Faith > Works

Image result for blue dress or gold dress

Do you remember the buzz a while back about how people could look at the same dress and some people saw a blue dress with black stripes, while others saw a gold dress with white stripes? I’m still amazed that anyone saw anything but a blue dress – but that’s the thing, isn’t it? It was all the same dress. How our brains processed the light and color made all the difference.

That’s similar to what Paul will be talking about in our text this Sunday, as we read Romans 10:1-13.

Paul will be talking about how Israel looked at the promise of God and saw something that had to be worked out by honoring the Old Testament law. Yet, as Paul will explain, that was seeing the promise in the wrong light. God always intended for salvation to come as His gift to human-kind, not as something we earned.

In this section, Paul provides us with the profound declaration of how salvation is bestowed on us. The message of faith that Paul preached is found in v9. How do you understand this combination of speech and belief in the inner person? How would you explain to someone unfamiliar with Christianity what it is that Paul is driving at here? What distinction, if any, do you see between faith in the heart and understanding in the intellect? How do you think someone who struggles with the tension between the two can resolve on faith without committing intellectual suicide?

Sunday is a special day – we will only have one service at 10 am – then we’ll go to St Andrews State Park to have a cook out and baptize those who wish to be. This is the very declaration of faith Paul is getting at in our text. If you haven’t been baptized and want to know more about it, you can go to this page on our website, and sign up there if you’d like to make that declaration this Sunday!

See you then!

Signs and Religious Control

Can you believe it’s been 14 years since that movie came out? Stunning. I always remember that part of the movie. It still stands out as a great illustration of our own intentions getting in the way of our ability to hear from God.

Something akin to that sort of irony will be involved in the passages we’ll be looking at this Sunday as we read Matthew 15:29-16:12. It’s a big section, but I think you’ll see how it all goes together pretty well.

As you read through this section you’ll notice that, even connected with last weeks teaching, there is an ongoing bread theme. The Canaanite woman asked for bread crumbs. Jesus provides bread in the wilderness and then warns about the wrong kind of spiritual bread. There could be a whole teaching in that thematic vein alone…but that’s not where I went for this study.

In the section that closes out chapter 15, Jesus is doing all sorts of miracles, finishing off with a miraculous feast on a desert mountaintop. A quick glance at Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 25 provides a backdrop and reveals what’s going on here. When Jesus is performing all these miracles, what does it mean? How should it be read?

When we come to chapter 16, much like Jim Carry, the Pharisees and Sadducees ask for a sign – ignoring what has been happening right under their noses. They are intent on trying to control God’s plan. In what ways are we sometimes guilty of trying to dictate to God our own purposes? How can we keep from trying to steal the director’s chair in life?

in v 5-12, Jesus’ disciples are cast in a pretty dim light. They forgot bread and assume Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the Pharisees was about a lack of bagels. Leaven is used as a metaphor for an element introduced that changes it’s host into something else. Leaven changes bread dough, causing it to rise and inflate. In what way do you think the teaching of the Pharisees had done this as it touched Israel’s calling? What is Jesus warning his disciples, and us as well, about? What are the philosophies, politics and religious agendas in our world that could veer us off the path that God originally set the church on? What is lacking, according to v8, that can keep us from falling prey to these aberrant directions?

Once again, this will be a challenging and thought provoking passage to dig into. Hope to see you on Sunday!

God’s Rule in an Unruly World

rabbisurfMost of you know, I’m a cartoonist who is serving as a pastor until the Lord fixes that. I’ve drawn a graphic novel for the web called “Rabbi Encounters”. You might enjoy reading chapter five, “Surf” (click the title to go there). It’s my rendition of the events that we’ll be reading this Sunday as we continue our study of Matthew – 14:22-36.

I believe this is an account of something that really happened. I also believe this actual event can read as a parable – a metaphor for a life of following Jesus.

The disciples follow Jesus’ instructions to get in the boat and go. Obeying Jesus, they find themselves caught in a storm and being (literally) tormented by the waves. What metaphor can you see in that? How does this correspond with your own life of faith? What can be learned?

When Jesus shows up the disciples are terrified. Why? To your knowledge, has anything like this happened before in the Bible, where someone has walked on water? Do you think any of the disciples expected to see Jesus out there? In what ways can you see a parallel of this in your own expectations about God and what He’s up to?

What do you think, was Peter right or wrong to ask Jesus to command him to walk on the water? Scholars seem to be divided about it. Do you think his lack of faith began when he had to have proof that it was really Jesus, or was it a bold move of faith to claim participation in the miracle?

When Peter is focused on the rising surf, he begins to sink. The lessons there are obvious. Something else to think about is: what was Jesus’ first response (not words necessarily) to Peter’s predicament? How does his response encourage you when you remember times where you’ve had “little faith”?

Those are just some things to consider before Sunday. What I’d really like you to do is read this whole section and read it as metaphor – use your imagination. What is the boat, the water, the storm, the destination? What can those be portraying to us about life and faith and most importantly, Jesus?

Hope to see you this Sunday!

A Faith Observed

Have you ever felt desperate in life? It’s a rhetorical question because if you’re reading this you’re human which means you live on earth and earth has a way of squeezing us into desperate situations. In our times desperation we will usually go all over the place looking for something or someone who can give us a glimmer of hope. That’s just the nature of desperation…and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Matthew 9:18-38 and we’ll discover some desperate people who go to the right place in their time of crisis. As we read about these people, we’ll be looking at what it was that moved them to seek help from Jesus. We’ll look at their faith, what Jesus said about faith, and what this can all mean in our own lives.

The synagogue ruler, the hemorrhaging woman and the two blind men all have their stories told in succession. Their expressions of faith are risky, scandalous and bold, but they are also desperate. How does Jesus respond to their desperation? What sort of attitude does he seem to have towards all of these individuals? Do you think of desperation as a positive or negative motive for coming to God for help, and why?

When Jesus casts out a demon and a man was able to communicate when he hadn’t been able to before – what are the two reactions recorded? If both groups of people saw the same miracle, what kept the Pharisees from believing Jesus’ power was from God?

The chapter culminates with a summary of what Jesus is up to with the Kingdom Project – and then we see his compassion for the multitudes who are oppressed by religion, but not cared for by a Shepherd. He clearly is inviting us into the activity of harvesting a ripened field…but what does that metaphor mean to you? How do you believe we can be used in this “harvesting” activity?

Sorry for the late post – looking forward to Sunday!  Hope to see you then!

Trust Him

How easy is it for you to trust someone? We may consider ourselves to be “trusting souls”, but the reality is we often find it difficult to place our trust in someone else. A lot of factors go into that – past experiences, our own sense of frailty when it comes to trustworthiness, and a host of other reasons go into our tentative approach to giving away our trust. It’s hard to trust others…and those are people we can SEE and examine and evaluate on a regular basis.  What about a God who hides himself (Isaiah 45:15)?

Still, that’s the whole thing when it comes to Scripture. We are continually called on to trust God – and in the New Testament, to trust God through Christ Jesus.

Last week we explored a solomn and sort of heavy section of Matthew which reminded us that following Jesus does not insulate us from the troubles that life can throw our way. But in case we were tempted to become fatalistic and slump in our chairs thinking that there’s just no hope no matter what…we have this weeks section.

We’ll be reading chapter 8:23 through chapter 9:8 this Sunday as we journey through the gospel of Matthew. The chapter break really shouldn’t be there, because this whole section belongs in a single grouping. Three areas where Jesus demonstrates his authority to encourage our trust in him, even as we follow him into potential hardships.

In chapter 8:23-27 we have the famous account of Jesus calming the storm. Whey do you think Jesus was sleeping? Have you ever felt like Jesus was sleeping while you were in dire straights? What does he ask his disciples? In our own storms of life, how can asking ourselves the question “why are you afraid?” help to orient our thinking and perspective?

In v28-34 Jesus heals two men who were demon possessed. How comfortable are you with the idea that there are demons on the loose in this world, taking possession of people sometimes? Our western culture mostly dismisses that notion as primitivism – but I thought this was an interesting article.

Jesus demonstrates his authority over evil. How does that develop our understanding of his words in the Lord’s Prayer “deliver us from evil” – and in what way can that inspire our trust? What should our response to evil be, in light of his authority over it?

Chapter 9:1-8 tells the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man. Before he heals him, he forgives his sin. Then he demonstrates his authority to forgive sins by healing the man’s physical body. What does his authority to forgive sins inspire you to trust Him with? What did the paralyzed man do to deserve that declaration of forgiveness?

Troubles from without, in the natural world and the spiritual one, and troubles from within in the form of our own failures – Jesus has authority over them all. What will you trust Him with?

Hope to see you this Sunday!

The Story of Faith

My formative Christian years were spent embracing what has popularly come to be known as “the health and wealth” gospel. I was told that if I had the right amount of faith, I could get God to do my bidding and provide me fabulous toys and inexhaustible wellness. Hebrews chapter 11 was a go-to source for the teaching of this persuasion. Over and over again I would be challenged with the anthem: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen! By FAITH they obtained the promises!”, which by application meant that through the exercising of faith I would obtain the (presumed) promise of a new model automobile. If I was still driving a rusty Pinto, it was my fault for not having enough faith to bring my desires into existence.

How did we draw that conclusion from Hebrews 11? Very simply. We NEVER read it in one sitting. We never put it all together to get the sweep of the story, nor did we ever place it in the larger context of the whole book. We dunked into it like we were bobbing for apples, coming up with a prized proof text in our teeth and demanding God’s unconditional surrender to what we “discovered”.

Needless to say, I don’t read Hebrews 11 that way anymore. I certainly won’t teach it that way this weekend. Nor will I break this lengthy chapter up to provide bite-sized sermons about Old Testament Heroes. *You’re sounding a little curmudgeonly Rob.*  – Sorry. I don’t mean to. It’s just that I’m pretty passionate about getting at the heart of what the writer is communicating in this chapter. It’s really very cool, but not what many people suppose. I really believe this is a chapter that needs to be read in one sitting to get the sense of emphasis I believe the writer intends.

You should read Hebrews 11. As you do, remind yourself of the overall point of this letter: encouraging Jewish believers not to give up their faith in Jesus as the Messiah because Jesus is greater than the Old Covenant system they had known. They were discouraged because they were facing persecution (as we learned in chapter 10) and Jesus hadn’t yet returned  – so Hebrews 11 presents a case for holding on by faith.

V6 of this chapter gives us the primitive core of a life of faith. How would you paraphrase what the writer is saying? Describe what that would look like in your life.

In this long list of characters, what is the consistent situation that must be faced by those who are holding on by faith? V13,19,22 and 39 can give you a hint. What direction does faith look? What impact did their faith have on how they viewed this present life?

How was Moses’ faith expressed according to v24-25? How does that influence our understanding of faith as it relates to the choices we make in this present, fallen world?

Man….I’m sorta’ stoked about this chapter. Hope you can make it this Sunday as we explore it together!

Also, here are the songs we’ll be singing:

Divine Romance

Glory to God Forever

Spirit of the Living God

Whom Shall I Fear

Hallelujah What a Savior

The Promise is Certain

When someone swears an oath, like the way we are asked to when giving testimony in a court of law, what are we trying to emphasize by that oath?

We are often disappointed and disillusioned by promised that are never kept. From advertisers to politicians, we are alarmingly accustomed to claims and promises that are never fulfilled. That’s less a cultural problem than it is a human one.

What can that do to a person’s sense of hope or anticipation? I truly believe that the fallen-ness of our world is what makes our faith so fragile, why a trust in God’s promises is such a struggle.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Hebrews 6:13-20 where the writer will address this issue and encourage us to keep on believing.

He uses two main platforms on which he calls us to build our trust: God’s character and his oath, or word.

What aspect of God’s character does the writer highlight? How can the story of God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12, 22) help to reinforce that aspect of his character? What would be meaningful about the promise to Abraham for these Jewish readers so many years after the fact?

Considering why we ask for an oath from someone, and considering God’s nature, do you think it was necessary for God to swear an oath to Abraham? Why do you think he did it? What does that tell us about God’s attitude towards us, and his desire for us to believe?

This will be an interesting, albeit complex, study. I hope it encourages us all in our faith! See you Sunday!