The Gospel’s Advance

Well, they say one should never discuss politics nor religion in polite company. We will strain that conventional wisdom this Sunday, as we look at Romans 13 in our continued study of that book. Paul will see to it that religion and civic authority collide in no uncertain terms.

v 1-7 have been a source of consternation and sometimes abuse throughout the history of the church. Paul clearly asserts that civil governments have been appointed by God, and because of that, Christians should submit to the laws of the government. He makes it clear that human government is appointed to keep order, so that the evil of this fallen world isn’t left to run unchecked. All of this, according to Paul, has to be paid for somehow, so we should pay the taxes the government requires of us.

Obviously, this can give us pause. It would be a reasonable question to ask if this meant someone like Hitler was appointed by God…and if so, to what extent was a Christian to be in submission to that government?  We know that despots have appealed to this passage to intimidate citizens into subjection, leveraging religious fear. Can this be what Paul had in mind when he wrote this?

How do you understand Paul’s instructions? Do you believe he is saying that God approves of all leaders or that all governments represent his values and will? As we consider our own American government by the people, how do you understand Paul’s statements? Do you believe there is room for lawful dissent or peaceful protest within these instructions?

How would you summarize Paul’s overarching point in chapter 13, in light of his instructions given in chapter 12:9-21?

In what way does his following statement, to owe nothing but love for our fellow human, inform your understanding of how the gospel is advanced in this world?

Paul wraps his thoughts up by pointing out the lateness of the hour, and the fast approaching revelation of God’s healing kingdom. How can our understanding of God’s kingdom help us to better understand and respond to human governments?

This section is going to be one in which we’ll need to be careful and clear in our thinking, as we process through Paul’s words. We’ll be taking a good long look at the historical context – the rise of Nero and the shape of the world in which Paul wrote these words. It should be enlightening, challenging and encouraging! Hope to see you Sunday!

 

 

Livin’ Large

Greatness.

Most people wouldn’t admit to trying to be great, unless they are Muhammad Ali in the 60’s, but most people are trying to find greatness if we define it as the best life we can live.  For us as American consumers, if we were to ask people what the best life we can live looks like, it would most likely be described as one where we have all the possessions we want and are free from discomfort.  I could guarantee that nobody would exclaim that the best life results from doing extra work for somebody else for no immediate rewards.

Yet oddly enough — that’s exactly what Jesus described as the pathway to greatness. We’re going to be reading Luke 22:24-30 this Sunday. It is still Luke’s account of Jesus observing the Passover meal with his disciples, and the final words he gives to them.

In this passage, an argument breaks out about who is the most awesome of Jesus’ disciples, right on the heels of Him explaining how he’s going to be betrayed and sacrificed for everyone.  It’s downright cringe worthy.  Ever do that?  Ever find yourself fixated on your own self-centric interests even in the face of someone else’s greater dilemmas?  I have, way more often than I’m willing to admit to.

Jesus corrects his disciples by inviting them into a “descent into greatness”.  He points toward a focus that is others-centered as the means of true satisfaction.  Jesus pointed toward himself as our example for this kind of life.  In what ways was Jesus a servant – and how can we use that as a template for our own lives? When is it most difficult to BE a servant, and how can we change our attitudes about that?

I love how Jesus finishes off the section by commending his disciples, promising them that they’ll be sharing his kingdom with him.  It gives me such great hope. Here these goons have been vying for the disciple of the month award, in the face of Jesus’ great sacrifice – – and yet….THESE are the same guys he’s been longing to eat this meal with.  These are the guys he likes, and wants to hang with.  I’m encouraged by that.  God’s grace super-abounds in spite of our human frailties.  Pretty cool, huh?

Hope to see you Sunday!

What it Means to Follow Christ

I had a friend who owned a 9’6″ longboard which had it’s origins somewhere in the early 70’s. The thing was a beast. Dark green and heavy, it caught waves really well but was a feat of strength to turn. It had no leash plug, not even an old fashioned hole in the fin to tie one on – consequently he would surf it without a leash. He was pretty good, so it usually wasn’t a problem.
What was awesome about that board was it’s intimidation factor. If you dropped in on that board, you would not win. It would plow you under. On days when the swell was particularly good and the numbers of boards in the water were increasing by the hour, my friend would smile and pat that huge green beast of a board and say “I’m not worried about how many are out here. I have a CROWD CONTROL board.”

Crowd control. That’s sorta’ what Jesus is about in the section we’ll be reading in Luke this week. (Luke 14:25-35)

Jesus is experiencing what it seems most contemporary pastors in the U.S. are obsessed with achieving – large crowds.   Jesus never seems to be able to appreciate big crowds, because when he has them, he always seems to make “crowd control” statements which thins the herd. John 6 is a great example of that too.  In this instance, Jesus begins spelling out in stark, even harsh, detail what following him really means, what it will really cost.  Why do you suppose he said this in this context?

He talks about hating family members and hating self in order to follow him.  Wow. As modern pastors, we scramble around as quickly as possible to explain it doesn’t really mean that (and it doesn’t in terms of the straight English reading of it)….BUT, Jesus never qualifies what he says.  He just pulls the pin on the grenade and smiles.  I find that both fascinating, admirable – and scary.  How do you read this? What do you think he’s saying?

He also talks about counting the cost of following him, illustrating it with a story of an incomplete construction project and a king considering going to war with insufficient forces. The thrust of both those stories is RE-EVALUATION.  What is Jesus telling us we will need to reevaluate when we count the cost of following him?

If we follow Jesus we are not defined by our families (v25-26), we are not defined by our own self will (v27), and v 33 tells us what ELSE we are not defined by.  What does he say, and how badly does it cut us as good American consumers?

Jesus pulls no punches in this section. This is a crowd control speech if ever there was one. His words are a dividing line between spectators and the team. These aren’t words to apply to everyone else, these words are missiles aimed at our own heart. These are words to wrestle with – they are designed to produce crisis. Crisis which leads to conversion and correction and ultimately, the best life possible on this broken planet. Salt, after all, is GOOD.

Ok…well, this is stuff to ruminate on until Sunday. Hope to see you there!