The Power of Forgiveness

“As high as heaven is over the earth,
    so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
   he has separated us from our sins. ” ~ Psalm 103

At the core of the Christian hope, there is the promise of forgiveness from God. Sometimes I wonder if we have become so acquainted with with that truth that it’s impact gets dulled. It can easily happen. That’s why I love revisiting the gospels, because the core truths that our faith is formed around are ready to be apprehended afresh with every reading.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 2:1-12 which is the account of a paralyzed man being healed by Jesus, but is also a story that highlights the power of divine forgiveness.

The house is packed, not one more person can be squeezed in. Locals look up and down the street at the crowds who have descended on their tiny village to hear and see the young Rabbi.

Four men enter the fray, carrying a paralyzed man on a make-shift stretcher, asking people to make way to they can get through. A few people oblige, but the mass of humanity is too thick and progress comes to a complete stop. One of the four looks at the outside stairs of the house they are trying to enter.

  • What do are your thoughts about these four men? Why do you suppose they are so persistent? Where are they trying to take their friend?
  • If we imagine a symbolic meaning to their story, what lesson can we, the church, learn from these four men about our own priorities?
  • What can tearing up a roof in order to get someone close to Jesus teach us about our mission?

After they lower the man down to Jesus, the story takes a rather strange turn. Instead of immediately healing the man, Jesus by begins declaring his sins forgiven by God.

  • Why do you think Jesus declared forgiveness before healing the man?
  • What do you suppose get the religious leaders angry about this? What did they infer from this declaration?
  • The inward healing of forgiveness is something unseen and immeasurable – the outward healing of the man’s limbs was something everyone could observe. In what way does that help us to understand Jesus’ actions here?

I really love this story – Hope to see you Sunday!

Unexpected Authority

I don’t know. Why is it whenever I write the word “authority” I hear Cartman’s voice in my head commanding my respect? It’s the hazards of keeping up with popular culture I suppose.

Whenever we think of a king or government exercising authority, what usually comes to mind? Often, we think of violence or even battle. We’re going to see a battle of sorts in our text this Sunday as we read Mark 1:21-34 – albeit, it’s not much of a battle. The authority of God’s kingdom leaves very little room for resistance.

  • In the story, what is it that first gets the people amazed about Jesus?
  • What do you think the people mean by Jesus teaching with “authority”?
  • Why do you suppose they didn’t recognize that sort of authority in the teachers of the law?

The story gets really exciting when someone erupts with squawking and a demonic spirit begins speaking through a person to confront Jesus.

  • What are your thoughts about demons and the spiritual world?
  • Why do you think the demonic entity identified Jesus’ hometown?
  • Why do you think Jesus cut the demon short? What can we infer from that about our own focus in ministry?

For those who care, there’s a chiastic structure to v21-28

Jesus comes to the synagogue

Jesus teaches

People are amazed at his authority

Jesus confronts a demon

People are amazed at his authority

Jesus leaves the synagogue

After the public setting of the synagogue we move the private setting of Jesus’ home. Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever and Jesus heals her. Word gets out and suddenly people are showing up in droves to be healed at Pete’s house. Not at the synagogue, isn’t that interesting?

  • How do you feel about the fact that Pete’s mother-in-law gets right to work, serving? Follow the link to the definition of that word. Look at the other passages where that word is used (the verse count is to the right of the definition).
  • How might we deduce something about the nature of being Christ’s follower from that?

Hope to see you Sunday!

The Gospel in Unity

The most tolerant dog in the world. Tolerance is a oft-used word in our present world. I’m not always convinced we are using the word correctly. Tolerance implies that there is an objection to something – but that objection is intentionally set aside for the sake of peace or unity.

Unfortunately, tolerance, as presented on a societal level, is more a demand for uniformity, leaving little room for intellectual dissent. People who hold deep convictions have felt pressured to compromise, and the terrible by-product is a mistaken notion that outright intolerance for people who hold different views or values is the only way to respond if one is to be faithful to one’s beliefs. That is most certainly a mistake. Tolerance is a Christian virtue – and acceptance of others in spite of differences is held up as the standard for appropriate representation of the gospel.

The church could learn a lot from that dog in the video.

This Sunday we’ll be looking at Romans 14:1-21 as we continue our study in that book. Paul will be talking directly to the divisions in the Roman church – divisions over convictions and doctrines that were very important to those who held to them.

As you read through this chapter – how would you characterize Paul’s emphasis? What does he seem to hold as a greater importance than the specific practices and beliefs that people had?

Paul stresses the idea of God’s acceptance of believers who hold their convictions before the Lord. What is the basis of God’s acceptance of us?

What are the issues that seem to cause division in the church today? How might we learn from what Paul says and apply them to our own community today?

I believe this is one of the most important chapters for us to really grasp as 21st Century American Evangelical Christians. I hope you can make it this Sunday!

The Gospel’s Advance

Well, they say one should never discuss politics nor religion in polite company. We will strain that conventional wisdom this Sunday, as we look at Romans 13 in our continued study of that book. Paul will see to it that religion and civic authority collide in no uncertain terms.

v 1-7 have been a source of consternation and sometimes abuse throughout the history of the church. Paul clearly asserts that civil governments have been appointed by God, and because of that, Christians should submit to the laws of the government. He makes it clear that human government is appointed to keep order, so that the evil of this fallen world isn’t left to run unchecked. All of this, according to Paul, has to be paid for somehow, so we should pay the taxes the government requires of us.

Obviously, this can give us pause. It would be a reasonable question to ask if this meant someone like Hitler was appointed by God…and if so, to what extent was a Christian to be in submission to that government?  We know that despots have appealed to this passage to intimidate citizens into subjection, leveraging religious fear. Can this be what Paul had in mind when he wrote this?

How do you understand Paul’s instructions? Do you believe he is saying that God approves of all leaders or that all governments represent his values and will? As we consider our own American government by the people, how do you understand Paul’s statements? Do you believe there is room for lawful dissent or peaceful protest within these instructions?

How would you summarize Paul’s overarching point in chapter 13, in light of his instructions given in chapter 12:9-21?

In what way does his following statement, to owe nothing but love for our fellow human, inform your understanding of how the gospel is advanced in this world?

Paul wraps his thoughts up by pointing out the lateness of the hour, and the fast approaching revelation of God’s healing kingdom. How can our understanding of God’s kingdom help us to better understand and respond to human governments?

This section is going to be one in which we’ll need to be careful and clear in our thinking, as we process through Paul’s words. We’ll be taking a good long look at the historical context – the rise of Nero and the shape of the world in which Paul wrote these words. It should be enlightening, challenging and encouraging! Hope to see you Sunday!

 

 

God’s Family of Grace

family of grace

A question that has occupied a lot of people’s attention throughout the history of the church, and I’m sure other religious formations, is the question of who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to God’s acceptance. I think one of the reasons we seem to like to decipher an answer to that question is because, for the most part, it reinforces our own sense of “in”-ness. It would be the rare person who works hard to identify himself as an outsider. No, we like to differentiate between insiders and outsiders because it usually makes us feel better about ourselves.

God, however, doesn’t seem to validate that quest. At least not so far as the New Testament is concerned.

In the section we’ll be reading in Romans, chapter 9:24-33, Paul will be looking at what God has intended for humanity all along, and what will characterize his intended result.

Paul begins this section with rapid-fire quotes from the Old Testament – from the minor prophet Hosea and Isaiah. The actual quotes are in reference to Israel, how, because of her unfaithfulness, she had been disqualified from being God’s people. Still, the prophet forecast a time when she would return from exile and be His people once more. Paul restructures this to be a picture of God’s plan to include the gentiles.

People who were not God’s people who become God’s people. Based on that quote, what does that tell us about the make-up of the church? What has God’s plan been all along, and who should we expect to be included? How easy or difficult is it for you to accept people who aren’t exactly like you in their beliefs, place in life, ethnicity or culture? How can we pursue God’s intended diversity as the church?

A contrast is made between the gentiles who are made right with God even though they never set out to achieve that, and Israel who worked so hard to get right through the works of the law, who never experienced it that way. What lesson do you think Paul driving home about the nature of salvation as well as the nature of the church?

Who is the rock which makes people stumble in this text? Why would the Jewish people have stumbled over Jesus? How do people stumble over Jesus, even in the church, today, based on v 30-33?

Hope to see you this Sunday – and remember, next Sunday (Aug 26th) we will only have ONE service at 10am – after that we’ll head to the beach for Surf-N-Grill!

God’s Unexpected Faithfulness

mennorah

We are heading into a complex and challenging section of the book of Romans as we continue our study this Sunday. Romans is divided into four distinct sections – and this week we’ll be starting the third section, ch 9-11, which deal with the question of Israel’s history and place in the overall narrative of God’s plan to restore all things.

Chapter 9 of Romans is a powder-keg of doctrinal volatility. People have broken friendships over differing interpretations of that chapter, pastors have been removed from churches, churches have split and veritable oceans of ink have been used to vent opinions about this difficult part of the book.

We’ll be reading ch 9:1-13 as we begin this section.

We certainly seem to go from a high point about God’s faithful love in chapter 8 to a serious lament in ch 9, don’t we? IN v 1-4, Paul is quite passionate and dramatic in expressing his heartbreak – what lengths does he say he’d go to if it would mean Israel’s acceptance of Messiah? Paul is setting the tone for ch 9-11 – it is structured as a lament

From there he lays out the dilemma – why do the people who received the promise reject the Promise?

To address this, Paul poses rhetorical questions and then sorts his way through the facts that he knows from the Old Testament stories about how God was fulfilling his purpose through Abraham and his family.

He highlights a pattern where God isn’t interested in making sure the DNA match is there – that repeatedly, God chose specific individuals through whom he will advance his plan to redeem all things, while setting others aside.

How does this passage make you feel? What do you think it’s communicating to us about God’s faithfulness to his promise? What would you describe as the theme of this passage – personal salvation or God’s big picture plan? Those are things to mull over as we dig into this passage on Sunday. Hope to see you then!

Why the Good News is REALLY Good

Image result for professor farnsworth good news quotesOne of my favorite cartoons on TV is Futurama. It’s the brainchild of Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons. The premise of the show is that a guy wakes up in the distant future and has to integrate with a world that is mostly a parody of almost all the sci-fi tropes we’ve come to know over the years. One of my favorite characters is Professor Farnsworth, the sort of leader of the band of misfit characters. There is an ongoing gag where he bursts into the room to announce a mission by saying “Good news everyone!”, and when he goes on to explain it, it is actually very BAD news. For example: “Good news, everyone! Today you’ll be delivering a crate of subpoenas to Sicily 8, the Mob Planet.”

Sometimes I feel like our modern Evangelical church is like Professor Farnsworth. We tell the world “Good news everyone!” when declaring the gospel, but follow it up with “God is very angry with you and if you won’t believe in him he’s going to burn you forever!”

I think this is largely because we’ve relegated the Gospel to something that only effects our future (going to heaven when you die). We end up fixating on the eschatological implications of the Gospel and almost ignoring the present ramifications of the Good News about Jesus. Yet the New Testament adamantly declares that the Gospel is effects our past and present, as well as our future!

In our study of Romans, Paul has been reminding the Roman churches about the nature of the Gospel and how it should have a unifying effect on them. In ch 5-8 he’s been reminding them of what our lives look like now that we have a new covenant with God through Jesus. He’s compared that new life to our old life enslaved to sin and in fear of condemnation by the Law of Moses.

In the section we’ll be reading this Sunday, chapter 8:1-17, Paul will get to the very heart of what the gospel is, and what it means to US! He reveals to us why the good news is really good!

In v1-4 he launches off with the stunning declaration of our deliverance from condemnation for sin. How easy or hard is it for you to believe that you have been declared “not guilty” by God because of Jesus’ work on the cross? How easy or hard is it for you to believe that God no longer associates you with any sin of your past, present or future? How would you describe this as good news?

In what ways to you see your life energized by the resurrection power of God (v11)? Obviously, this has future implications of our bodily resurrection at the end of the age, but in what ways can you see that effecting your life today? How would you see this as good news for a life in this world?

What do you see as the importance of having our identity built on being a child of God (v15)? How does being God’s beloved child affect your status, relationship and purpose in this life? In what way is being brought into God’s family good news?

I love chapter 8 of Romans – this is such an encouraging section to read! Hope to see you on Sunday!