Failure and a Necessary Grace

Failure is never fun. I remember as a kid when all my friends were jumping off the high dive at the community pool. It looked like so much fun, and I naturally assumed I would be able to do that with no trouble – however, upon arriving at the top of a ladder climb that felt like it took me through two atmospheric layers, I looked down at the postage stamp sized swimming pool below me…and I choked. I had to do the most shameful thing of all, I had to climb back down the ladder awash in contemptuous looks and laughter. Nobody wants to fail.

We will read, this Sunday, about Jesus’ disciples experience with failure as we continue our study in Luke. We’ll be reading ch 9:27-45.

While Jesus and three of his disciples were on the mountain reveling in the glory of God – the other nine were sweating bullets as they failed miserably to help a young man out who was oppressed by evil. As we think about it – human failure is a regular part of the biblical narrative. In fact, it’s part of what lends it a sense of authenticity – because if I were making up stories about God, I’d paint humans in the best light possible. The Bible, however, does not.

As you read about the experience in the valley, what do you think the 9 disciples were feeling? What are some ways in which you personally, or the church as a whole has failed to properly represent Christ’s power?

What did Jesus do about the situation? What might that tell us about how much our failure impacts God’s efficacy?

The section ends with Jesus again forecasting his capture (and implied death). What connection does the cross have with failure, and what might it remind us about what God can do with apparent failure?

I hope you can join us this Sunday as we explore this fascinating section!

The Glory Revealed

Have you ever climbed a mountain, or gotten to a high place from which you can get a vantage point to better understand the world and terrain around you? If so, you’ll understand why lofty spiritual experiences are often called “mountaintop experiences”. We get the idea of something transcendent happening. We’re going to read about a great mountaintop experience, possibly the one that inspired the phrase, as we continue our study in Luke this Sunday. We’ll be reading Luke 9:28-36.

The first section of this event, v28-31, provides the account of the “transfiguration” of Jesus. Jesus takes three of his disciples up on a mountain, and there, his appearance changes in front of them – he is glorious. Why do you think Moses and Elijah showed up? What is it that they represent?

When the voice instructs us to “listen to him“, Jesus, what do you think that means in light of who is on the mountaintop with him?

I find it intriguing that all three synoptic gospels include the detail that Jesus’ clothes started shining like white light. Why do you think that detail is there? Why would his ordinary clothes be affected like this? What can that mean for us?

What do you consider the overall meaning of this transfiguration event and why might it be important?

I’m looking forward to digging into this – hope you can join us on Sunday!

The King Revealed

Life is filled with crucial questions that we have to answer – from the time we were children we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. From there the questions become more nuanced and course altering, like “what will you do with your life”. We all face important questions.

This Sunday we’ll be reading one of the most important (in my opinion) questions we must answer. We’ll be continuing through the gospel of Luke, reading chapter 9 vs 18-27. It’s in this text we will be confronted with Jesus’ question to his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” We all have to consider this question as it relates to our life of faith. Who is Jesus to me?

Obviously, the question is rife with Christological implications – but its import is more than just theological.

When Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed King who would save Israel; what was he expecting the messiah to be? What are your ideas about Jesus as Messiah? What do you think a messiah is? That question helps you define what the gospel (the good news) is all about.

One again, as Jesus reveals something spectacular about his mission, he follows with a prediction of his death and resurrection. What does this tell us about how Jesus will be accomplishing his mission?

To make things worse, Jesus informs his disciples (which includes you and I) that we too will have to pick up an instrument of death and find our lives by losing them. None of this sounds much like the way kingdoms win in this world. What might have been going through the disciples minds right then? How do you understand Jesus’ words about losing our lives to find them? Does this sound like minor adjustments to our normal lives, or a radical call to commitment? Does that make you uncomfortable, and why?

This will be a challenging study – I hope you can join us this Sunday!

God’s Kingdom in Bread and Fish

This Sunday we’ll be continuing with our study in the Gospel of Luke, reading ch 9:10-17.

This section is an account of one of Jesus’ more famous miracles. It certainly seems to be important, this miracle and the resurrection are the only events that get recorded in all four gospels.

We’ll be reading about Jesus feeding the 5,000 (men – so potentially more people if there were women and children present, which seems likely).

The disciples come back from their solo mission trip, and Jesus believes it’s time to take a break, so they head off to a remote place to be alone. Imagine yourself in a situation where you’ve set aside some time to rest – how welcome are interruptions to that rest? How do you feel like responding if someone interferes with your plans to relax?

We’re told that people figure out where they are and crash their getaway – and how does Jesus respond in v11? What does he do before he teaches and heals them? What can we learn about our own church culture as we consider Jesus’ response to uninvited guests?

It’s hard to know if the disciples meant well or if they were being understandably selfish when they instructed Jesus to send the crowds away, but his response is the thing that’s supposed to grab our attention. Why do you suppose Jesus tells them to feed the crowds? How might that apply to us as His followers today?

Even in their incredulity they offer him a few sardines and crackers (which John’s gospel tells us they raided a kid’s lunchbox for) – and when it passes to Jesus, incredible things happen. What might we learn about our own resources and how best to use them for God’s Kingdom? Where do you draw the line on what’s possible or impossible for God to use for the good of others? How does this miracle challenge our lines?

The 12 baskets of leftovers are a detail that is included in all four accounts of this miracle. How many disciples did Jesus have? What do you think the leftovers represent, and why would it carry such importance to be emphasized four times?

I’m really looking forward to this study – I hope you can join us as we explore this miracle together this Sunday!

Mission Expansion

There are few experiences in life that rival that moment when you hand the keys to the car to your teenage child. I used to have this ritual set of questions I would ask as I presented the keys: “What are you getting into?”

“*sigh*…A death machine.”

”What’s out on that road?”

”Maniacs, trying to kill me.”

”What are you carrying?”

*eyes rolling* “Precious cargo.”

”You may go…and also, pick up your sister from softball and stop by the store to get eggs.”

It’s never easy to turn over the reigns of something as powerful as an automobile to the humans you’ve been tasked with protecting and guiding through the formative years of life, but it is necessary.

Jesus will hand over the keys of Kingdom ministry to his disciples in the section we’ll be reading this Sunday – Luke 9:1-9 – as we continue our study in the Gospel of Luke.

What is important about v1 that informs us of where the disciple’s enabling to do this work came from? As we consider our own ministry to advance God’s Kingdom – how can we become mindful of how we are enabled as well?

The disciples were given a specific empowerment to perform supernatural miracles – if we look at that empowering as characteristic of the ministry of the church throughout the ages – how would you characterize the nature of the disciples commission? What connection do you see between sharing the message of the Kingdom and acts of compassion?

Why do you think the disciples weren’t to take any money or travel equipment with them? What significance do you see in shaking the dust off their feet from towns who reject the message of the Kingdom?

I hope you can join us this Sunday as we explore the nature of our mission as followers of Christ!

Grace at the Edge of Our Limits

We had a wonderful time last Sunday in our Unity Service at Sheffield Park with Pastors United. It was a beautiful picture of God’s Kingdom – an image worth pursuing, no matter the cost.

This Sunday we’ll be returning to our study in Luke – we’ll be picking back up in chapter 8, reading vs 40-56.

We’ve been in a series of miracles Jesus has done which reveal the nature of his authority – authority over nature, over the spiritual realm, and now in this text, authority over sickness and death. That pretty much covers all the stuff of life.

The account is sort of a Lukian sandwich – where one story is told in between the details of another story.

As you read the text, try to list off all the ways in which the two characters who interact with Jesus are different from each other. For instance, one is a man, the other a woman. Keep in mind the purity code of the Mosaic Law as it concerned this woman. Remember how important the Synagogue was to Israelites in the 1st century.

Once you’ve got a good picture in your mind about how different these two are, start looking at what is the same about them? What is it that unifies them and brings them to the same place…and what is that place?

What can that tell us about those times when we are at the limits of our abilities and strength?

What do you think Jesus meant when he told the woman that her faith had made her well again? What does Jesus say to Jairus when the news comes about his daughter?

What does God seem to be looking for from us in our times of trouble? What does trusting God in difficult times look like to you?

Looking forward to digging into this on Sunday – I hope you can join us!

A Vision of Unity – Rev 21

This Sunday we’ll be finishing up our short, multi-church series “Lord Make Us One”. It all culminates with a special multi-church gathering in Sharon Sheffield Park in Lynn Haven at 4 PM. Be sure to bring a chair and maybe sunscreen…or worst case scenario, an umbrella.

Our final teaching in this series will be from Revelation 21. We’ll be reading v1-4, 9-10 and 22-26.

Obviously, Revelation is a pretty dense book with a LOT of differing views on how it should be interpreted. However, I would say no matter what way a person reads this book, most will agree that it pictures what the world will look like when God is in control. I hope we can all agree that this book reveals the activity and end result of God’s in-breaking Kingdom.

That being the case, ch 21 is sort of the wrap-up. As the chapter begins, in v1-4, note how many times the word “new” is used. V 3 tells us what this whole image is revealing – God’s end goal: “[God] will live with them, and they will be his people.”. God’s end goal is reunification with humanity as his family (v7).

That brings us to the pictures God uses to describe this family – in v9-10, John is told he’ll now see the Bride of the lamb. What he hears about is a Bride…what he sees is a city. Why a city? What are cities made up of? What would the best city of all time look like? How would the people in it interact? This is meant to TELL us something.

John goes on to describe what the city looks like, its measurements and all, describing a cube. There’s a lot of meaning in all of that description, but in our study we’ll focus on the final verses – v22-26. Ask the text some questions as you read – why is it significant that there is no temple? What does eternal illumination speak of? What things happen in the dark? When do our problems and fears feel exaggerated, in the day or the night? What might this be telling us?

The gates will never be closed. Why did ancient cities have gates? What does an ever-open gateway convey?

V26 is something we really need to linger on. All the nations are coming in – meaning God’s family, those whose names are in the Lamb’s Book of Life, is made up of all different kinds of people. This brings us full circle from the promise made to Abraham on the desert plains – “through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

What does it say the nations bring into the city with them?

To speak of the glory and honor of the nations is announcing the uniqueness and beauty inherent to a particular culture. In v24 John says the kings will enter in all their glory. In the ancient world, the king was the representative of the culture he presided over. This is all describing the vast and glorious kaleidoscope of human ethnicity and culture – and God doesn’t seem interested in eliminating those distinctions.

If this is the future we are marching towards in Christ – how should it shape our priorities in the present?

I’m so excited about exploring this passage on Sunday – but I’ll endeavor to stay calm. Hope to see you then – and again at the Unity Service! Oh Lord….make us ONE!

Called to Unity

This Sunday we’ll be continuing in our multi-church series, Lord Make Us One. We’ll be discussing what our calling to unity means and how we can live and maintain this calling. The verses that we are going over are from Ephesians chapter 4

To get a better context for these verses and the overall theme, I highly recommend checking out the Bible project video on Ephesians.

The verses we’re reading on Sunday start with Paul begging us to “lead a life worthy of our calling.” The desperate emphasis on this request is reason enough to pause and make sure we know what our calling actually is. Are we meant to do something beyond receiving God’s love? Has God called each one of us to something different? Or do we all have the same calling?

After Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of our calling, he gives some specific commands that point in the direction grace. He says to be humble towards one another, patient, and to make every effort to move towards peace.

It is in our human nature to read these verses and immediately begin thinking of other people who would really benefit from listening to and living out these commands. However, doing that would not be allowing the Holy Spirit to convict places within ourselves that may need it. 

Let’s take a moment to ask ourselves, are there certain people or groups that I find myself glad when they stumble? Are there certain political leaders, activists, or even acquaintances that I use their mistakes as proof for why they are awful? Could I instead be using these possible missteps as an opportunity to provide grace and move toward peace? Where are the places in my life, whether in person or on social media, where I can choose gentleness over judgment?

I believe that taking the time to pause and identify these places within ourselves is the first step towards living out the calling given to us by Christ.

I hope you can join us on Sunday at 10 AM!

Praying For Unity

This Sunday we’ll be continuing in our multi-church series, Lord Make Us One. We’ll be reading from what has traditionally been called Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17.

It’s not a bad idea to read the entire chapter – but we’ll be focusing in on v20-23. Jesus specifically refers to us in that section. Jesus has a clear intent in his prayer – unity among all who are his followers. It’s just another reminder that unity is a biblical mandate.

What are some of the things that divide up believers in our world – or lets narrow that down – in our little part of the world here in Bay County? How might we be able to bridge the gaps between us? How often do we even pray for unity, given it’s prioritization in Scripture?

What does Jesus say our unity is based on, according to v20-21? What affect does our unity have according to v22? In v 23, Jesus ties our unity to our witness to the world. Why would unity in Christ be witness – what would it tell the world? If we don’t strive for unity, what might it tell the world?

These are powerful words from Jesus’ prayer – I hope you can join us on Sunday to examine them. Remember to check out the other church’s take on this section!

Created For Unity

This Sunday we’ll be taking a break from our study in Luke as we begin a short series called “Lord Make Us One”. We’re participating with Pastors United of Bay County – and several churches will be teaching this same series in their church communities. I’m really stoked about this – one small step towards unifying the church, which in our country, has been segregated for far too long. Let’s join together in praying that God will, by His Spirit, join us together and restore our witness before the world.

Our first teaching will be from Genesis 1:26-28. Unity, especially along racial lines, is a biblical mandate. We see it right from the very first description of the human race. How many times in this passage is it repeated that humanity is made in the image of God? What does that emphasis say to you?

Right on the heels of speaking of our image bearing nature, God commissions us to reign over and govern the created order. What connection can you see between bearing God’s image and reigning over creation? In what way might that help us understand the concept of being made in God’s image?

What responsibilities can you imagine stem from being an image bearer of God?

How might bearing God’s image affect our sense of value and worth? How might it influence our perception of other human beings who have that same value and worth?

As I said – I’m really stoked about this series and what it may mean for the churches of our area. May God truly make us one!

I hope you can join us on Sunday – and I’d really like to suggest that you listen to the teachings done on this subject from the other churches involved. I’ll share their links below.

Brad Friday, Living Waters Ministries

Zach Sutton, Catalyst Church

Jessie Nelson, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church

Luther Stanford, City Church at Northside

Damion Dunlap, Truth Fellowship