hope

The Merciful Reign

Okay – so, we’re going to be reading Matthew 20:29-34 this Sunday – and instead of my normal post, I thought I’d upload a chapter from Rabbi Encounters that recounts the story (although, it’s actually from Mark’s account – so there’s only one person instead of two). Anyway – enjoy, and be thinking about God’s mercy revealed in this text.

Click the link to read more of Rabbi Encounters.   See you Sunday!

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!

God’s Rule in Action

I remember once when my wife and I were going to turn an enclosed porch area on the back of our house into an extra bedroom for our boys. We planned and considered how this could be accomplished and what it would take. We drew a lot of diagrams on napkins and contemplated this task – and then realized it was too big for us and had to be hired out. A friend from church did construction jobs like this agreed to take on our project. What I still remember was the great sense of satisfaction and even surprise when he set out to tear sections out and rebuild others, because there was a big difference between this project in theory and seeing it in action. It turned out much better than we had imagined.

That’s a lot like what’s happening in our study in Matthew. We’ll be reading the last part of Matthew chapter 4 this Sunday and we’ll finally see the start of Jesus’ ministry.

In v15-16, Matthew identifies Jesus’ work as a fulfillment of a prophecy given by Isaiah, 600 years earlier. Light dawning on people living in darkness is how the action of the kingdom of God is described. What is your impression of this metaphor? What do you think it means, and how does that inform your understanding of God’s purposes for humanity?

We then read about Jesus’ first disciples. We’ll be unpacking the dynamic of rabbis and talmidim (disciples) on Sunday morning – but succinctly put: if these guys were working in the family business, it was because they didn’t measure up for normal rabbinical activities. Yet Jesus chooses these fishermen to be his close associates who will set out to imitate him. What does that tell us about God’s rule in action? Who is it open to, and what action does he call his disciples to (v19)?

V23-25 provide a summary of the excitement that was building around Jesus. What is it that he is becoming famous and sought out for? What is this revealing about God’s rule in action – what is intended? In all three of these examples, what is it about this that makes it good news?

Looking forward to this study! Happy Father’s day in advance – and don’t forget it’s Surf-N-Grill this Sunday, and if you want to be baptized, follow this link to sign up online: sign up!

See yez’ Sunday!

Beginning Again, Again

This Sunday we’ll be continuing our study of the little book of Jonah – reading chapter 3.

Have you ever felt like you’ve messed up too many times and it feels almost insincere to start asking God to forgive and set you a new path. I hope you haven’t, because I can tell you from my own extensive experience with those feelings that it’s not at all a fun place to be. The encouraging thing is, the Bible is filled with people who have experienced just that – people who mess up over and over again and yet God is quick and ready to turn their story around. Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter (and all the other disciples for that matter), Saul/Paul…and the list extends out from them to include a lot of the heroes of church history.

Jonah is a stand-out in that crowd. Jonah gets a chance at beginning again – again and again. If we’re right in reading this story as a satire and Jonah is a stand in for God’s people – there is something really comforting about chapter 3.V1-2 of chapter 3 are almost identical to v1-2 of chapter 1. They both start the same way – except the words “second time” are thrown into the mix. V3 of chapter 3 is where the real departure occurs – Jonah doesn’t run but instead obeys. If we started reading Jonah’s story in chapter 3, would we even know that Jonah had disobeyed the first time around? What is the tone of this opening? What does that tell us about God’s attitude toward our past failures? How often do you still hang on to past regrets that God has clearly no interest in reminding you of? What steps can we take to live with new beginnings in view?

V4-9 are funny and intentionally astonishing. How long does it say it took to walk Nineveh end to end? How long did Jonah walk? What does that indicate about him to you? What is missing from his message, in your opinion? It’s five words long in the Hebrew – and yet it gets results like nothing else ever recorded in scripture, or Israel’s own history…or even Jesus’ ministry for that matter. Jonah didn’t go far or say much – why do you think that was? If he was only half committed – how do we explain the powerful results? What does that tell us about the source of our ministry’s effectiveness?

V10 is supposed to read like a record scratch ending. God did WHAT? But…but, the Assyrians did so much evil and violence before…yet when they leave that and set out to sync up with God’s values, their future changes. Who is it that we consider beyond redemption? How does this verse challenge our understanding of God’s willingness to redeem?

I sure am enjoying the story of Jonah – hope you are too! See yez’ 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 Single Sacrifice

There are some things I have to do every day, day in and day out. Brushing my teeth is an example. But there are many, many more things that I have to attend to or practice every day. All of us have those. I can’t brush my teeth once and assume that they are now clean and that work is done. I wouldn’t have teeth for very long if I thought that way.

But what if we had a problem with our car and we took it to a mechanic to have it fixed. Then the next day we had the same exact car trouble, and took it back to the mechanic again. On the following day, it is the same thing. Day after day we keep returning to the mechanic to attend the same problem. What conclusion would we draw about this situation?

In our text this Sunday we’ll be reading Hebrews 10:1-18. In this section the writer will draw some hard contrasts between the repetitive nature of the temple/sacrificial system of the Old Covenant and the once for all time sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.

Why does the writer say that the old system was inadequate?  What remedy did God have in mind for these annual sacrifices? What did those repetitive sacrifices actually remind people about themselves?

The writer explains the effects of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf in v14. To be made whole (perfected) and set apart as belonging to God (sanctified) is a powerful result for us to consider. How does being defined as belonging to God change your way of understanding yourself? Do you see that as a good thing or a negative thing, and why?

When the writer wraps up his case in v15-18 he repeats his quote of Jeremiah 31 where God was forecasting the kind of relationship he had in mind between himself and humanity. V 17-18 are powerful statements. What does not remember about you? What is it that is missing from you so that sacrifices are no longer necessary to perform? How does that affect your understanding of yourself and others?

How can we begin to live in a way that reveals our state of being forgiven and redeemed forever?

This is going to be an intriguing study – hope to see you this Sunday!

Enduring to the End

“And so we came to Rome.”

We’ve come to the end of our study through the book of Acts. This Sunday we’ll finish up by reading Acts 28:11-31.

It’s been quite a journey, reading through the account of this Ragamuffin Revolution. We’ve witnessed a lot of things along the way. Paul has gone through an awful lot, but he finally arrives at the destination God told him he would be going to many chapters back. It’s wonderful to see how he has endured through this amazing journey.

We too are on a journey in this Christian life, and we too are called to endure. This week we’ll take stock of some of the things we see in Paul’s life that helped him continue on, and we’ll consider how we can apply those same principles to our own walk.

In v11-16, Paul is able to meet up with other believers both in Puteoli and on the Appian Way, the road to Rome. V 15 tells us that Paul found courage in this meeting with the saints. How do you think meeting up with other believers encourages us in our journey?

Paul then goes right back into his practice of sharing his faith with his fellow Jews first (v 17-28) – and he meets with the same results of rejection, forcing him to turn to the gentiles instead. Paul didn’t quit sharing his hope even though it didn’t seem very productive. How do you think his faithfulness to his calling effected his ability to endure? What can we learn about being faithful from Paul’s example?

Luke finishes Acts rather abruptly, as though he’s getting ready to say something else but then stops. It creates the effect of an open-ended story. How can that be significant to us? There are three things Luke tells us that Paul occupied himself with while under house-arrest. What are they? It’s not a very complicated agenda, is it? How do you think a simplicity in our faith can provide the ability to endure in our Christian journey?

This study has been very challenging and encouraging to me – I hope it has been for you as well. See you Sunday!