Sonship and Struggles

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 1:9-13, which becomes a sort of cosmic “good news/bad news” scenario. It’s not really bad news, but it’s a strange juxtaposition of a glorious moment immediately followed by a time of hardship.

Life has a way of following that pattern though.

As you may recall, the theme of Mark’s gospel is the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah – the Divine King and His conquest. What a Divine King’s conquest looks like is something we may picture a certain way, which Mark works to dismantle. As soon as Jesus appears in our text, he does something very strange indeed. He is baptized by John.

Baptism was the ritual John was calling the people to submit to as a demonstration of their repentance and renewal in God.

Why do you think Jesus took his turn with all the other people there and underwent this ritual? What does it tell us about the nature of this Divine King?

After his baptism, the fabric of reality is torn open and a glimpse is given to God’s reality – and from that reality (heaven) the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God’s voice speaks calling Jesus His beloved Son. This is a passage that gives a tantalizing glance at the mystery of God’s Triune nature.

How do you see three distinct Divine personalities and actions in this passage?

Jesus, as Messiah, stands as representative of all the human race. He entered our condition in order to bring us into His condition. What is true of Jesus is true of those who believe in and follow Him.

What do you believe the Father declares about you?  Can you imagine God saying to you: “You are my Child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Let that run through your mind, and put your own name in that sentence. What is your reaction to that?

Right on the heels of that amazing experience, Jesus is pushed out into the desert to face the struggles of temptation. As I said, good news/bad news. Mark is very brief in his description, but we get enough of the picture of the devil and wild beasts that we know this was no comfortable spa retreat Jesus went to.

How do you think the previous experience at His baptism prepared Jesus for this part of his journey? What sort of “spiritual desert experiences” have you had in your life of following Christ? What, if anything, did you learn from them?

Mark – Introduction; This is the Good News

This Sunday we will begin a new study in the Gospel of Mark. I am someone who believes that, as the church, it’s important to revisit the life and teachings of Jesus, just to be sure we’re tracking properly. The Gospel of mark is the shortest of the synoptic gospels, and according to surveys, the least popular of all of them. I think that’s a shame. Mark rocks, in my opinion.

As we begin this study, we’ll be reading chapter 1:1-8. Right off the bat, in the very first verse, we are confronted with several ideas which need to be explored. The Good News, Messiah and Son of God. We’ll be looking at the historic and religious contexts of those words – but let me suggest that to really get a good primer on the concept of Messiah, you can watch The Bible Project’s video on that subject: The Bible Project

How would you explain what the Good News about Jesus the Messiah is?

The writer of Mark wastes no time in getting us into the action. V2-3 introduces us to the expectations of Israel to set the stage. He quotes from Isaiah and Malachi passages that were meant to comfort the Jewish people who had gone into Babylonian exile that the Lord would return to his temple one day. God gave them a sign to look for – a messenger would come and prepare the way for the Lord’s appearance.

Why do you think it was important to connect John the Baptist with the promised sign? How can this encourage us about trusting God’s promises?

In v4-6 John is described, and he is one odd dude. He definitely didn’t follow the advice of today’s experts on how to attract people to your movement.

What does John’s dress, diet and location speak of to you? Why do you think people were so attracted to John’s message? What can we learn from that about our own ministry and church?

When John speaks in v7-8, he has a singular topic in view. Jesus. John is almost over-the-top in trying to pronounce the distinction and superiority of the coming Messiah.

In what ways can we follow his example? As we seek to minister God’s love to people, how can we keep our focus on Jesus without becoming self-depreciating? What do you believe John was describing when he said Jesus would baptize withe the Holy Spirit?

I’m really stoked to get back to posting in Wonderwhat! I’m looking forward to this study – I hope you’ll come to love Mark as much as I do! See you Sunday!

 

The Story Goes On

So – this is our final Sunday studying the book of Romans. We’ve been at this for 9 months – with one month off due to a certain Michael. This Sunday we’ll be reading the whole of Romans 16 as Paul gives his final greetings, warning and blessing.

A lot of people skip through this long list of names Paul recites…around 26 in all. I love them though – they help to connect this work to real people; people like you and I who had to work through the “deliciously chewy theology” of this letter (as N.T. Wright puts it). Phoebe is introduced and is likely the person delivering the letter. Most likely, she would be the one reading the letter to the congregation and answering questions they may have or explaining bits along the way.

Priscilla and Aquilla are familiar names which you can read about in Acts 18.

Interestingly, 10 of the people named by Paul and described as co-laborers and equals in ministry are women. The most controversial of those is Junia. Google her name and read some of the articles. I’ll wait. …………………….. It’s pretty intense, isn’t it? There is a lot to think about when it comes to this ancient and mysterious woman of God. I know she’s changed my thinking a lot.

Several of the people greeted are in the households of people we know in Roman history. Narcissus was probably the same one from history who was close to Emperor Claudius. Aristobulus was a Jewish name associated with a Jewish king of Israel’s inter-testament history. It’s unlikely these two were believers – Paul greets the householdof these men – most probably household slaves.

What can we infer from Paul extolling the ministry and co-equality of women and slaves in the midst of ancient Rome? How does it inform our understanding of God’s social economy in the sphere of his kingdom?

In v16-20 Paul warns us about teachers who cause divisions by teaching things contrary to what they’ve already learned. What does he say to do concerning them? How would we apply that to our present world of teachers and churches?

Paul finishes off his letter with a blessing and a reminder (v26) that this is an age-old, ongoing story, this gospel we’ve embraced. Let’s determine to allow the Story to go on through us! Hope to see you Sunday!

The Gospel in Unity

The most tolerant dog in the world. Tolerance is a oft-used word in our present world. I’m not always convinced we are using the word correctly. Tolerance implies that there is an objection to something – but that objection is intentionally set aside for the sake of peace or unity.

Unfortunately, tolerance, as presented on a societal level, is more a demand for uniformity, leaving little room for intellectual dissent. People who hold deep convictions have felt pressured to compromise, and the terrible by-product is a mistaken notion that outright intolerance for people who hold different views or values is the only way to respond if one is to be faithful to one’s beliefs. That is most certainly a mistake. Tolerance is a Christian virtue – and acceptance of others in spite of differences is held up as the standard for appropriate representation of the gospel.

The church could learn a lot from that dog in the video.

This Sunday we’ll be looking at Romans 14:1-21 as we continue our study in that book. Paul will be talking directly to the divisions in the Roman church – divisions over convictions and doctrines that were very important to those who held to them.

As you read through this chapter – how would you characterize Paul’s emphasis? What does he seem to hold as a greater importance than the specific practices and beliefs that people had?

Paul stresses the idea of God’s acceptance of believers who hold their convictions before the Lord. What is the basis of God’s acceptance of us?

What are the issues that seem to cause division in the church today? How might we learn from what Paul says and apply them to our own community today?

I believe this is one of the most important chapters for us to really grasp as 21st Century American Evangelical Christians. I hope you can make it this Sunday!

The Gospel’s Advance

Well, they say one should never discuss politics nor religion in polite company. We will strain that conventional wisdom this Sunday, as we look at Romans 13 in our continued study of that book. Paul will see to it that religion and civic authority collide in no uncertain terms.

v 1-7 have been a source of consternation and sometimes abuse throughout the history of the church. Paul clearly asserts that civil governments have been appointed by God, and because of that, Christians should submit to the laws of the government. He makes it clear that human government is appointed to keep order, so that the evil of this fallen world isn’t left to run unchecked. All of this, according to Paul, has to be paid for somehow, so we should pay the taxes the government requires of us.

Obviously, this can give us pause. It would be a reasonable question to ask if this meant someone like Hitler was appointed by God…and if so, to what extent was a Christian to be in submission to that government?  We know that despots have appealed to this passage to intimidate citizens into subjection, leveraging religious fear. Can this be what Paul had in mind when he wrote this?

How do you understand Paul’s instructions? Do you believe he is saying that God approves of all leaders or that all governments represent his values and will? As we consider our own American government by the people, how do you understand Paul’s statements? Do you believe there is room for lawful dissent or peaceful protest within these instructions?

How would you summarize Paul’s overarching point in chapter 13, in light of his instructions given in chapter 12:9-21?

In what way does his following statement, to owe nothing but love for our fellow human, inform your understanding of how the gospel is advanced in this world?

Paul wraps his thoughts up by pointing out the lateness of the hour, and the fast approaching revelation of God’s healing kingdom. How can our understanding of God’s kingdom help us to better understand and respond to human governments?

This section is going to be one in which we’ll need to be careful and clear in our thinking, as we process through Paul’s words. We’ll be taking a good long look at the historical context – the rise of Nero and the shape of the world in which Paul wrote these words. It should be enlightening, challenging and encouraging! Hope to see you Sunday!

 

 

The Gospel in Action

Image result for gi joe characters

Anyone remember the old GI Joe PSA that would run at the end of the cartoon? One of the intrepid soldiers would explain to a youngster why they shouldn’t play in the street or handle spent nuclear rods or whatever…and then finish off with the pithy phrase “Now you know, and KNOWING is half the battle!” And of course – Lady Jaye or Duke was right. Half the battle – the other half is putting that knowledge into action. One without the other is useless or dangerous. Action without knowledge can lead to all sorts of misguided energy being spent – knowledge without action becomes an exercise in self-centric futility.

As Romans 12 began, Paul told us that God was in the process of renewing our minds – changing our thinking. There are things we learn and then know. But that’s only half of the thing. There must also be a practical outlet for our changed thinking.

We’ll be continuing our study in Romans this Sunday, reading 12:9-21 where Paul describes what the Gospel looks like in action.

As you read this section over, what do you see as the overarching theme? How do you reconcile the use of the command to “hate” in an instruction on love? In what ways do you think Paul means to hate evil, given the context?

Can you identify three different spheres of social involvement identified in these verses? What are the negatives, that is, what are the ways Paul tells us not to behave? In contrast, how are we to behave towards others, including those who want to be our enemies?

This is Paul’s description of how we live once our thinking has been changed by the Gospel. How easy or difficult is it for you to put the gospel into action in your own life? How can we as a church community be more proactive in putting the gospel into action in the world where we’ve been placed?

This will be both challenging and encouraging – hope to see you Sunday!

The Embodied Gospel

We are entering into the final stage of our study in the book of Romans. The last section, chapters 12-16, will focus on how the gospel effects people who are working together to form a community. These chapters are filled with practical examples of how the good news is expected to shape our interaction as the church.

This Sunday we’ll be reading ch 12:1-8.

What do you believe Paul means by his exhortation to give our bodies to God? Why do you believe he saw this as important? In what way does this connect with his metaphor of a “living sacrifice”?

Paul moves from the metaphorical to the practical in v2, explaining exactly what he believes his previous exhortation will look like. How do you interpret “don’t copy the behaviors and customs of this world” in light of what he wants to see transformed in us? What are some ways in which God can transform our thinking? How can this embody the gospel in our world?

If we keep in mind the rift between the Jewish and gentile believers which Paul has been seeking to address, it helps us to understand his apostolic command in v3. Why is a humble and honest evaluation of ourselves important in the context of not copying the patterns of this world?

The “body” theme continues as Paul expands beyond individuals to a community challenge. The gospel is embodied through cooperative ministry. What gift do you think the Holy Spirit has allocated to you, and do you find opportunities to exercise it? If you aren’t sure, what gift would you like to be able to have? Sometimes God is working through our interests. Take some time to pray about how God wants to use you to embody the gospel.

This will be a challenging as well as encouraging section to read this Sunday. Hope to see you there!