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.

When God’s in Charge

This Sunday we’ll keep at our study in Luke – we’ll be reading ch 4:31-44.

Luke brings us back to Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, a region north of Jerusalem which had a large fishing trade. His narrative jumps around in a different sequence than the other synoptic gospels – but again, Luke presents us with a snapshot of Jesus’ ministry that in many ways sums up what he does all through the story.

As Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum, what is it that amazes, literally stuns his listeners? On Sunday we’ll talk about how the rabbis of Jesus’ day would teach and what stands out about Jesus’ approach. But there’s a lesson in this as well – what can we learn about where we find authority and whose authority to trust from this passage?

A demonized person lashes out as Jesus is teaching and Jesus sets the man free. What are your thoughts about the supernatural events described in the Bible? How comfortable or uncomfortable are you with that stuff? If the miracles of Jesus are also intended to reveal something about the nature of God’s kingdom and His authority on earth, what does this account teach us?

Jesus then goes on to heal Peter’s Mother-in-law. In the NLT it says after she was better, she made a meal for everyone. In the Greek it just says she served them (that probably means she cooked a meal, but there is a better lesson in this if we keep with the literal translation). How does it make you feel that her first act is to start working? If her restoration prompted her to service, what might that teach us about the purpose God has for us in our redemption?

Hope you can join us, masked up and in person or online via Facebook or YouTube at 10 AM this Sunday!

A Scandalous Grace

I remember going to my 20th high school reunion. It was a strange thing to be back in my home town, marking and observing all the changes that had taken place in my absence. It was also humorously frustrating to try and convince everyone that I wasn’t trying to be ironic or funny when I told them I was a pastor. That calling seemed incompatible with how I had lived when I was with them.

Jesus will have a reunion of sorts in our passage this Sunday as we continue through the Gospel of Luke. We’ll be reading chapter 4:14-30.

Luke places Jesus’ return to his hometown at the beginning of his narrative – this is to set the tone for the larger story. In many ways, what happens in Nazareth is a microcosm of Jesus’ entire ministry. He gets attention, some fairly positive, but in the end he is rejected and attacked.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-2, with allusions to Isaiah 58:6. Intriguingly, Jesus leaves off the last sentence of Isa 61:2 – click the link to read it. Why do you think he leaves that part of the verse off? What does this tell us about the nature of the Good News?

Why do you think the people of Nazareth suddenly get so angry with him after he talks about Elijah and Elisha healing gentiles but not Israelites? What can we learn from their response about our own attitudes when it comes to our hope in God? What sort of Messiah were they hoping for, and what sort of Messiah did they get?

I hope you’ll join us this Sunday as we explore this passage – online here or here – or in person at 10 AM.

Triumph Over Temptation

This Sunday we’ll be looking at Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus. We’ll be reading Luke 4:1-13. This entire account is rife with symbolism, much of it acting as a hyper-link back to the Old Testament. Remember how we said that the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) basically tell one story over and over? Well, this is the core of it. A human is called to image God into creation, like Adam and Eve were intended to do – but there is a test to determine if they’ll stay true to that calling. Adam and Eve did not, and the result is the world we live in today.

Over and over that pattern is repeated – from Abraham to Moses to Israel to her kings – and each time the choice is made to order things around human wisdom instead of God’s. It all culminates with Israel sent into exile, without form and void.

The Good News is introduced into that repeated pattern – the Son of Man is identified and goes into the wilderness, ready to image God into the world, and he is tested. It is here that the pattern breaks.

Jesus is tempted with three different suggestions from the satan. One thing I won’t be able to get into on Sunday is how each environment correlates with agencies of influence in Jesus’ day. The wilderness was the place of the Zealots and Sicarii who hoped to gain power through an insurrection of outliers. The kingdoms were the realm of the Herodians, who looked to leverage politics to gain power. Then there was the temple, where Israel’s spiritual leaders grasped for power through religion. I find it intriguing that Jesus is arrayed opposite of all of these.

Jesus overcame these three particular temptations. What do you notice about how he did that. To what did he appeal in response to the suggestions? At one point, the satan quotes Scripture. What does that tell us about how Scripture can be used? How can we discern the proper use of Scripture?

I hope you can join us this Sunday – in person (wearing a mask) or online via Facebook or YouTube at 10 AM.

Preparing the Way

I’m looking forward to getting into the Word together this Sunday – we’ll be continuing our exploration of Luke – reading Luke 3:1-14.

The narrative will skip ahead 18 years, and return to the story of John the Baptist. Luke will locate him in time by listing off all the main leaders of the Mediterranean and Jewish world, but he’ll also be doing that for other reasons which we’ll consider.

Luke also locates John in the context of the larger Biblical story – what his role is in the Messianic advent. We’ll be talking about the implications of his message – and how we gain an understanding of God’s kingdom through it.

His final exhortations drive home the unyielding ethic that permeates both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures – the sacrificial call to treat people well. As you read his instructions to the people, including the government employees (tax collectors and Herod’s soldiers), what strikes you about the nature of God’s kingdom? What do you see as our role in God’s Kingdom activity today?

Hope you can join us – masked up if you are in person, or watching online via FB or YT.