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Whose Kingdom?

Has someone ever taken something that belonged to you – or at least you felt belonged to you? How did that make you feel?

Have you ever been in charge of something and someone else starts stepping all over your authority? What feelings does that incur? What do you want to do? We’re going to be thinking about things like that This Sunday as we continue our study in Matthew, reading chapter 21:33-46.

Jesus tells a parable that traditionally is referred to as “the parable of the wicked tenants”…but it could be more accurately called “the story of the renters from hell”.

Read the parable over.  Who do the vinedressers who are renting the property represent?  Who would they represent as we try to understand this parable for our own lives?

Who does the Landowner represent?  What do we learn from about Him from His responses to the growing tensions?

What was the last straw in this stand-off?  What drove the Landowner to action?  What can we learn from this story about our own lives and the choices and responses we have?

It will be a challenging, yet encouraging study, I think.

Christ in Confession and Action

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Back in the 1970’s there was a Broadway musical that was quite controversial while it piqued the spiritual interests of the culture. It was the rock opera Jesus Christ, Superstar. I was enamored with that body of work as a young kid. I tried my adolescent best to pull off the same screams that Ian Gillian could emit. Never worked.

Anyway, the controversy centered around Tim Rice’s portrayal of Jesus through the lyrics of  the songs, as well as the omission of the resurrection from the story (albeit, I still insist the movie version has a subtle resurrection implication…but honestly, who cares?) The complaints weren’t really without some merit.

The title song, however, posed a question that got the nation talking. I think that’s a good thing.

Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ

who are you what have you sacrificed?

Jesus Christ, Superstar

Do you think you are what they say you are?

That’s such an important question to pose to Jesus. Who are you? That’s going to be the main subject we’ll be covering in portion of the narrative we’ll be reading this Sunday, Matthew 16:13-28.

Who do people of our day and age say that Jesus is? What differences can you detect between churches and who they see Jesus as being?

More importantly, who do you understand Jesus to be? Peter gives his great confession and Jesus validates both him and his words. In fact, I believe it’s this very confession that Jesus says he’ll build his church on. How does that inform you about what the church is?

As the narrative goes on, Jesus outlines his mission as Messiah. How do you think this fit with what the disciples expected Messiah to come and do? When Peter resists, Jesus begins a rebuke that mirrors his blessing from the previous verses, but goes the opposite way. How does that help us understand the distinction between the ways we pursue victory in this broken world over against the way God’s kingdom operates?

Worse yet, Jesus tells his disciples (that would be us, too) that our calling is to follow in his steps and take up our cross. The challenge is huge, but the stakes are high. To give up the advancement of our own will and ego in order to be conformed to Christ’s self-sacrificial love. What aspects of self-will are the most difficult for you to imagine releasing? On the other hand, what would be more important than finding wholeness in life God’s way?

I really love Eugene Peterson’s version of this section – I’ll leave you with that:

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? “Don’t be in such a hurry to go into business for yourself. Before you know it the Son of Man will arrive with all the splendor of his Father, accompanied by an army of angels. You’ll get everything you have coming to you, a personal gift.”

The God-Begotten Life

 

Born again. It’s a phrase used so commonly, research done a few years back indicated that a large percentage of Americans identified as “born again Christians”, but also indicated that most had no concept of what that meant. It’s as though “born again” is a team name, and that’s the team a person chooses and roots for on Sundays.

But being born anew in God has got to mean more than that…doesn’t it?

This Sunday we’ll be reading 1 John 5:1-13 as we come to our final few studies in this epistle. The last fourteen verses of chapter 4 (covered last week) are the centerpiece of everything John had written up to that point, and the remaining verses will all flow from that thought. God is love. Love. It all starts, is sustained and culminates with love. So everything God is doing and planning and developing in this world and in our lives is going to bear that characteristic. Chapter five begins with John expounding on the results of that love, indicating what a God-birthed life looks like.

In v1-3 he talks about how our love for God will be revealed in obedience to God’s purposes. Verse one uses two words to capsulize what obedience looks like. What two words does he use? How do those two words relate to the other areas of our lives?

The word “overcome” – victory, conquering – is used again in v4-5. Given how gnarly the world is and our circumstances can sometimes be, what do you think it is that we conquer and are victorious over in this life? What about the life to come?

v6-9 are just worded weirdly. It really helps to read it in the Message version. We can figure out what the blood is – the water is another deal altogether. Interpretations range from it being symbolic of Jesus’ incarnational birth to it being a reference to the water and blood that flowed from the wound in his side. I think most interpreters tend to view it as symbolic of Christ’s baptism and the inauguration of his earthly ministry – because the Holy Spirit bore witness at that moment (in the form of a dove) and also at his death (in the resurrection).  No matter how we interpret it – the point is that our acceptance and belief in this testimony is paramount to our new life. Christ is to be our focal point. Why do you think that is important?

John then tips his hand as to exactly why he’s writing this letter in v10-13…v 13 especially. In contrast to the gnostic teachers who were coaching people to try and find eternal life through some mysterious process of gaining secret knowledge – the Elder says plainly and boldly – in God’s son, we HAVE eternal life if we’ll believe it. Eternal life, remember, isn’t just heaven in the end. It begins now. How do you believe eternal life is manifest in our present lives?

This will be one of those “thinking cap” studies – but I believe it will be well worthwhile. Hope to see you Sunday!

 

Getting Real

Research psychologists have found there are at least three situations when we are not ourselves. First, the average person puts on airs when she/he visits the lobby of a fancy hotel. Next, the average person will try to hide their emotions and impress the salesman when entering a new car showroom. Can you guess what the third environment is where we are not ourselves? According to this same psychological study, it’s when we enter into a church.

Does that strike you as odd? It does me, though it isn’t foreign to me…just odd.

It is a common human dynamic to place a great emphasis on outward appearances. Sadly, the church has not been immune to this propensity throughout its history. There has always been, and will always be, an imperative for us as God’s people to get real when it comes to our journey into life.

We’re going to be looking at 1 John 1:8-2:2 this Sunday – and I believe John is urging us as the church to get real.

Everything about what John is encouraging in this section is emphasizing honesty. In what ways can we as Christians end up acting as though we have “no sin”? How can projecting an image of perfection lead to self-deception?

In what ways do you consider confession to be cleansing in your relationship with God?

Based on chapter 2, v 1-2, why should we have no fear in being honest and open before God and everyone else, for that matter? What can fear end up doing to us relationally?

Should be a provocative study – hope to see you Sunday!

Some Only Heard Thunder

Have you ever heard an audible voice from heaven giving you direction? I never have – though I know people who have had that experience. I used to think that if I could just hear God shouting out of the clouds letting me know he was there that I would never doubt again.

We’re going to see from our passage this Sunday that its really not that simple. Well be reading John 12:27-43. This passage includes a supernatural event like I described above, but it certainly doesn’t have the result one would expect.

As we read this passage let’s consider the reactions of the people towards Jesus. I believe there are some pitfalls we can observe and try to sidestep in our own journey to discover more of God and his ways.

For one thing – there were three distinct reactions to the voice from heaven. One, of course, was John who obviously heard the voice of God clearly enough to record for us what the voice said. What were the other two reactions? What do you suppose made the difference in what people heard in that noise? I find it interesting that there is often so much ambiguity when we encounter the divine. I think if a person is determined to do so, he or she can always find a way to rationalize what others perceive as a supernatural event. God seems intent on moving in such a way that he’s easily hidden if someone doesn’t want to see him. I also think there’s a bit of heart-testing in that ambiguity. How open minded are you when it comes to God encounters?

The other thing that I notice in v34-36 is a doctrinal barrier. In v34, the people don’t actually say “the Law says“…what do they say instead? How would you explain their problem with Jesus and the law? How well do you know the doctrines that you hold to absolutely? What are your doctrinal convictions based on – what is written, or what you’ve learned? In what ways could God get obscured by our doctrines. How can we be faithful to our convictions and still be open minded?

Finally, the last verse of this section (v43) is very telling. How can loving the praise or glory that comes from men (that is, the validation and affirmation that we crave so deeply) end up interfering with our loyalty to God? What measures can we take to prevent that from happening in our own experiences?

Should be an interesting study – hope to see you then!

Jesus Throws a Temple Tantrum

It’s hard to fully grasp the events that took place that morning that Jesus walked into the temple grounds in Jerusalem and started throwing people out. But that’s what we’ll be tackling this Sunday as we explore John 2:13-25.

It’s easy for us to immediately assign the guilt in this scene to the people who are crassly selling the accouterments of worship at the temple. How dare they sell sacrificial animals like a commercial enterprise…and yet…there was a legitimate purpose that these vendors served. Imagine living a long ways from Jerusalem and hauling the required sacrifice with you. Imagine that a dog nips at it’s heel along the way, or worse, a wolf takes a bite out of it’s ear. The sacrifice won’t be accepted and the expenditure of time and food for the trip would be for naught. It actually makes sense to provide a place right at the temple to buy a pre-approved animal to sacrifice.

There was actually something else going on that morning. A disruption and a replacement was being made.

If Jesus was replacing the temple – what are the implications of that as you read it? What can it mean to us today, as his followers in 21st century America?

This should prove to be a compelling study – hope you can make it!

Final Words

Final words are easy to miss.  When we sense that a speaker is finishing up, we can wander – close our notebook, put away the pen, think about what’s for lunch.  But many times, final words can provide clarity for what has been said before.  

This Sunday we will be finishing the study in 2 Peter. We’ll be reading 3:14-18.  Peter covers several ideas which we’ll look at.  But his final words I believe provide a clarity to help us properly interpret the call to holiness and godliness; and a stability that can enable us to endue difficulties.

Lets look forward to exploring this passage together.

See you Sunday