The Gospel Upheaval

“Burn baby burn!” ~ The Magnificent Montague

While the sentiment behind the deejay Montague’s statement was decidedly anarchical back in ’65 – we are are going to be confronted with a similar statement from Jesus that we’ll have to interpret in our text this Sunday as we study the Gospel of Luke. We’ll be reading Luke 12:49-59.

The passage opens with Jesus making a remark about the world burning and his desire to see that happen. What do you suppose he means? All of Scripture has to harmonize with itself, that’s one of the tenets of orthodoxy. Given Jesus’ other statements about love and being peacemakers, it’s hard to imagine him stirring his followers to chaotic hostility. So then, what is his point? We could look at Luke’s other uses of fire imagery, a statement by John the Baptist and a description of the early church to get a clue.

Why do you think Jesus warns about division? Do you think he’s calling his followers to be divisive, or is it about our expectations as he sends us into the world as sheep among wolves?

Jesus’ rebuke about skills at predicting weather but failing to read spiritual signals is intriguing. It’s similar to our modern phrase “You miss the forest for the trees” – meaning, it’s all right under your nose but you’re failing to grasp the significance of it. In what ways might we miss what Jesus is doing presently in our world?

The closing of the chapter has a dark warning. Who do you think the characters represent in the story? Who would be the accuser, who is the judge, and what might the prison represent? Settling the matter beforehand is the key idea – what do you think that means? What might the “matter” be, and how might it be “settled”?

I hope you can join us this Sunday as we delve into these fascinating words from Jesus!

Ready and Waiting

In my lifetime, I’ve counted 20 different major predictions of a date when Jesus would return. By major, I mean predictions that got a sizeable traction. That averages out to one every three years…that’s a lot of predictions…about something Jesus said “the Son of Man will come when least expected“. It’s enough to get a person discouraged.

We’ll be going over Luke 12:35-48 in our study this Sunday where Jesus warns his disciples to be ready for, we presume, his return.

The overall theme of these verses is that we as Followers of Jesus are supposed to be ready for the end.  The end of what…the world? Maybe, the New Testament seems to have that in view at times, but I would say the end can also include our own, individual lives. Either Christ will return, or we will die…either way, we ALL are facing an end of time here. Jesus uses that fact to challenge us to consider how we are living right now. He warns us to live ready.

Some people not only try to live ready, they obsess about the end.  Sometimes people feel more ready for the end if they can create elaborate charts that explain when the end will come. Others stockpile food, some hide in the woods. None of those things are things Jesus encourages in this passage though.

As you look at the examples he gives through the use of parable, what do you think living ready means in our everyday life?  Knowing that is the key to actually being ready for the end.

I hope you’re able to join us on Sunday as we delve into this fascinating section of Scripture!

The Wasted Energy of Worry

“A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work” ~ John Lubbock

This Sunday as we continue our journey through the Gospel of Luke, our text will be Luke 12:22-34 and we’ll be tackling the subject of worry and anxiety. Now, as one who struggles with anxieties, I know that often when this subject is covered in a Bible teaching I usually feel worse because it’s generally stated that “worry is a sin, so stop it!” – which flattens out a very complex subject and ignores all that we’ve learned about the sources for anxiety and its management. I will attempt to avoid that sort of oversimplification while still remaining true to what Jesus is teaching us.

For one thing, the primary lesson isn’t about what to stop, but who to trust, which should have the effect of staving off anxiety. We’ll also note that Jesus isn’t necessarily addressing anxiety overall – but is dealing with the specific issue of worrying over finances and provisions, and he has a specific contrast of values that he’s trying to communicate to us. V23 informs us that our lives are more than just what we eat or wear – what do you suppose he means by that?

In v24-28 Jesus uses illustrations from nature and God’s provision for it. As you read it, what do you believe he’s trying to communicate about God’s view of us, his people? V25-26 provide the basis for our title – the wasted energy of worry when it comes to our security and need for provision. How can God’s care for nature encourage us to trust him?

29-34 shifts the focus – and the contrast is made between the values of those who have embraced salvation through Jesus and the systems of this broken world. We are encouraged towards nobler things than scrambling around this earth trying to secure ourselves in it. How can a trust in God’s provision for us lead towards a more generous lifestyle on our part?

I hope you can join us this Sunday as we read this challenging text together.

What Do We Value?

This Sunday we’ll continuing our exploration of Luke’s gospel, reading ch 12:13-21.

It’s the parable of the rich fool – and the focus is going to be on what place money and possessions have in the hearts and priorities of Christ’s followers. There is a chance that this may be uncomfortable – but I really believe if we examine what Jesus is communicating in this text, it will actually relieve any discomfort we may feel about how we handle our finances.

The primary objective of this story is to get us examining our own hearts. As you read the parable, what do you think Jesus is getting at? Do you think God is opposed to having extra stuff, be it possessions or savings accounts? If not, what might his issue be – what had the rich farmer put his hope in that made him feel he could take his ease?

What does Jesus identify as foolishness in that attitude? How would you apply this in the context of a 21st Century American Christianity?

I hope you can join us Sunday as we dig deeply into this challenging subject!

Unhealthy Fears

This Sunday as we keep on with our study in Luke, we’ll be reading Luke 12:1-12.

Fear isn’t always a bad thing – it’s actually our natural warning system when danger may be present. But, there are plenty of unhealthy fears we experience as human beings – just look at the plethora of phobias psychology has identified – many of which are debilitating.

Jesus is going to address some wrong, or unhealthy types of fear in the passage we’ll be reading – encouraging us towards a more healthy pursuit of our spiritual goals.

As you read the passage – what type of fear might prompt a person to become hypocritical in their practice of faith. How might we counter that fear?

Jesus identifies the proper place for fear in v5 – albeit, the fear he’s describing is more like a deep respect for a higher authority. How would that idea help curb our tendency to fear what others might think of or do to us?

Then Jesus cuts to the heart, one of the greatest fears most humans face – the fear of worthlessness. How do Jesus’ words make you feel. How hard is it for you to believe that you are valued by God? What steps can you take to reinforce the reality of God’s love in your life?

Hope you can join us this Sunday as we take a deep dive into this passage!

What’s the Deal with Baptism?

This Sunday we’ll be taking a short break from our study in Luke in order to talk about the meaning and purpose of baptism. We have several people getting baptized after service at St Andrews State Park (I hope you’ll join us there) – and I felt this was a good time to go into the biblical reason for this sacred ritual.

You might want to read Romans 6:1-4 in preparation.

I’d also like to recommend two videos from the Bible Project – one on design patterns in the Bible (a theme we’ll be exploring on Sunday concerning baptism), and one on sacrifice and atonement. These will provide good background for our study on Sunday. Hope to see you then!

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!