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.

The “AH-HA” Moment

Last week we watched as Jesus performed the most wide spread miracle in all
of His public ministry, feeding the multitudes on a mountainside. Today in our text we’ll
pick up with an equally impressive miracle, the story of Jesus walking on the water and
then another wide sweeping miracle of healing. All of this wonder working reveals the compassionate character of a loving savior but it’s intended to reveal something else as well. The trouble is we humans are sometimes a little slow on the uptake. This week we pick up in Mark 6:45-56.

Jesus was up in a mountain miles away from the disciples yet he saw their struggle and headed towards them. How does it feel to know that Jesus sees and comes to us in our own difficulties? Can you think of a time he did so in your own life? There’s been a lot of opportunity to witness people struggling in Bay county recently. In what ways might we be able to “get in the boat” with them?

The disciples don’t initially react to Jesus showing up how we might expect. There are some cultural conditions along with their struggles that cause them some confusion. What ultimately helped them to recognize who he was? Does the statement “It is I” in verse 50 sound familiar to you at all. Check out Exodus 3:14. What did God call himself  to Moses at the burning bush? In Matthew’s gospel account of this miracle the disciples respond making their first proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus saying “Truly you are the son of God”. This was their Ah-ha moment in recognizing who he really was. What event or series of events preceded your messiah epiphany? It seems like it took a whole lot for the disciples to finally come to this revelation. Think of all the had witnessed and experienced up to this point. How does it make you feel to realize that God never gave up in revealing himself despite their “hard hearts”. How might we join his efforts in help others recognize him in their lives?

In verses 53-56 Jesus again extends his miracle working power to the masses. It says ALL who touched the hem of his garment were healed. What do you think the message behind the miracle here might be? Are there people you consider outside the reach of grace? How hard is it for you to extend grace or maybe even friendship to someone with a lifestyle other than yours. If your seats at the ball game were next to someone who identified as transgender or homosexual, how would you respond? Would you share the excitement of the evening with them or move to a different spot? Good food for thought.
This will be an intriguing study for sure! Hope to see you here!

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!

 

A Conscience Resisted

Whoops! I was sort of under the weather and forgot to update Wonderwhat! Sorry about that. This Sunday we’ll be reading a very intriguing story as we continue exploring the Gospel of Mark. We’ll be reading chapter 6:14-29.

The writer of Mark does something noteworthy in this section: he slows down the narrative. He even adds in some thoughts and motives for his characters. I suppose, for the first readers, this was all contemporary news and still scandalous enough to catch their ears. We certainly have no lack of love for political scandals and gossip about the famous in our day, why shouldn’t it be true of them?

This section tells the sordid account of how Herod Antipas executed, without trial or provocation, a religious leader who posed a political threat to him. When you word it like that, it does sound like a contemporary headline.

You’ll notice as you read the text that Jesus is not center stage in this section. Instead we have Harod Antipas, his current wife Herodias, her daughter and John the Baptist. There are a lot of issues being addressed in this story. Abuse of power. The importance of character for leaders. Political machinations. Commodification of women. Lust. Ego. Murder. I’m tellin’ ya’, this section is downright Shakespearean.

As you read the story, put yourself in the position of each of the characters. John was faithful to the cost of his life. Herod was intrigued but unyielding. Protective but controlling. Ultimately, he is backed into a corner where if he were to do the right thing it could cost him his reputation. Little did he know what his reputation would really be.

Track Herod’s interest, but refusal to heed what John had to say. What can we learn about the ramifications of ignoring God’s attempts to shape us? What is the reason given for Herod acquiescing to his step-daughter’s request? What areas of your personal reputation do you spend a lot of time protecting? What if God called you to do something that would diminish that reputation?

It could end up being a convicting study…a challenge towards yielding our hearts to God. Hope to see you then!