Whose Authority?

Well – the storm is still moving our way, but it looks like we may not be in for too much. That’s something to be grateful for.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 11:27-33.

Jesus’ actions in the temple in the first part of the chapter has attracted all the wrong attention. He gets confronted in the temple area by the highest ruling authorities in Israel at the time. It’s like a congressional hearing…it was that serious.

What do you think they were asking when they asked Jesus their question? How might any answer he gave get him in trouble?

When Jesus turns the tables, he’s not really avoiding their question – he’s actually offering an answer. How would their opinion of John the Baptist have reflected on Jesus’ ministry?

When you think about authority – what do you think of? If the Sanhedrin represented authority in Israel, how did their approach to authority differ from Jesus? How do you understand Jesus’ authority, and how does it impact your life?

These and other questions will be the direction of our study this Sunday – hope to see you there!

The New Temple

Hey everyone – I’m glad to be back from my sabbatical, and thank you all for being so supportive of this time for me. We’ve had some great teachings in my absence – and I’m excited about continuing our exploration of Mark together! Our text for this Sunday will be Mark 11:12-25 – the account of Jesus cursing a fig tree and then throwing out the sellers of sacrificial animals and money changers from the temple in Jerusalem.

All the gospels have an account of Jesus’ activity in the temple – some accounts are conflated with Jesus’ triumphal entry, and John throws the thing at the beginning of his gospel – but all of them see this as an important event.

The question that confronts us is why? Why did Jesus do this? Why pick on a poor fig tree when it wasn’t even the time for figs yet? Why run off animals and knock over tables? What was Jesus trying to tell them, and us by doing these things?

That’s what we’ll be examining in our teaching this Sunday. Why do you think Jesus did these two things? Are they related? What can we learn about our lives and purpose as 21st century Christians from these events?

Hope to see you on Sunday!

It’s a TRAP!

I agree with Admiral Akbar.

We’ll be reading Mark 10:1-12 this Sunday. This is not a passage I have any interest in covering again in detail. I’ve already taught on it three times before – so if you’re interested in hearing my take on this particular passage, you can hear it online on our archived Mark teachings.

What I want to do this Sunday is consider how Mark sets this incident up. In v2 he makes it very clear that the subject matter which is brought up for discussion is a trap. What do you think the danger would be for weighing in on this topic? What was the reason John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed?

What can we learn from the way Jesus deals with this culturally and politically sensitive topic? There is a difference between the way Jesus speaks in public and the things he says in private to his disciples. How can we apply this to the way we hold our convictions before a watching (and listening) world?

What are some issues that our culture and society try to engage the church concerning? Read 2 Cor 5:18-20. What is our mission as the church? How might these secondary issues the church sometimes gets embroiled in interfere with our mission as Paul states it?

This will be a challenging passage to study together, but we might be taking it in unexpected directions…not for you, of course, since you’re reading this!

Hope to see you this Sunday!

A Different Kind of Greatness

The Pumpkin that the Peanuts character Linus waited for one sad Halloween night and an Ancient Macedonian conqueror named Alex both had something in common with Mohamed Ali. Know what it is?

They had the title great bestowed on them. As the 2016 Republican campaign slogan testifies to, the human race seems to have a fascination with “greatness”.  The question is, how do we define greatness.

Our text this Sunday will be considering that subject as it’s overall theme. We’ll be reading Mark 9:30-50.

As the section begins, Jesus predicts his death at the hands of his enemies. The disciples didn’t get it…I don’t think we would have either. How does the description of Jesus’ fate contradict our general notions of how we achieve greatness?

An argument ensues among the disciples about who exactly will be the greatest among their ranks. Jesus first makes a statement that sounds like the old guy from Karate Kid – “to be first you must be last and serve everyone”. How do you understand Jesus’ description of greatness? He goes on to use a child as an illustration of his point. Why a child, do you suppose? Children did not carry any influence in the ancient world, so what do you imagine Jesus’ purpose in identifying himself with the stature of a child (v37)?

John complains about someone doing miracles in Jesus’ name without officially belonging to their group. What might have been some of John’s motives for this? How would you reword Jesus’ statement of correction in v40.

The final section of this chapter has some troubling words. We need to keep in mind the context, that of how we carry ourselves and how we treat others when it comes to identifying the “sin” Jesus warns about. Jesus employs hyperbole by talking about millstone necklaces and cutting off limbs to emphasize just how important this subject is.  He mentions hands, feet and eyes. What might those be symbolic of as it concerns how we live?

The word Jesus uses for divine judgement (hell) is Gehenna. Jesus is the only one who ever uses this image. Gehenna was a valley outside of Jerusalem deeply associated with some of Israel’s worst apostasy, where children were sacrificed to pagan gods. In may have become a garbage dump by Jesus’ day. Rabbinical tradition began to associate Gehenna with final judgement. Jesus does a curious thing of tying this imagery with Isa 66:24 which is typically interpreted as a warning about Israel’s destruction for apostasy. Given the theme of greatness and it’s application to relationships, service and acceptance, what might be a possible application of Jesus’ warning?

This will be a thought provoking section of Scripture – hope you can make it on Sunday!

 

 

Lessons From Failure

I’ve never been super athletic, I mean, I was the art geek after all. Don’t get me wrong, I really like sports, I’m just not naturally gifted at any particular sport like other people I’ve known. I remember one time when I was going to a private Christian school in 7th grade and they were desperate for players on the basketball team so I was volunteered to play.

I cannot play basketball…you should know that at the outset.

I’ll be honest, it felt pretty cool to wear the team uniform  as my mom dropped me off at the rival school’s gymnasium. For the briefest of moments I forgot that I knew nothing about playing basketball apart from shooting a game of horse with kids in the neighborhood. My school team was so beggared for players, they recruited a kid whom they had never seen play and who had never once practiced with them.

During the warm-up our team formed two lines on either side of the free throw lane to do simple lay-ups. One line would start, the player charging at the basket and deftly launching off the floor to lay the ball gently to the backboard and  into the net. The next line would take the ball from the opposite side. Done properly it is a smooth and almost graceful approach to taking a shot.

When my turn came, I noticed that the rival school’s cheerleaders had gathered behind the backboard of our goal. My 7th grade brain imagined them all noticing how adroitly I would handle the ball. I imagined them all turning their heads my way in slow motion and admiring my basketballish skills. This made my hands start to sweat.

The ball was tossed to me and I awkwardly tried to dribble on my way to the goal. As I reached the point of no return, where I needed to lift off my left foot and raise the ball with my right hand, the ball came squirting out of my sweat-soaked palms and flew full force right at the heads of the flock of cheerleaders.

There were screams and one girl was bent over while others were patting her back.

They were all looking at me, but admiration is not how I’d describe their expressions.

That’s kind of how I imagine Jesus’ disciples feeling in the text we’ll be reading this Sunday, Mark 9:14-29.

It’s clear from this text that as Christ’s followers, we don’t always represent him well. Sometimes things go badly and we fall flat – but that’s okay. As we’ll see in our passage, there are lessons to be learned in failure.

As you read the story, put yourself into each of the character’s sandals. What do you imagine the religious experts are thinking? What do you think the crowd of people were thinking about the disciples ineffectual ministry? What conclusions might they be drawing about Jesus?

When Jesus gets the scoop on what’s happening, the father of the afflicted boy asks Jesus to help if he is able. Jesus teases a rebuke back at him. What do you think Jesus is wanting to correct in that exchange? What might it mean that “anything is possible if a person believes”? What does “believe” mean to you?

When we look at the end result, Jesus was not hampered nor deterred in any way by the failure of his disciples. What can we learn from that as it touches our own walk with Christ?

How do you imagine prayer being an effective aspect of spiritual battles? What do you understand prayer to be?

This will be some interesting stuff to analyze this Sunday – hope to see you there!

A View of Glory

Living in Florida you don’t get much of a chance to view things from a high place since our topography shares the attributes of a pancake. I can remember times in my life when I have had the opportunity to climb to a high place and get a transcendent view of my surroundings. There’s nothing quite like it, everything takes on an exceptional look; puzzling landmarks suddenly take on a different shape and begin to make sense.

In the Gospel of Mark, we are climbing to a high point in the narrative, a plateau from which we can more clearly see the surrounding landscape and mark out the path on which we’re traveling.

We’ll be reading Mark 9:1-13, the account of the transfiguration event.

It’s likely that this event takes place on Mt Hermon since Caesarea Philippi is located at it’s base and our last section took place there. Jesus only took three of his disciples up the mountain, why do you think that was?

What significance do you see in Jesus’ appearance changing? Read Exodus 24:15-16 as well as Exodus 34:29. What implication, if any, do you find in the similarities of Moses’ experience and the transfiguration of Jesus? How do you think Jewish people, familiar with Moses’ story, would have understood this?

Why do you think Moses and Elijah were present in this event? What do you find significant in the words spoken by the Father from the cloud?

Right after this amazing phenomena, Jesus once again forecasts his death, which really confuses Pete, Jimmy and Jack. Obviously, Jesus is wanting them, and us to know the pathway to glory. How do you understand that for your own journey of following Jesus?

I think this is a really intriguing section of text to explore – hope to see you Sunday!

 

The Crucial Question

This Sunday we’ll be reaching the center point of Mark’s gospel as we read chapter 8 verses 27-38.

All through Mark’s gospel people have speculated about his identity. The narrative begins with the writer stating plainly that Jesus is the Messiah. Apart from the narrator, the only others who have identified Jesus as Messiah have been demons.

In chapter eight, this all changes. We are at a turning point in the story which will lead us on through to the dramatic end. Like an artist pulling away a drape to reveal his sculpture, Jesus makes himself known to his disciples in this passage. It all begins with a crucial question: “Who do you say that I am?”.

What do you believe Peter had in mind when he confessed his belief that Jesus is the Messiah? The Jewish people expected Messiah would be a divinely anointed king. If you accept that Jesus is the Messiah – the True King – what does that mean to your everyday life?

Jesus goes on to describe how it is that he will do his work as Messiah and it earns him a rebuke from Peter. Why do you think Peter balked at the idea of the Divine King suffering, being rejected and ultimately killed? Why do you think Jesus called Peter “Satan”?

The final irony comes when Jesus makes it clear that sacrificial love will not just be his path, but also the path of all who follow him. How is Jesus’ command to “turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me” find relevance in your life? What do you think it means to take up a cross to follow Jesus?

This will, no doubt, be a challenging study.

The McAlisters will be sharing about their trip to South Sudan as well! Hope to see you on Sunday!