polarized I know that we talk a lot about how, politically, our nation has become polarized.  Still, people who find that they don’t fit neatly into either polar position can opt to choose a third way – either by voting for a third candidate or not voting at all. Now, I’m not going to comment or even speculate on the efficiency or responsibility of those options, because regardless of a person’s opinion about the matter, a third way does exist.

That, however, is not what I’m going to write about.

In our text we’ll be reading this Sunday, Matthew 12:22-37, Jesus presents what seems to be an extremely polarized view of the world. A world where there are only two choices to be made concerning two different kingdoms, and the stakes are way beyond mere political platform or policy. It’s a fairly uncomfortable passage, but it’s there, and we need to wrestle around with it and see how it will shape our lives.

As you read the text from v22-24 you see right away that Jesus has a polarizing effect on people. There are two very distinct opinions forming about him. Jesus will latch onto that and develop a picture of the world in stark contrasts between good and evil.

Jesus’ counter argument from v25-30 starts with a logical premise that brings to the surface the dualistic view of this world. There is a kingdom of our enemy, the devil, and there is a kingdom of God. He clearly portrays these at odds with each other and in conflict. His logic is pretty simple: why would the devil be working at cross purposes against himself? Which reveals something about the nature of Jesus’ mission. In fact, v29 pretty much describes what Jesus is up to. Who do you think the “strong man” is? What is the house and what is the plunder that is taken (put it in the context of what started this whole thing in v22 – the healing of the demon possessed man)?

V31-32 has had the effect of scaring some people, especially those new to the faith. They worry that Jesus is describing some poorly identified way to sin that can never be forgiven if committed. Have you ever worried about that? Just to put your mind at ease, that’s not what he’s trying to say. He’s talking about how the Pharisees were claiming that the devil was the source of Jesus’ work. If they reject Jesus and the salvation that’s offered, there’s no other way offered that provides forgiveness. To reject the work of the Holy Spirit through Jesus is to reject forgiveness by God – hence, forgiveness is withheld.

V33-37 deals primarily with our use of language. The words we speak and the way we communicate reveals something about ourselves. How can we see to it that the words we communicate are in harmony with the purposes of God’s kingdom in this world?

Hope to see you this Sunday!

The Folly of Mere Religion

Image result for elephant at a parking meterDid you know that according to a law in Orlando, if you leave an Elephant at a parking meter, you have to pay the full fee that you would pay for a car? Some insist that no such law ever existed, but others are adamant about it. It’s hard to say, but we do know that strange laws like that still remain in the layers of various states legislation. I love trying to imagine the context for coming up with laws like Missouri’s ban on driving with an uncaged bear in you car. It would be hard to discern the original intent behind a law like that.

Still, with any law, original intent is important. One of the constant themes of the New Testament, and especially the gospels, is this conflict we witness between those who insisted on pressing the letter of the Old Testament law, and Jesus who administered the spirit, or intent of it.

That’s something we’ll be considering in our text this Sunday as we read Matthew 12:1-21.

In v 1-8 Jesus defends his disciples against accusations of breaking the commands of Oral Law, the Talmud, which forbade harvesting and threshing wheat – which they applied to the actions of the disciples in this section. What do you think Jesus’ point is in referring to David eating the showbread of the Tabernacle? When Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” – what does that mean to you? How does this apply to your life of following Jesus? What do you think he means by calling himself the Lord of the Sabbath?

In the second story, the same issue of Sabbath keeping is at the center. Jesus responds to the inquiry about healing on the Sabbath with a hypothetical situation where someone’s sheep falls in a ditch – common sense dictated that it was a necessity to come the animal’s aid. Jesus states his point quite clearly – people matter more. But by going ahead and healing on the Sabbath, we realize what he means – people mean more than _______ – what?

V15-21 act as sort of a summary of these two events. They give us a picture of Jesus that is very different from the religious leaders and Pharisees of his time. Their emphasis was on domineering people through their religion. Based on these verses, what is Jesus’ emphasis, and what sort of atmosphere surrounds his triumph?

This is a great section of the gospel to explore! Hope to see you this Sunday!


Results of Response

breaking-bad-bookDo you remember those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were all the craze at one time? They had all these multiple endings that a person could arrive at simply by choosing how they would respond to certain events and circumstances. Like, for instance, in a story where terrorists take you and your classmates hostage you can choose to  give the terrorists your limited cooperation, all the while secretly getting information to the president and the army… Or you can give the terrorists your wholehearted cooperation and spend the rest of the book going to terrorist school and becoming a fully engaged radical extremist for a drug cartel….and no, I’m not making that up.

Anyway – the point is, our choices and responses effect the way life plays out, and never more so than when it comes to the kingdom of God. How we respond to God’s kingdom closing in on this world will have varying results in accordance with our response. That is something Jesus will highlight in the section of Matthew we’ll be reading this Sunday, Matthew 11:20-30.

Jesus gives some of his harshest rebukes outside of the religious leaders in v20-24. What is the repeated reason for their looming judgement? Do you think Jesus is angry with these people? What do you believe is motivating his words? What appears to be the result of rejecting God’s kingdom?

In v25-27 we see that everyone didn’t reject Jesus’ presentation of the kingdom. Who does it say it was revealed to? What do you think is significant in the contrast between the “children” and the “wise and understanding” ones? What implicit attitudinal response seems necessary for recognizing and embracing God’s rule through Christ?

Some of Jesus’ most beautiful words are spoken in v28-30. Here’s the thing – read them. Read them again. Read them from the Message version. Read those words out loud and hear them coming from Jesus to you, personally. Tell me how those words make you feel. What is the result of surrendering to God’s kingdom through Jesus?

This will be a great passage to dig into! Hope to see you Sunday!


The Unconventional Kingdom

Image result for disappointment

Have you ever had high expectations about something that didn’t quite get met? That can be really disappointing. We face a lot of disappointments in life, all of which extend from our own expectations. Have you ever been disappointed in God or his plan for your life? If we’re honest about it, there are a lot of times when God doesn’t seem to be responding or doing what we think he should be doing, right?

We’re going to be reading a section in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 11:1-19) where Jesus addresses some questions that John the Baptist throws at him from jail.

Why do you think John is asking Jesus if he’s really the One they’re waiting for? Consider where John is when asking this, compared to where Jesus is and has been (such as in Matthew 9:10). Also, consider what John declared Messiah’s mission to be. Can you understand his confusion?

Jesus doesn’t answer John by saying “Yes, I’m the Messiah, stop questioning me!”. Instead, what does he point to? Jesus quotes a lot of passages from Isaiah in his answer (Isa 26, 29, 61). John was waiting for Messiah to execute judgement on unfaithful Israel and Rome.  What does Jesus point to as the focus and evidence that God’s kingdom is indeed present and at work? How can that help us to understand the unexpected ways in which God works in our world? Where do you think our focus should be as the church?

Things get a little cryptic after that. Jesus reminds the crowd that they didn’t go out to the Jordan to look at a reed in the wind (possibly a disguised way of identifying Herod) or a kingly presence. They went to hear a prophet speaking for God. The greatest prophet, because he was standing at the threshold of God’s invading kingdom. Then Jesus says this strange thing about the kingdom suffering violence and the violent taking it by force. There are a multitude of ideas about what this means – I’m inclined to think it’s connected to the contrast between Herod and John. The representation of God’s kingdom (in the temple religion and in Herod’s assertion that he is king of the Jews) suffers because violent men try and use violent means to advance God’s purposes. What was the general expectation of the Messiah’s mission at that time? What did they think he was going to do? What did he end up doing, and how was it unconventional in terms of expectations?

Jesus then compares his critics to spoiled children who refuse to get on the same page and play the same game. They criticized John because he was too austere, they rejected Jesus because it looked like he was having too much fun. There was no pleasing them. So what does Jesus point to in answering his critics in v19? As Christians, we will always have people criticising or questioning our faith. Following Jesus’ lead, what should we be pointing to as evidence for consideration that God is indeed at work in our midst?

I’m really looking forward to digging into this text on Sunday! Hope to see you there!

Realities of the Mission

Image result for william marshall knightI’m currently reading a history book about William Marshall, considered by the author to be one of England’s greatest knights. He served under five different kings in his lifetime and fought in a multitude of battles and tournaments. During the reign of Richard the Lionheart, Richard was being held for ransom in Germany, being captured on his way home from the Crusades. Richard’s brother, Count John, had taken bold steps to usurp the kingdom for himself in Richard’s absence.

William Marshall was a man of the battlefield, but commissioned with representing Richard’s interests back in England. The subtleties and subterfuges of court were challenging for him and he spent a lot of his time trying to defuse tensions between himself and Count John. There came a time, however, when John crossed lines that William couldn’t accept and he had to identify himself as allied with Richard. He faced severe consequences as a result and found himself losing lands and titles and being pressed to the brink of civil war… until Richard finally returned and set the whole kingdom right.

That account made me think about the passage we’ll be reading in Matthew 10 this Sunday. Jesus continues to give instruction to the disciples he sends out, and this week he’ll be giving some grave warnings. It will not, unfortunately, be a happy, bouncy message.

Why do you think it’s necessary to be both shrewd and innocent (harmless)? What are the dangers of either of these in isolation?

When Jesus says he came to bring a sword, not peace, how do you reconcile that with his title as “Prince of Peace”? Where does the conflict describe originate from; who is the aggressor?

What do you fear losing most in this life? How can Jesus’ words about the sparrow ease your fears?

How would you describe the cost of identification with Christ? What challenges your commitment to Christ and the kingdom of God the most? How can we learn from these instructions so as to increase our commitment to the mission?

This will be a challenging study – hope to see you this Sunday!

The Mission Instructions

Image result for student driver funny

I remember teaching my kids to drive. In our house we were teaching a teenager to drive a car every year for four years. I blame the gray in my beard on that. Learning to drive is a rite of passage in our culture and I still remember it well. It’s one thing to be along for the ride as a care-free kid, it’s another when the keys are in your hands and steering that metal box flying down the road is up to you. It can be daunting at first, and it certainly isn’t something done lightly. A lot of instruction goes along with that responsibility.

Jesus’ disciples will experience something like that in our text for this Sunday, Matthew 10:1-15. Jesus will essentially be handing the keys of his ministry to his 12 closest followers and send them out to do what he has been doing. As I said, a daunting task that requires instruction. We’ll be reading Jesus’ instructions for the mission.

This event is called the “limited commission”, because it’s targeted at Israel only, in an limited region, and for a limited time. The “great commission” of chapter 28 will expand on this mission, but here we have the basic instructions laid out.

In v 1-4, Jesus sends them out as “apostles” – it’s the first time this designation is used. It basically means someone sent…by Jesus, in this case. V1 tells us where they get the ability to do this mission, where does it come from? When you look at the list of apostles, what stories about them come to mind? What are their credentials and backgrounds that we’re aware of? Does this tell you anything about who Jesus is willing to send?

When you read the instructions of v5-8a, what feelings are inspired? Is the tone angry, threatening, confrontational? How would you describe the tone and atmosphere of this mission?

Jesus draws very specific boundaries in terms of provisions the disciples should take or receive in V8b-10. Why do you think he is doing that? What lessons should the church today take from those instructions?

In v11-15 Jesus talks about finding people who are willing to listen to the message (worthy) and staying with them. Why doesn’t he want his disciples going from house to house? If people reject the message, he instructs them to shake the dust from their feet. Do you think he means that literally? Why do you believe he gives that instruction instead of telling them to force the issue when the stakes are so high?

Hope to see you this Sunday!

A Faith Observed

Have you ever felt desperate in life? It’s a rhetorical question because if you’re reading this you’re human which means you live on earth and earth has a way of squeezing us into desperate situations. In our times desperation we will usually go all over the place looking for something or someone who can give us a glimmer of hope. That’s just the nature of desperation…and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 9:18-38 and we’ll discover some desperate people who go to the right place in their time of crisis. As we read about these people, we’ll be looking at what it was that moved them to seek help from Jesus. We’ll look at their faith, what Jesus said about faith, and what this can all mean in our own lives.

The synagogue ruler, the hemorrhaging woman and the two blind men all have their stories told in succession. Their expressions of faith are risky, scandalous and bold, but they are also desperate. How does Jesus respond to their desperation? What sort of attitude does he seem to have towards all of these individuals? Do you think of desperation as a positive or negative motive for coming to God for help, and why?

When Jesus casts out a demon and a man was able to communicate when he hadn’t been able to before – what are the two reactions recorded? If both groups of people saw the same miracle, what kept the Pharisees from believing Jesus’ power was from God?

The chapter culminates with a summary of what Jesus is up to with the Kingdom Project – and then we see his compassion for the multitudes who are oppressed by religion, but not cared for by a Shepherd. He clearly is inviting us into the activity of harvesting a ripened field…but what does that metaphor mean to you? How do you believe we can be used in this “harvesting” activity?

Sorry for the late post – looking forward to Sunday!  Hope to see you then!