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!

Checking For Blind Spots

That video actually had me at first…then I couldn’t stop laughing. I was looking for videos of people who could see after getting cataract surgery and came across this. It’s apropos for our text this week in our study of Mark – we’ll be reading ch 8:1-26.

Blindness, or maybe we could say blind spots are a running theme through this section. Blindness to solutions; intentional, spiritual blindness; presumptuous blindness as well as physical blindness – it all finds its way into the first 26 verses of chapter 8.

V 1-9 describe a nearly identical miracle to the feeding of the 5,000 in chapter 6. This one happens, most likely, in the Decapolis among gentiles. In light of that, what does this miracle tell us about God’s intent for the gospel?

Our first bit of blindness isn’t called as such, but the disciples certainly seem to have trouble seeing what Jesus intends to do. Why do you think they respond the way they do? What do they see when Jesus explains his heart and makes his request? What do you think Jesus wanted them to see?

We get another round of attacks from the Pharisees in v 9-13. What is the irony in their demand for a sign? What do you believe kept them from seeing the signs Jesus had already been doing? How can we keep from limiting our vision of what God can do or whom he will use?

In v 14-20 the disciples get worried because they forgot snacks for the boat trip. Jesus warns them about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod. Pharisees represented an institutional, performance based system of religion. Herod represented a grasp for political power in God’s name. Yeast is often a representation of corruption in the biblical narrative. What do you believe the corruption of the Pharisees and Herod might have been? Where would we see that in our own world?

Jesus calls the disciples blind because of their concern about snacks. How do you think his questions in v 19-20 were meant to instruct the disciples? What is the biggest area of your life where you struggle to trust in God’s provision?

In the last verses of our section we get to an actual blind guy. If he becomes a living illustration of God’s intent to remove our blind-spots – what comfort can we take from his gradual healing?

I’m really looking forward to digging into this together! Hope to see you Sunday!

 

Breaking Boundaries

Some of the great moments of history, those that stick with us in positive ways, those that show us new and better ways to live, are incidents that break down the accepted boundaries that get drawn between us as fellow humans.  In our own nation’s history, The suffragette movement, the Birmingham Campaign, Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson…those are just a few of the triumphant moments that have shaped us.

Jesus certainly was one who violated accepted cultural and religious boundaries during his ministry. He has ministered to those labeled unclean and unworthy with such regularity it becomes the action we expect as we read the gospels.

Then we come across a section like the text we’ll read this Sunday: Mark 7:24-37.

Jesus breaks from the script in a radical way. A pitiful character of a woman with a tormented daughter literally begs Jesus to help her…and he seems to deny her request, citing the ethnic and religious boundaries that separated them. He even compares her to a dog in excusing himself.

Needless to say, this has puzzled Bible readers from the time we’ve had it.

How would you feel had you received a response like she got? Some suggest it was all about timing, salvation had to come through the Jews, and Jesus knew she’d get her turn in due time. Some believe this demonstrates Jesus’ full humanity, where he had to learn that he had blind spots of cultural prejudice. Others think this was all done with a wink and a smile as Jesus tried to get this woman to press through in faith. Why do you think Jesus did this?

Imagine how you would feel after going home and finding your loved one healed. What do you suppose her thoughts about Jesus were at that point?

In the next verses, 31-37, how is the man who couldn’t hear or speak in a similar situation as the Syrophoenician woman? What stands out as unusual in this account? What do you make of the way Jesus addressed this man’s problems?

This study will give us a lot to think about, I think. Hope to see you Sunday!

Inside Out

One of the most common criticisms leveled at Christians and the church in general is that of hypocrisy. Religious playacting – speaking and putting on a show of one thing but living another. I think humanity’s genius for corruption is the reason any spiritual pursuit runs the risk of drifting into hypocrisy. I don’t think there’s a person on earth who isn’t guilty of it to at least some degree.

The commonality of hypocrisy isn’t an excuse for it though. Jesus spent a significant portion of his teaching time addressing the sin of religious hypocrisy. One of those times will be the subject of our study as we continue through the gospel of Mark, reading ch 7:1-23.

Another controversy with the Pharisees and religious leaders unfolds in our text. Why do you think the writer of Mark emphasizes that the issue in question was about traditions? What seems to carry more weight for the religious leaders, God’s word or their traditions about God’s word?

Traditions in and of themselves aren’t negative or bad. They can prove very helpful for remembering ones heritage and history. Why had they become a negative thing in this text? What traditions do we have at Eastgate? How do you feel or react when someone isn’t in step with our traditions? How can we keep traditions from becoming sacred in our thinking?

At the heart of this debate is the question of what is required to be one of God’s people. What do you think the Pharisees and Scribes thought was necessary? What does Jesus seem to think of their view?

Jesus finishes his address of purity and hypocrisy by exposing what the Old Testament purity laws were pointing to: the broken human condition. While Mark doesn’t state it in this section, based on everything Jesus says about the heart, what would constitute a cure for human corruption? How does the Good News tell us that is achieved?

It should be an interesting study – hope to see you there! Also – don’t forget The Great Big Water Balloon Fight of 2019 right after the service! Bring your own squirt-gun if you want, and a side dish to share if you can and we’ll provide the burgers and dogs! Also, you can get a free snow cone from Big Wave Snowballs! Come join the fun as we get refreshed on a hot, summer afternoon.

Powerful Compassion

I hope everyone has been having a good holiday weekend and that you find some time to rest as well! We’re going to be reading about Jesus and his disciples trying to get a break from their intense ministry schedule – only to find that rest isn’t that easy to come by. The team quickly find themselves in a situation that requires attending to – and in the account of events, we get a glimpse into the motivating force of God’s kingdom.

We’ll be reading Mark 6:30-44.

As the Jesus team arrives at their secluded spot, they find it’s over-run with a mass of uninvited people who are hoping to find some help. How do you think the disciples felt when they saw this massive group of people at the border of their rest area?

We are told how Jesus felt.

What word is used to describe Jesus’ response to these vulnerable people? ἐσπλαγχνίσθη is the word used to describe his reaction. Who have you felt those kinds of feelings for? What does this tell us about God’s heart towards all humanity?

Read Numbers 27:15-17 and Ezekiel 34:1-16 (take note of v11-13). What bearing do these Old Testament passages have on our text in Mark? Who would the “shepherds” be in Jesus’ time? Who would the “shepherds” be in our context today?

The disciples wanted to send this mass of uninvited people away, why? What is the difference between the disciple’s view of the problem and solution and Jesus’? Why do you think the difference is so great?

When the disciples take inventory of their supplies, they are woefully insufficient for this task. When they bring what little they have to Jesus, what happens? What, if any, significance do you find in the detail about all the left-overs?

Where is God calling you to submit whatever you have to Christ so that He can bless others? What does compassion look like in your interaction with others? What causes and interests do you have that are compatible with God’s compassion? What does God’s compassion look like at work in this world? What steps can we take to get in sync with God’s powerful compassion?

Looking forward to exploring this together this Sunday! Hope to see you there!