose he felt emboldened to take that sort of risk? Jesus responds with an affirmation of his willingness to help the man, but before that it says Jesus touched him. Why is that such a notable detail? Given what Leviticus 13 commands, do you think Jesus was dismissing the Law on this point? If not, why do you think he did this bold thing?

The next miracle describes a man who was paralyzed who was carried to Jesus on a stretcher. Failing to get into the place where Jesus was, they vandalized someone’s roof to lower him in. The morality tearing up of someone else’s roof is dealt with in an entirely neutral way. Why do you think that is? Jesus first declares the man forgiven, which upset many of the religious leaders. How would you have reacted to a statement of forgiveness if you were the friend that lugged this guy all the way to see Jesus? Would that declaration have been what you were expecting?

Jesus explains in v 23-24, why he brought an intangible concept like forgiveness into play. The tangible healing becomes a representation of an intangible reality. How difficult it is for you to believe you are forgiven by God? How might this story help to reinforce your trust in Christ’s provision of forgiveness?

We’ll go over it all in detail on Sunday – hope you can join us online or in person – 10Am on Sunday morning!

Called to Serve

Sunday we’ll continue reading and studying the Gospel of Luke. We’ll be starting chapter 5, reading verses 5-11. I love fishing – but I’m no good at it. We’re going to read about Simon Peter’s night of getting skunked, but the amazing things that happen once Jesus has gotten into his boat.

If you read the whole passage over, you know that Simon and his crew had been fishing all the night before. When the chapter opens up, Jesus is teaching on the beach and noticed the empty boats. What does that tell us about Simon and his crew’s reason for being on that beach? Simon then gets his boat commandeered. How would you feel or react if a street preacher just got in your car without asking first and told you he needed a lift? How do you think Peter felt at this moment? Think about this scene and consider: what was Simon’s first act of obedience? What seemingly insignificant things do you do daily that God might be participating in?

More irony builds as Jesus, the itinerate preacher/former carpenter, instructs Simon, the fishing boat owner/operator, how to go about catching some fish. Again, put yourself in Simon’s sandals. How are you feeling at this moment?

No matter what was happening on the inside of Simon, he still continues to obey, and the results are staggering.

Simon’s response tells us something very important about the king of attitude God is looking for in those who serve him. How would you describe Simon’s attitude? Look at Jesus’ response to him; what does he say? What doesn’t he say when Simon confesses his sinful state?

The final verse leaves us with a challenge. The text implies that the fishermen left their boats and the huge haul of fish to rot on the beach as they followed Jesus immediately. Still, that doesn’t exclude the possibility that they wrapped up their affairs before setting out with him. No matter how it went down – the implication is clear. They made it their main priority to follow Jesus as his disciples. What question might that prompt us to ask ourselves about our own lives of faith?

I’m looking forward to exploring this passage with you all! Hope to see you on Sunday – in person (w/a mask) or online at Facebook or YouTube – at 10 AM.