Living Like the World’s Ending (2)

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This Sunday we’ll be continuing our trek through Matthew 24, reading v15-35. Much of what Jesus predicts in this section deals with the upcoming siege of Jerusalem, a prediction that was fulfilled in 70 AD.

As we did last week, we’ll focus on the instructions we receive from Jesus concerning how we respond and live in light of the temporal nature of this world’s systems. As  you read through the passage, pay attention to the places where Jesus gives specific instructions to his disciples and consider how those instructions would apply to our lives in this present world.

I think this week instead of writing a lot of stuff here, I want to share a link to a short  history lesson about the events of 70 AD. It is really important for any student of the gospels and the New Testament to have a working knowledge of those events – and this video are very well done with some excellent visuals.  Hope you find the time to watch it!

Living Like the World’s Ending

Image result for failed end of the world predictions

I’ve lived through a lot, and I mean a LOT of predictions that the world is going to end at a specific time. Growing up in an Evangelical home, I was weened on movies like “A Thief in the Night” and songs like “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. As our culture was feeling the effects of a revolutionary upheaval in it’s values and beliefs during the 60’s, many sincere Christians were looking to the Bible for answers as to what it all meant. For many in the Evangelical church, the answer was clear – the end of the age is upon us. This, of course, was nothing new to church history. For 2,000 years as cultures and values changed, as wars and natural catastrophes struck the earth, the church has always (and rightly so, in my view) looked longingly towards heaven and wondered if this is the time that this broken world will finally be redeemed by the King.

 Apocalyptic speculation is sensational stuff. I know during my youth I was always intrigued with scenarios presented about possible timelines and what specific current events could be revealing about when the end would come. It filled me with a lot of emotional sensations – most notably, fear. I wasn’t alone in that. In talking with many of my peers, both then and now, the fear of missing the rapture and facing the Great Tribulation was a driving force behind much of our adolescent spirituality. On more than one occasion as a young boy I found myself alone in the house and assumed the rapture had happened and I’d missed it.  Much of that fear had to do with a works view of salvation which I wasn’t disabused of until many years later – but still, I can safely say that fear was not a sustainable motive for me.

The danger in it all is an obsessive fascination with signs about the end. The problem with this sort of enthrallment with sensationalism is that it tends to spawn a lot of dubious revelations. Some people get very wealthy from that sort of thing. Harold Camping sold a lot of books in 1993, and again in 2010 and yet more in 2011 – and in each he was predicting the time of the rapture for the following year. It didn’t happen, just so you know. In all fairness though, book sales aside, I certainly can’t judge the sincerity of teachers who make claims about the end of the world. I would assume the motive is to stir up a fervor and passion for the appearing of our Lord – and I can’t see that as a bad thing. I can say, however, that it runs contrary to the way Jesus himself talked about these things.

We’ll be starting chapter 24 of Matthew’s gospel this Sunday reading the first 14 verses. Needless to say, this will not be a teaching which tells us when the world will end. What we’ll learn from Jesus is that there is a presupposition of the world’s ending. It’s how we live in the time we have that’s truly important.

v1-3 give us the overall heading of this section. Jesus predicts the end of something – what is it? The disciples ask him when this will happen, and what sign to look for to signal his coming. Do you find that odd? He’s right in front of them – why are they asking about his coming? They didn’t expect him to leave – what were they talking about? The word “coming” in the Greek is “parousia” – the arrival of a king. They are asking when he’ll be revealed as King and bring the present, broken world to it’s conclusion. They don’t realize it, but they are asking two different questions. What then, are the two subjects in view in this section?

Jesus describes things that sound like current events to us and could be alarming – except for what Jesus says in v6. What are these events, in his view?

Instead of giving his disciples a straight forward answer about when these things would happen – what does Jesus say to his disciples as instruction? (hint: v4, v6, v13)

Before things really end, what is happening according to v14? What is our mission then, in light of the end? How does knowing when the end may come have any bearing on what our mission is? Does it change? If not, what does that tell us? If so, how?

See you this Sunday!

Jesus Critiques the Leaders – or – Woe, Dude!

Image result for woah, dudeHey all – this Sunday we’ll be reading Mathew 23 – yes…the entire chapter. There are actually only a few themes in this chapter, it’s just that they are repeated a lot. It’s a challenging text to distill for modern, Western, sequentially oriented thinkers. We’ll give it our best go!

In this chapter, Jesus sort of goes all Gordon Ramsay on the Pharisees and Scribes! As you read the entire rebuke that Jesus gives to the religious leaders of his day – what is the overarching theme that you pick up on? What do you believe he reserves his scorn for?

It would be very easy to keep this text isolated to the temple leadership of Jesus’ day, but that would be a mistake. In what ways can you pick up on parallels between the religious culture of Jesus’ day, and our present day Evangelical culture? If you were able to communicate a warning to our church from this text, what would be the most important part of Jesus’ rebuke you’d apply?

Heavy stuff – but…Surf-N-Grill is this Sunday…so it evens out, I guess. See you then!

The God of Life and Love

The human condition is one that, all through our history, has desired to extend our existence behind this present life. In the ancient world, kings assumed that they could immortalize themselves by building great cities and monuments. The above sonnet by Percy Shelly illustrates the grand futility of such a pursuit. The sands of time have a way of grinding all our achievements down.

Try as we do, humanity can’t seem to pull off an extended existence. That reality has had a side-effect of cynicism that also traces its way through history – where the idea of any postmortem existence is dismissed. “This life is all there is, let’s eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”.

We’ll be reading about a group of people, the Sadducees, who were themselves cynical of any notion of life after death. We’ll be reading Matthew 22:23-46.

The Sadducees pose a riddle to Jesus about a hypothetical conundrum which could occur in a resurrection of the dead in a case of levirate marriage. It’s a silly question – and Jesus seems to give a dismissive answer – but in reality, he uses the situation to express an important truth about God’s purpose with humanity. What is the emphasis of v32? What does that tell us about God’s intentions for those who will believe him?

After the Sadducees fail, the Pharisees send in a lawyer. Not that kind of lawyer – but one who was an expert in Jewish law. He asks a very common question debated by the rabbis throughout the history of Israel. What commandment is of supreme importance to God? In Jesus’ answer – what priority to we discover? How does his tethering of the WHOLE law to these two commandments reveal what God’s primary interest is for us as his followers?

In what ways do you find Jesus’ answer comforting? In what ways do you find it challenging? How can we more faithfully embrace and express the primacy of love?

Looking forward to exploring this together on Sunday! See you then!


Image result for taxesBeing not too far out from the old April 15th deadline I’m guessing we’ve all paid our taxes for the year, or at least made some sort of arrangement to.  How do you feel about paying taxes? I’m thinking most of us don’t have too much heart ache about it being we’re a democracy and receive various benefits as a result..What if though, tomorrow Russia came in, forcibly took over our country and demanded we pay them tax as the reward for having stolen our land?

That was pretty much the scenario in Israel when Jesus showed up on the scene.

In our text this week Jesus will be answering a trick  question posed once again by the Pharisees, regarding taxes. He’ll be talking about our responsibility to the kingdoms of men and also pointing out our more significant debt to the kingdom of heaven. We’ll see how, according to him, they’re very much interrelated..  Matthew 22:15-22

Our text opens up with the Pharisees again plotting against Jesus.  All through the book of Matthew the Pharisees have been the ones openly opposing him. They were the bible scholars of their day, yet their religious convictions and self proclaimed righteousness actually prevented them from seeing and cooperating with God.

How might we fall into that same trap? Do we feel the need to argue with or criticize those who don’t agree with our views on politics, worship style or alcohol consumption? Or even worse, do we question their acceptance by God given their view on less essential issues than the core truth of Jesus as Lord? What can we do to make sure we’re cooperate with God’s priority of loving him and his people?

Since the Pharisees couldn’t trip Jesus up with any of their questions on the law, they teamed up with basically their enemies, the Herodians who were pro- Rome in a political tact to oppose him…

In vs 17 we find their ill-willed question regarding paying taxes or not. On the surface it appears to be a loose, loose question.. If Jesus says yes they should pay the tax, the crowd who expected him to overthrow the government at any moment, would have been severely disappointed..If he says no, the Herodians would turn him over to the Romans for treason..Jesus in his infinite wisdom appeases everyone. Well except for the Pharisees who were hoping for the worst.

In pointing to Caesar’s image on the coin denoting his ownership of it, we can draw a parallel to God’s image inscribed on our hearts pointing to his ownership of us.

We as Christians are citizens of both heaven and earth with responsibilities to both kingdoms…Do you see paying taxes as a heavenly or earthly responsibility? Does Romans 13:1-2 shed any light there?

How might this principle effect our work performance? The way we go about doing business in the community or pay our other debts?

What about the other debt Jesus mentioned? After addressing the debt to government Jesus added AND render to God what’s God’s..What do you perceive as your debt to God? If you’re a parent what’s the one thing you want more than anything from your own children?

What is the most important thing you have given them?  Science substantiates that love has the potential to facilitate healing and overall wellbeing.  Has knowing the immense love God has for you affected your life in a positive manner? How so?

It should be a challenging and encouraging study. Looking forward to digging in together!

The Kingdom Party

Image result for extravagant little mermaid birthday party

When my kids were all in grade school and younger, we lived across from a neighborhood that was way above our means. When our oldest daughter made friends in school, the inevitable birthday party invites went out. My wife and I were stunned at how elaborate and grand the parties were for kids from that neighborhood. Fully themed Little Mermaid extravaganzas were in vogue then, as I recall. The cost of one of those parties probably matched my yearly income.

What is the biggest, most elaborate party you’ve ever been invited to? Did you enjoy yourself or was it challenging to be there?

No matter how big the party was that you attended, I can guarantee it didn’t hold a candle to ancient royal feasts. They were known to last up the 10 days. Even into the medieval period, England and France threw a joint party that lasted for 17 days in a huge field, where everyone was given coats woven with silk and gold.

This Sunday we’ll read a story told by Jesus about a party thrown by a king who gets snubbed. It’s a curious story, not without it’s critics. We’ll be reading Matthew 22:1-14.

Who do you believe the king is in this story? Who is the son? Who do you believe the people snubbing the invitation represent? Who do you think the replacement invitees are? If you said, respectively, “God, Jesus, the Religious Leaders, the church”, you would be in the company of the majority of those who interpret this parable. I agree with them too. There are other views about who is representing whom, but they aren’t as convincing to me, given the context and theme that has been rolling along since chapter 21 began.

Jesus compares the kingdom of God to an elaborate party. How does that fit within your pictures of what God’s kingdom is like? How does it match up with images of people with wings sitting on clouds and playing harps? Which is more appealing to you?

The story is a metaphor – so what do you think the king’s reaction to the people who snub his invitation and kill his messengers represents?

What was the criteria for the second group of people being invited to the party? What made them candidates for entry?

How would you interpret the last part of the story – the guy who is under-dressed and gets tied up and thrown out? What do you suppose this metaphor is representing to us about our invitation to God’s party? How might Galatians 3:27 help you imagine what this part means?

Just some stuff to ponder – hope to see you on Sunday!


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.