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!

The Struggle is Real

Have you ever seen one of those experiments where they secretly record what happens when someone encounters a sign which says “wet paint, do not touch”? It’s pretty amazing to see how often people, and especially children, seem compelled to touch what has been forbidden. Come to think of it…have you ever encountered a sign that warns you not to touch or do something? What is the first thought that usually goes through our minds? “I could just do it quickly, what would it hurt?”  I realize there are some personality types that wouldn’t experience this particular temptation, but enough of us do that it becomes a familiar and relate-able trope.

Something in us seems to always feel an urge to go the wrong way, even when we know better.

This has been something that philosophers have puzzled over since philosophers became a thing. It’s also something that the Scriptures give a lot of attention to. Paul will have that as his major theme in the section we’ll be reading this Sunday as we continue our study in Romans. We’ll be reading ch 7:7-25.

Paul once again points out the impotence of the Mosaic Law to change the nature of our lives. Yet, he exonerates the law from any culpability for our condition. Once again he makes the point as to what the Law was able to do. What is it?

He then  launches into a beautifully honest expose of the human struggle to do what’s right, even when we know the right thing to do. What does Paul attribute this to in v 17 and 20? How do you understand his differentiation between “sin” and “I”?

All the way through, we have to keep the context in mind – Paul is asserting that the Law of Moses, or any other religious system of rules, is incapable of rescuing us from our plight.

What will rescue us, according to v25? How do you understand that to be true?

This is a fairly complex bit of Scripture we’ll be tackling this Sunday – but SO worth our time to digest! I hope you can make it!

Free to be Free

Image result for shawshank redemption

Ever see a movie that shows a long time prisoner being released back into society?   There were a few.  The Shawshank Redemption comes to mind.  Ole Morgan Freeman really shows the inner struggle one might face when suddenly living in a new freedom.  If you haven’t seen the film, put it on your movie bucket list.  In this study, Paul will be writing and speaking directly to the Jewish Christian in Rome and addressing this very issue.

We’ll be reading Romans 7:1-6. Paul is continuing a section where he has described this new life in Christ.  We have been given a new freedom.  But now that we have been freed, how do we proceed?  How will we live in this new life?  And what about the past?  How do we fit the past into the now?  These are huge questions for the emerging church in Rome and they are huge to us as well.

Paul masterfully uses the analogy of marriage to cover many of the aspects of this transition. In v 1-2 particular importance is placed in the fact that death ends a marriage.  How does that make us feel?  Knowing the death he is alluding to is Christ’s death, atoning for our sins, how does that make us feel?  How we feel is part of Paul’s point.  The direction of thought is being realigned from legal to relational.

In v2-3 Paul continues the marriage analogy with yet another uncomfortable relational situation.  Remarriage after the death of a spouse, while perfectly legal, is for all parties involved, complicated.  In v-3, adultery is mentioned.  How do we see adultery fitting into the following verse that states our new union with Christ is to prove fruitful to God?

Paul is attempting to unite a divided Roman Church.  The divisions present two thousand years ago are still manifest in our walk today.   Given our new found freedom, how will we live free?  How should the past shape our future?  On what side of Christ’s death will we live?  These are all questions the Roman Christians were facing and I believe we all struggle with today.  It should be an interesting study.

Hope to see you there.

 

Freedom

Bob Dylan
The Warfield Theater
San Francisco
November 1st, 1979

Rolling Stone Magazine

The new Bob Dylan tour began on a chilly Thursday evening at the Warfield Theater, a cozy 2200-seater in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Outside, grizzled panhandlers solicited; holdout hippies, whose cassette players blared “Gotta Serve Somebody,” tried to scavenge tickets; and dozens of porno theaters and sleazy topless joints advertised their wares in flickering neon. Inside, Dylan sang about salvation.

Regina Havis, one of his four backup singers, began the show with a sermonette on a mother’s faith. There were snide comments from the audience – “I went to church this morning,” “How about some sin?”

…Dylan looked much the same, in his dark jeans, leather jacket and white T-shirt, but he’s changed his way of thinking – that much, at least, is clear. The end of the concert was greeted with both applause and boos, but there were surprisingly few emotional outbursts. As the audience filed out quietly, they were confronted with the words “You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody,” writ large across the back of the illuminated marquee.

Well, ol’ Bobby didn’t get a great response to his album which declared his (then) new-found faith. But the title of his song “Gotta’ Serve Somebody” has found its way into countless sermons on the text we’re going to read this week in Romans…because it is stating exactly what Paul will be stating, just with more electric guitars.

We’ll be reading Romans 6:15-23 in our study. Paul is in a section where he is describing what this new life in Christ is like, and in this passage he uses the uncomfortable illustration of slavery. The slavery of the ancient Roman world was quite different and far less inhumane than the slavery that our country engaged in in oppressing Black people. I think its possible that Paul would have used a different illustration if he could have seen through a modern lense…but that makes it incumbent upon us to use an ancient one.

Either way, it’s still an uncomfortable metaphor because no matter how we understand it, slavery, declaring ownership and control over another human being is just wrong and certainly not part of God’s plan for life. So why this metaphor?

Paul seems to see slavery from the standpoint of submission – submitting to a governing influence over life. That’s how we need to understand it. Paul’s whole point drives home the dualism in Biblical thought – we will serve good or evil, there is no third alternative.

Do you have difficulty with the idea that the Bible does not see you as autonomous? In what way can we understand being free, yet also describe ourselves as slaves to God?

in v19 Paul seems to indicate that who we serve will determine what kind of life we’re living. How has serving God reshaped your life for the better? In what ways have you seen your life spiral when serving some indulgence of this broken world?

The whole thing gets summed up in v 22-23 – one trajectory is leading to death, the other to eternal life. What do you understand eternal life to be, and when do you think it begins? How can eternal life be lived in this present world? What effect would it have on your relationships and expectations in life if eternity were factored into everything?

Don’t forget – we have our normal services of 9am and 11am this Sunday – also a Baby Dedication in the second service! Hope to see you then!

 

Being True to Your True Self

YAWP!!! I forgot to post in Wonderwhat! And I felt so proud of getting my work done too….meh. We’re going to be reading Romans 6:1-14 tomorrow – just so you have a heads up. Paul is answering a question he anticipates someone asking: Does God’s grace mean we should continue on living in dehumanizing ways in order to show off God’s grace?

How would you summarize Paul’s answer? What do you think it means to live “in sin”? How does baptism symbolize our new life in Jesus? Why would something like that be important to us as Christ’s followers?

Okay…well, hope this gives you enough time to take a gander at the passage. We only have one meeting on Sunday, at 10 AM, then we head to the BEACH!!! Whoop! I’ll keep my teaching as concise as possible, I promise!

The Son of Dust and the Son of God

sonofdust-sonofmanI’m a grandparent, and pretty dang proud of that fact. We have a dedicated play-room in our house again, just for our grandchildren. One thing I’ve noticed is that when they charge into that room to begin playing, it takes mere seconds to completely destroy the order of that room (not that we mind – there’s nothing more sad than a well-ordered and unused playroom – but that’s not the point I’m making here). Like the classic cartoon Tasmanian Devil, those kids can create total upheaval in a matter of moments.

Putting it all back in place is another matter. It takes much longer…weeks, sometimes, as we randomly discover runaway Legos underfoot.

As with most things, deconstruction is the easy part – putting things back to right is the greater challenge.

That’s the idea that Paul is trying to convey in the passage we’ll be reading this Sunday as we continue our study in the book of Romans. We’ll be reading Romans 5:12-21

Paul makes a grand contrast between Adam, the progenitor of our ruin, and Jesus, the ground-source of our redemption.

Paul begins by describing how sin entered the world through Adam’s disobedience, and death followed on its heels. How would you describe the effect of sin and death on this world? How has this affected you personally, or your family?

How difficult is it for you to believe that Jesus’ one act of obedience has the power to transform us into people who are redeemed…described as saints? Why do you think we struggle with this and so often try to find redemption through our works or good behavior?

Paul emphasizes the word “gift”, something offered for free, four times in this passage. Why do you think he makes that emphasis, and how should that impact the way we present the gospel?

In v20, how does God’s “more abundant” grace change your perception of yourself in relationship with God? How can it change the way we think about those outside the church? What is the great lesson we can learn from the overarching nature of God’s grace?

The Family of Faith

This is an image I drew years ago to illustrate a point in one of my teachings. I did a Google image search for “Abraham and the stars”…and this popped up. I forgot that I had uploaded it to my blog. Funny thing…it also popped up on a LOT of other sites as well. Some had taken unfortunate liberties with the image and made the design extra cheesy. I’m not complaining – it was just a quick illustration I did and had honestly forgotten about it. What is really interesting to me though, is how it multiplied…sort of took on a new life of it’s own. It became something that illustrated many points, like the drawing itself was pointing to: Abraham the father of many gentile nations.

Sunday (bring an umbrella) we’ll be reading Romans 4:1-25, and Paul will be revisiting the story of Abraham.

As Paul begins his story of Abraham, he emphasizes how it was that Abraham was made right with God. What was his answer to that question – how was Abraham made right with God? How difficult is it for you to keep from measuring your spiritual value by your religious activity? What do you do to keep your faith in God and not your own good behavior?

Paul does talk about religious rituals such as circumcision, indicating that they are simply a symbol of something that has already been accomplished by faith in God’s grace. What other rituals or works do we sometimes require of others or ourselves before we afford them the status of accepted by God? How can we avoid this practice in our journey with Christ?

When Paul wraps it up, he recounts the sequences of Abraham believing God’s promise even though no evidence supported his hope. What was the promise to Abraham; what was he believing God would give to him? How does Paul’s final statements about the New Testament, largely gentile church provide the conclusion to Paul’s argument? In other words, how is it you and I, believing God the way Abraham did, reveal God’s faithfulness to keep his promise to Abraham? It’s almost a riddle…but we’ll spell it all out on Sunday!

Hope you can make it!