Living in View of the Finish Line

I love touring ancient structures whenever I get the chance; Mayan ruins, ancient Celtic rock circles, the ruins of Vindolanda – I’ve had the opportunity to see them. What I find so fascinating is to touch those ancient stones and imagine the hands who also touched them so very long ago. At one point, these were thriving communities – now they are curious piles of rock. All things come and go – all things have a limited shelf-life, including humans.

Jesus will be talking about the end of an age in the text we’ll be reading in our study of Luke this Sunday. We’ll be reading ch 21:5-36.

It’s a lengthy section, the heading for which is found in v5-7 – Jesus predicts that the temple in Jerusalem will soon be mere ruins. The disciples want to know when this will happen and what they should look for. The disciples were looking for a fast, cataclysmic end to the temple and the world, simultaneously. He indicates in v9 that time will go on, even without the temple, and that time will be characterized by lots of troubling and confusing things. V8 tells us what we should be cautious of. What does he say and how do you understand his warning; what does it apply to?

V13 tells us something else important about all the troubles and possible persecution. What does he say these troubles provide for us? Is that the direction your mind goes when troubles show up or you’re treated unfairly?

Jesus throws a series of hyperlinks into his speech in V20-28 – we’ll go over those more in depth on Sunday. It’s all language intended to convey how serious the events surrounding the temple’s end will be for the people of Jerusalem. V28, again, tells us what these troubling events actually mean for Jesus’ followers. What does he say this is all leading towards in that verse? How might that effect our attitude when the world seems to spin out of control?

V34 is Jesus’ last bit of instruction about how we should live in light of the finish line. What does he say? How might we be tempted to do the opposite when troubles seem to pile on in this life?

We certainly saw how deeply troubled our world is last week in Uvalde Texas – the senselessness and violence that spills out onto the youngest and most vulnerable among us. It’s so heartbreaking – we, of course, must be praying for those left to try and navigate such a horrible losses…I can’t even imagine….word’s completely fail me. Jesus’ words in v28 of our text take on so much more weight…and seem more difficult to follow, when we’re spattered with the blood of innocents.

God have mercy on us, a sinful, prideful people. May we somehow, someway, hear your voice above the clatter of gunfire, and follow your words to sanity and salvation.

Hidden in Plain View

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked for some item in our refrigerator at home and turned away declaring “we don’t have any” with absolute confidence…only to have my wife reopen the door and point to said item on the front of the shelf at eye level (and then walk away muttering something about living with an overgrown toddler).

I’m just sayin’, some things seem to hide in plain view.

The reality is, God is often like that. There are things going on and aren’t too easy to spot on the surface, but given time, consideration and prayer, emerge in a fuller detail. In Isaiah 45:15 the prophet declares “Surely, You’re a God who hides Himself!” and I can’t argue with him on that.

We’re going to continue our study in Luke this Sunday, reading ch 20:41- ch 21:4, where we’ll encounter a few “hidden” things. Jesus will pose a riddle, give a rebuke and make an observation about these somewhat obfuscated things.

In 20:41-44 Jesus has his turn to present a riddle – one that quotes Psalm 110 about the promised messianic King – and Jesus asks why David, the ancestor, makes himself subservient to the descendant, instead of the other way around. What do you think Jesus is trying to communicate in this riddle about His own nature? What might be hidden in the person of Jesus that many were overlooking at the time, and many overlook today?

In v 45-47 Jesus rebukes the religious leaders for making an empty show of their spirituality. What might be hiding out behind an emphasis on outward religious performance?

Jesus is people watching in ch 21:1-4 and makes an observation about something that could easily have remain hidden and gone unnoticed. A poor widow gives to the temple treasury out of her poverty and outgives all those who gave from a fraction of their abundance. Take some time to contemplate the lesson of that observation. We usually hear it taught as an impetus to give more to the church…but there is something deeper going on than that. Refer back to Jesus’ rebuke in ch20:47…who were the religious leaders taking advantage of? Think back to what Jesus did when he first entered the temple in ch 19:45-46. What do we make of this woman’s gift and God’s response to it in light of who the recipient of the gift is? That’s something to really ponder for a bit.

This is an intriguing group of texts we’ll be exploring this Sunday – I hope you can join us!

God of the Living

We’re going to continue in our exploration of the gospel of Luke this Sunday.  We’ll be reading ch 20:27-40.

It’s an odd little encounter that Jesus has with a group of Sadducees. Because the Sadducees don’t believe in an afterlife at all, they pose a riddle that is supposed to show the absurdity of the concept.

They learn the first lesson they needed to learn…never argue religion with Jesus.  He dismantles their proposition very simply…how does he do it…how does he indicate to them that they aren’t starting from the right premise?

Is there anything about what he says about relationships in the afterlife that bothers you? Do you think that Jesus was setting out to describe in detail how life will be after this life, or is there a deeper point you think he’s making?

The hope of an afterlife is actually a very meaningful influence on this present life, isn’t it?  I would say that the hope of an afterlife will revolutionize our present life.  What are some of the positive ways an eternal hope can have on present life…and what could be some negative ways?  How can we, as followers of Christ who have a hope of resurrection and redemption maintain the positive influence of that hope, and not succumb to the negative tendencies?

I look forward to exploring this passage together on Sunday!

Image Bearers of God

There is a famous quote, usually attributed to Ben Franklin, though he was actually quoting someone else, that says: “only two things are certain in life….”. I’m sure you know what the quote says. I read a funny Bizarro cartoon that showed the Grim Reaper sitting in an IRS office being audited and the Reaper was saying “I suppose this was inevitable.”. Made me laugh, anyway.

This Sunday as we continue our study in Luke, we’ll be reading ch 20:20-26. In these short six verses we have the makings of a lifelong study. It’s the famous passage where Jesus is asked about paying taxes to Rome, and his answer is both brilliant and thought-provoking.

First and foremost, what do you make of the religious leaders sending spies intending to entrap Jesus and get him in trouble? How does that seem to square with God’s character? What observations might we make about what had happened to the spiritual leaders of Israel?

How do you read Jesus’ answer? He takes an either/or question and turns it into a both/and response. What do you suppose he means to give Caesar what belongs to him? Does that seem to guide us in how we as God’s people understand the role of government, and if so, what guidance does it seem to yield?

The word Jesus used for “image” is significant. It’s the same word the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible) used for Gen 1:26 – “Let us make man in our own image”. How might that weigh into what Jesus is saying, especially the last part of his answer? In what ways can we give God back whatever it is that bears His image? Again, as I said, thought-provoking stuff that doesn’t seem content to produce one answer alone.

I’m stoked about this passage, it’s really a lot of fun to dig into. I hope you can join us this Sunday as we examine it together!

Problem Tenants

Has someone ever taken something that belonged to you – or at least you felt belonged to you? Have you ever been in charge of something, and someone comes along and undermines your decision or takes over entirely? How did that make you feel?

We’re going to be considering something about God’s kingdom along those lines in our study of Luke this Sunday, reading Luke 20:9-19.

Jesus tells another parable that further explains the motivation behind his shutting down of the temple in our last section. The story is about a group of share-croppers – renters who tend to a landowner’s vineyard – who decide to take the vineyard for themselves. The story takes very commonplace circumstances (for that time and region) and exaggerates the nefarious behavior of the renters to the point of being absurd.

It’s a story that grows out of last week’s question: “By whose authority do you say and do these things?”. Jesus sort of expands the scope, asking “Just exactly whose Kingdom do you suppose this is?”

As you read the parable, consider who the renters might be (remember who he’s been in confrontations with). Who might the son be? Who would the landowner represent? Now, consider the event that set in motion the destruction of the renters. What does that seem to indicate to us? How might we read this parable as 21st Century American Christians and understand it’s import for our present life as God’s representatives?

It may prove to be a challenging story for us to read – but well worthwhile. I hope you can join us this Sunday as we examine it together.

The Temple’s End

Easter was such a wonderful time of remembering the hope we have in Christ through the power of his resurrection. This Sunday we’ll be returning to our study in the Gospel of Luke – even though Easter was a bit of a spoiler on how this story will turn out.

We’ll be reading what may be a familiar passage – what has been traditionally called “the cleansing of the temple”. Our text will be Luke 19:45-20:8. Normally when we hear about Jesus driving out those who were selling sacrificial animals and exchanging money in the temple, we assume his motive is to rebuke commercialism/consumerism within the house of worship. I would say the majority of people read it that way…I know I always did.

This Sunday we’re going to challenge that idea. Jesus was certainly staging a prophetic rebuke…but of what? There is an alternative proposition about what Jesus was doing that I find quite persuasive, and the message if far deeper and heavier than mere consumerism. (Not to excuse a consumer mindset within the sphere of worship – there are other places in Scripture that address that as improper, but I’m not convinced that’s what Jesus was doing in this particular text)

Here’s some homework: read Isaiah 56:6-7 as well as Jeremiah 7:4-6,9-11. These are the passages that Jesus is quoting. If we employ Tim Mackie’s idea of using those references as hyperlinks, what are those passages making a point about? How do they expose what Jesus may be getting at? What might it mean that the temple had become a criminal hideout (den of thieves)?

The next section we’ll read is ch 20:1-8 where the leading authority figures challenge Jesus about his authority to do what he did in the temple. The section is rich in irony, which drives home the point about what the temple had become. When Jesus reverses the question on them, who do they look to for answers? What is it that motivates their response? What does that tell us about their view of authority, and how does that reflect on the temple?

I hope you can join us this Sunday as we dig in to this text together!

The King Who Brings Peace

This Sunday is Palm Sunday – and amazingly, our study of Luke just so happens to be the very section that covers the events of that day! I wish I could say that I was smart enough to plan that out way back when we started…but I think we would all know better than that.

We’ll be reading Luke 19:28-44. There are so many things going on with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t mention Palm branches, but John 12:12-13 gives us that detail. This event is pointing back to ancient prophecies about the Messiah, as well as prior historical events, and all of it is meant to create a contrast between the kingdoms of this world and God’s reign and rule.

Do your best to imagine the scene. How intimidating does someone look riding on a donkey? What message is that meant to convey? Why do you think the Pharisees were upset with the crowds singing about a coming King in Jesus’ direction? What do you suppose the significance of the rocks taking up the song if people were to quit?

The section ends on a somber note. Everyone else is stoked, but Jesus is crying…sobbing even. He sees Israel’s rejection of him as King and the consequence of their future path of violent revolt against Rome. What might that warning be speaking to us, if anything? Does it mean anything to you that Jesus speaks this warning through weeping and tears?

We’ll have a LOT of interesting details and puzzle pieces to arrange together on Sunday! Hope you can join us!

A Powerful Purpose

“We don’t do this well” is a phrase you will often hear on Sunday mornings at Eastgate. This well used phrase is meant to be a reminder that we do not participate in a works based salvation system. We are all invited to rely, not on our own abilities, but the consistent grace of God and the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross. In this understanding, and the secure place of belonging to God, we are able to begin making those positive changes in our daily life.

This Sunday, we are going to be reading Luke 19:11-27, and there we will find a parable that seems to be giving us a job while we wait for Jesus’ return. The snag however, is that in this parable, the King (who seems to be representing Jesus) returns to let his servants know that he has been keeping track of their work and he is angry with the one servant who didn’t do their job well.

In our private reading of scripture we might be tempted to skip over the parts of the text that don’t fit neatly in our narrative, but when we study a whole book together as the church we are forced to confront every word of Jesus that’s recorded. We are forced to ask questions like, “Is it still okay if I don’t do this well even though these verses show a side of Jesus that is angry with someone who doesn’t do this well?” How might we balance this text with the emphasis we find on grace in other parts of the Gospel?

Together, at Eastgate, we will be exploring the context of these verses, and we’ll search for the truth of what Jesus was trying to communicate here… even if it means we find ourselves challenged along the way.

I hope you can join us as we examine this intriguing passage.

Grace for a Tree Hugger

Usually when we say so and so was “up a tree”, it’s a bad thing.  It’s an old saying that alludes to an animal, like a squirrel or racoon, that will climb a tree in order to flee from an attacker – but once in the tree, they can’t descend because the threat is still present.

In our study of Luke this Sunday, we’ll be reading about a guy who went up a tree, but found his life profoundly altered and expanded by the experience. Not because of the tree, so much, but because of who saw him there.

We’ll be reading Luke 19:1-10 in our ongoing study of that book this Sunday.

In the story, why did Zacchaeus climb a tree? What was obstructing his view? How might we draw a lesson from that about how accommodating we are to those around us who might want to see Jesus? What things in our modern church might hinder someone’s view of a Savior?

Jesus invites himself to dinner, and that is good for Zacchaeus, but bad in the view of those surrounding Jesus and observing it. Why do you think the people murmur at this? Can you think of a lesson for us to learn from their reaction?

Zacchaeus expresses his intention to radically alter his life choices which will result in a radically diminished lifestyle. What did Jesus say or do to precipitate that sort of response? What might we learn about heart transformation from this account?

I hope you can join us for this intriguing look into one man’s encounter with the King.

The Power of Love and Mercy

Lately there has been a big push to find alternative sources of energy, I would think especially since gas prices have escalated so much. Beyond solar and wind, there are all sorts of strange ideas being proposed for cheaper and renewable power sources.

We’re going to be reading about a very surprising source of power in our text this Sunday as we continue our study of Luke. We’ll be reading Luke 18:31-43.

The first section of this passage has the 6th prediction Jesus makes in Luke’s gospel about his approaching arrest and execution. The disciples are fairly blind to what he’s saying – but it’s yet another important reminder of where God’s greatest demonstration of power took place. How would you characterize Christ’s death on the cross? In what ways can we see that same power working through us?

The second part of the passage recounts the healing of a blind man outside of Jericho. It’s a story told in all three synoptic gospels – and it’s the very last healing miracle recorded in Luke’s account of Jesus. What does the blind man cry out for? What does that tell us about the nature of God’s mission?

Why do you think the crowds “in front” tell this man to be quiet? What are some of the pressures you face in our society about your value or place? How might Jesus’ response to this man inform us of where we find our true value?

I love this story so much! I’m really looking forward to exploring this on Sunday – hope you can join us!