Choosing Sides

Given the great lament we presently have over our highly polarized society, I do cringe at the title of our upcoming study for this Sunday. I mean…I hear it, and I realize there is a great deal of pushback and questioning of binary choices in our present world. Plurality has been elevated to a position of unapproachable sanctity that can teeter on the edge of absurdity, if not plunge in altogether. Understand, as it touches our equal and dignified treatment of our fellow human being, a representation of plurality can be an agent of peace.

As it touches epistemology, however, we are going to be challenged by the declarations of Scripture. It’s my opinion that true plurality is rare, if not downright mythological. Humans historically tend to be attracted to bias. No matter how piously we claim neutrality, our opinions begin surfacing the longer we communicate with each other.

In our study this Sunday Jesus will make a statement that forcefully demands we make a binary choice. We’ll be reading Luke 11:14-28. Read the whole passage together, then go back and linger on v23.

What are the three distinct reactions towards Jesus stated in v14, 15 and 16? The first is contrasted with the next two, indicating one is positive and the others are negative.

What do you make of the “strong man” illustration Jesus uses? Given the context of the miracle that happened, who do you suppose he sees as the strong man, and who is plundering his castle? What might this tell us about Jesus’ mission, and ours by extension? What does it show us about choosing Jesus’ side?

V24-26 is an unusual section, to say the least. We’ll examine that in detail on Sunday – but what do you suppose Jesus is trying to convey here? Is this after-care instructions when being delivered from demonic possession…or is there something bigger that Jesus might be addressing especially in light of v23?

V28 sums everything up. How might we side with Jesus in light of that verse?

I hope you can join us for this fascinating, albeit challenging study this Sunday!

Teach Us to Pray

This Sunday we’ll be reading Luke 11:1-13, and exploring the model prayer that Jesus provided for us.  It’s interesting that guys who grew up in Jewish households would want instruction on how to pray.  They grew up with prayers as a major part of their heritage.  Why do you think they wanted Jesus to teach them to pray?

As you read Jesus’ guide for prayer, what things strike you about it?  What seems to characterize this prayer?  If you were to divide it into parts, what part comes first and what comes second (hint: pay attention to the pronouns)?

Jesus gives us a pattern as to what we should pray – then he tells us two stories that guide in how to pray. The first story is one that highlights persistence. Do you think this means that no matter what we pray about, if we are persistent enough, God is obligating Himself to fulfill our requests? What if we want something that is outside of God’s will and intent? If the former isn’t the point, what might his point be concerning persistence?

Jesus drives home the paternal concept of God, not only by inviting us to call God our Father, but then comparing Him to a father giving provision to his children. How might a view of God from standpoint of paternal love affect how we pray?

We need a guide for prayer.  Left to ourselves, we tend to make a mess of things as important as this.  I hope this Sunday we can gain some insight about the “hows” and “whys” of our communication with God.  Hope you can join us!

One Important Thing

I’ve actually heard that women who find themselves busy in life are sometimes called a “Martha” – a sort of put-down for being highly active. I never realized that before – we Christians have our own version of “Karen”… and that’s disappointing. Whatever the lesson to be learned from Luke’s story about Mary and Martha, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended to give us fuel for insulting one another.

We’ll be reading that account in our study of Luke this Sunday – reading chapter 10:38-42.

There are some rather startling features in this vignette which we’ll examine in depth this Sunday. The most prominent, and the one N.T. Wright believes is the entire point of the passage, is Mary’s described position. It says that she “sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught”. We don’t want to mistake that as though she were sitting there, gazing up at him adoringly (even though an awful lot of art depicts it that way). To sit at someone’s feet was an idiom, a common expression to describe someone being a student. Paul uses that same expression to describe his studies under Gamaliel in Acts 22:3.

What’s the big deal about that, you ask? Well, in the Talmud (Sotah 21b), Rabbi Eliezer (a prominent and influential rabbi during Jesus’ time) wrote: “Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah is teaching her promiscuity”…sometimes rendered as “to teach your daughter Torah is to teach her foolishness”. In other words, women weren’t allowed to “sit at the feet” of a rabbi and learn to be a rabbi themselves. This scene is nothing short of scandalous.

Martha’s response is partly due to being overwhelmed by the workload, and partly she is scandalized by her sister’s behavior. Behavior, I might add, which Jesus validates and implicitly invites Martha into.

Jesus called what Mary did the “one thing worth being concerned about”. So what was she doing? How would you characterize it, and how would you go about following her example in your own life?

Hope you can join us as we examine this on Sunday!

Hello Neighbor!

This Sunday we’ll be reading a very familiar part of Scripture – the parable of the Good Samaritan (albeit, he is never called “the Good Samaritan” in the story, but it’s a designation that has stuck). We’ll be reading Luke 10:25-37.

The story is prompted by a Hebrew Bible scholar who is apparently trying to smoke out Jesus’ heretical views on God’s acceptance of people. The original question, “what should I do to inherit eternal life?”, was a regularly discussed topic among the rabbis of that day. Jesus asks a question in return – which the man gives a fairly standard answer to: Love God and love people. It’s important to note that he’s not really asking how to be saved – the question centers on how a person who is part of God’s eternal life should live.

Wanting to cinch the trap he set for Jesus, the scholar then asks whom Jesus defines as neighbor.

Remember, they are in Samaria, a place and people hated by the Jewish faithful of that day. The answer to that question could pose a problem from both the Jews and the Samaritans.

(If you’d like a more in-depth understanding of the conflict between Israel and Samaria, you might take the time to read THIS.) I’ll be giving a very brief history of the conflict on Sunday morning.

Jesus responds to the test with a story…of course he does. As you read the story – determine who you identify with right away. Do you see yourself as the victim…if so, who are the robbers in your mind? The story gives neither of them any description…probably so that we can fill in those blanks.

The Priest and the Temple assistant pass on the other side of the road from the victim – most likely for ceremonial purity reasons. They have responsibilities after all, which touching someone who may be dead would prohibit them from fulfilling. What not-so-subtle message is Jesus getting across about the prioritization of religious activity? What religious pursuits, if any, do you have that might cause you to “cross the street” in avoidance of others? What does this story tell us about God’s attitude concerning that?”

Why do you think Jesus chose to make the hero of the story a Samaritan? What effect might that have on those hearing it, given the history there?

Jesus finishes by asking yet another question – one that not only didn’t answer the scholar’s question, but which turns the tables altogether. Instead of figuring out who is worthy of being called a neighbor, Jesus puts the emphasis on being a neighbor…to all. How does that instruct us on what God considers our social responsibility to be?

This story has much to teach us – especially in our world where we are so outraged and angry over the smallest of differences. May we have ears to hear. Hope to see you on Sunday!

The Good News Mission

Did you ever see the movie The Blues Brothers? There was a refrain that was repeated all through the adventure: “We’re on a mission from God”. If you think about it, it was that very sense of mission which propelled them along the entire narrative.

As Christ’s Followers, we are people who have been given a divine mission. This Sunday as we continue our study in Luke, we’ll be reading ch 10:1-24. In this section Jesus once again sends his followers out on mission, this time 70 volunteers who are not part of his 12 disciples.

The section is fairly similar to the opening of ch 9. Why do you think Jesus made these emissaries of the Good News strip their supplies down so much?

What do you think it means when he says to bless the house they’re staying at with God’s peace; how might that characterize the mission we’ve been sent on? What do you think it means to have their peace return to them if they are rejected?

Rejection of the Good News about God’s Kingdom seems to carry a serious ramification, according to Jesus. What might shaking the dust from their feet symbolize?

Jesus makes a very clear connection between His own ministry, the Father who sent Him, and those who believe and share in this mission. To accept or reject one is to accept or reject all. That’s a powerful association. What impact does that have on your thinking about your own life as a Follower of Jesus?

The whole section concludes with such joy – joy of those who participate in the mission, and joy from Jesus, reflecting the joy of the Father. What is it that seems to inspire this sort of divine joy from Jesus and the Father?

I hope you can join us this Sunday as we examine this text and see how it applies to our lives!

Following Jesus

This Sunday we’ll be continuing our journey through Luke – reading chapter 9:46-62.

There is a thematic connection between these verses concerning the nature of our calling to follow Jesus. We call it discipleship. If you read the selection from the link, you’ll notice it’s broken into sections.

The first section contains Jesus’ famous, contradictory words: “the least among you is the greatest”. He used a child to illustrate that hidden reality. In what way might we understand this concept? Do you think Jesus is suggesting that we act in a childish way? What power does a child hold in the world – actually, in the ancient world? What might that tell us about the power dynamics of this world in contrast with the Christ Follower’s attitude toward power and influence?

The second section is one of my favorites – John whines about someone who successfully brought deliverance to a person using Jesus’ name – and he put a stop to it. “How dare you infringe on our trade secrets!”. What does Jesus’ response to John tell us about who we are to consider fellow followers of Jesus?

John gets his brother to join him folly in the next section, where the religious, racial and political tensions between Samaritans and Israelites creates a roadblock for Jesus and his fellow travelers. James and John want to do what all people do when they feel threatened or ill-treated and call for a scorched earth response from Jesus. What does Jesus’ response tell us about our mission as Christ’s Followers?

Finally, things get really intense. Three would-be disciples have very difficult parameters placed on their intentions of being Jesus Followers. Housing, burials and goodbyes seem like reasonable needs to attend to – why do you think Jesus seemed to thwart their intentions concerning them? How does the refrain, “Let me first”, fact or into your interpretation of these encounters?

I hope you can join us for this study on just what it may cost us to claim the name of disciple.

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!