The Joyful New

I’m back from vacation! I had a great trip to the Great Northwest – but I’m also glad to be back.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 2:18-22. This text is in the midst of a grouping of religious controversies that confront Jesus in his early ministry. Jesus, from the get go, was upending religious expectations left and right.

Israel’s expectation for who the messiah would be judging and what the messiah would be doing were pretty straightforward. Messiah will come to dispense judgement to the Roman Empire, to condemn those who didn’t adhere to the law of Moses and command righteousness without reserve.

And then there was Jesus. What were they to make of this rabbi? He hangs out with the wrong crowd, he seems to only condemn religious people while giving the riff-raff a new start. He just didn’t meet people’s expectations.

That was true of our text on Sunday. The disciples of John the Baptist fasted regularly while awaiting the arrival of God’s kingdom. The Pharisees fasted regularly to show how sincerely they longed for the end of exile…and it didn’t hurt that it made them look really religiously pious.

When Jesus is asked why he and his disciples don’t fast (a question posed right after Jesus was at a dinner party with disreputable people), the people are merely expressing that he is not meeting their spiritual standards. Fasting was only required in the Old Testament for the Day of Atonement. This wan’t about Mosaic commands, this was about religious expectations.

  • Why do you think Jesus answered their question about fasting with the imagery of a wedding? How does v 20 help us understand that Jesus isn’t opposed to fasting? What religious standards have you felt pressured by? How have you found yourself pressuring others to meet a standard you have set?

The two further explanations by way of parable are the new cloth and new wine-skin pictures. New cloth, in shrinking, would tear away from old, pre-shrunken fabric. An old leather, brittle wine-skin would tear open during the expansion of fermentation.

Jesus’ point is straightforward – he didn’t come to reform something old but to establish something new.

  • What does this mean to our relationship with the Old Testament Law? How do we understand the purpose and value of the Old Testament?

Anyway – hope to see you on Sunday!

The Power of Forgiveness

“As high as heaven is over the earth,
    so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
   he has separated us from our sins. ” ~ Psalm 103

At the core of the Christian hope, there is the promise of forgiveness from God. Sometimes I wonder if we have become so acquainted with with that truth that it’s impact gets dulled. It can easily happen. That’s why I love revisiting the gospels, because the core truths that our faith is formed around are ready to be apprehended afresh with every reading.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 2:1-12 which is the account of a paralyzed man being healed by Jesus, but is also a story that highlights the power of divine forgiveness.

The house is packed, not one more person can be squeezed in. Locals look up and down the street at the crowds who have descended on their tiny village to hear and see the young Rabbi.

Four men enter the fray, carrying a paralyzed man on a make-shift stretcher, asking people to make way to they can get through. A few people oblige, but the mass of humanity is too thick and progress comes to a complete stop. One of the four looks at the outside stairs of the house they are trying to enter.

  • What do are your thoughts about these four men? Why do you suppose they are so persistent? Where are they trying to take their friend?
  • If we imagine a symbolic meaning to their story, what lesson can we, the church, learn from these four men about our own priorities?
  • What can tearing up a roof in order to get someone close to Jesus teach us about our mission?

After they lower the man down to Jesus, the story takes a rather strange turn. Instead of immediately healing the man, Jesus by begins declaring his sins forgiven by God.

  • Why do you think Jesus declared forgiveness before healing the man?
  • What do you suppose get the religious leaders angry about this? What did they infer from this declaration?
  • The inward healing of forgiveness is something unseen and immeasurable – the outward healing of the man’s limbs was something everyone could observe. In what way does that help us to understand Jesus’ actions here?

I really love this story – Hope to see you Sunday!

The Good News

Jim Gaffigan has a stand-up routine from years ago where he declares: “I’m a vegetarian…it’s just that I eat beef and pork and chicken…but not fish because that’s disgusting”. It’s humorous because it cuts across the very definition of vegetarianism. The character he presents clearly doesn’t understand what it means to be a vegetarian.

It strikes me sometimes that a lot of Christians are like that when it comes to the Gospel – the Good News. A lot of times if I ask the question: “What is the Gospel?”, I get a variation on the idea that Jesus died to save us from our sins so that we can go to heaven and not hell when we die. It’s not that I disagree with any of that – but I’m not sure that really captures the heart of what the Good News really is because the focus is placed on what happens after this life.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 1:14-20 as we continue going through that account of Jesus.

In v14, we abruptly find out that John the Baptist has been arrested and Jesus has started publicly announcing God’s Good News. We’ve noted before that the word euangelion,  εὐαγγέλια, was not unique to Christianity. It was a word used to announce good news from Caesar, or announce his birthday, or declare a victory in battle.

What does Jesus say that sets the Good News that He preaches apart from the good news of Caesar? Who is the center and focus of this Good News?

In v 15, Jesus explains what the Good News is and what our response should be. Notice the words he’s saying: The time has COME, The Kingdom of God is NEAR, REPENT and BELIEVE. Follow the links on those words and consider what they mean.

Using the definition of the Greek words, write what Jesus is saying in your own words.

Read Daniel 2, especially v 44  – What do you think the people of Galilee were hearing when they heard the Good News proclaimed by Jesus?

When Jesus calls his first disciples in v16-20, they respond immediately.

What does their response tell us about what hearing the Good News demands of us?

What would it look like in our own lives to follow this example of Peter, Andrew, James and John? How would you describe the priorities their response symbolizes?

There have been lingering questions about why these guys would have responded so quickly and decisively. I had a whole section in my teaching that I had to remove because it would have made it run too long…but I copied it and I’ll paste it here, in case you’re interested. It helps round out the oppressive economic picture of that time and place, which helps us see why these guys may have responded like they did. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this. Anyway, here it is:

“Now, people have gotten cynical about this section, wondering about the abruptness of it – ‘what would make these guys respond so quickly to a rabbi like this?’ But, there ARE historical factors here… we need to understand the situation these guys were in.

We tend to think of these fishermen from the standpoint of a free-market, capitalist society, like WE live in. We imagine a nice little family business where they catch fish for themselves and sell the surplus to the local market. We view them as middle-class, blue collar Joes.

 But we’re wrong. There was no free-market capitalism in the world run by the Roman Empire. Rome ruled the known world – and sure, they brought roads and aqueducts and peace to the region…but they also brought the demands of the Roman elite from Caesar at the top to his agents and governors like Herod Antipas, the ruler over the Galilee region, and all the layers of bureaucracy in between. The sea of Galilee was no longer localized as a source dietary staples for the people who lived there – the sea of Galilee belonged to Caesar – nobody was going to fish there unless he approved it. Fishing leases were required, and taxes and tolls for ports were exorbitant.

Everyone was taking a cut of both the fish AND any potential profit to be made from them.

So local fishermen found themselves in an economic free-fall – they were at the bottom of this elaborate financial hierarchy. They had a trade that had been handed down through generations but now were tantamount to slave-labor …they had no hope of escape from this economic oppression.

Along comes a Rabbi who declares the time has come for God’s kingdom to break in on things. And they’re thinking…well, what would they be thinking, what might they have imagined?

‘This is IT, finally we’ll be free from our oppression and there will be justice.’

 They were right, but not the way the expected.”

 

Mark – Introduction; This is the Good News

This Sunday we will begin a new study in the Gospel of Mark. I am someone who believes that, as the church, it’s important to revisit the life and teachings of Jesus, just to be sure we’re tracking properly. The Gospel of mark is the shortest of the synoptic gospels, and according to surveys, the least popular of all of them. I think that’s a shame. Mark rocks, in my opinion.

As we begin this study, we’ll be reading chapter 1:1-8. Right off the bat, in the very first verse, we are confronted with several ideas which need to be explored. The Good News, Messiah and Son of God. We’ll be looking at the historic and religious contexts of those words – but let me suggest that to really get a good primer on the concept of Messiah, you can watch The Bible Project’s video on that subject: The Bible Project

How would you explain what the Good News about Jesus the Messiah is?

The writer of Mark wastes no time in getting us into the action. V2-3 introduces us to the expectations of Israel to set the stage. He quotes from Isaiah and Malachi passages that were meant to comfort the Jewish people who had gone into Babylonian exile that the Lord would return to his temple one day. God gave them a sign to look for – a messenger would come and prepare the way for the Lord’s appearance.

Why do you think it was important to connect John the Baptist with the promised sign? How can this encourage us about trusting God’s promises?

In v4-6 John is described, and he is one odd dude. He definitely didn’t follow the advice of today’s experts on how to attract people to your movement.

What does John’s dress, diet and location speak of to you? Why do you think people were so attracted to John’s message? What can we learn from that about our own ministry and church?

When John speaks in v7-8, he has a singular topic in view. Jesus. John is almost over-the-top in trying to pronounce the distinction and superiority of the coming Messiah.

In what ways can we follow his example? As we seek to minister God’s love to people, how can we keep our focus on Jesus without becoming self-depreciating? What do you believe John was describing when he said Jesus would baptize withe the Holy Spirit?

I’m really stoked to get back to posting in Wonderwhat! I’m looking forward to this study – I hope you’ll come to love Mark as much as I do! See you Sunday!

 

Jesus in the Middle of His Church

Image result for stereogramDo you remember those old “magic eye” posters that were all the rage in the 90’s? They were 3D images that were masked by a two dimensional pattern that could only be seen by slightly crossing your eyes, like you would to view a 3D stereogram (this is what a stereogram is, if you don’t know and actually care).

The key to seeing those visual puzzles had to do with refocusing your eyes. The picture didn’t emerge until you saw it from the proper focal direction.

That is a lot like the book of Revelation. It has a message that seems confusing and difficult on the surface reading – but when we focus our eyes properly, we begin to see that not everything is as it seems on the surface. The symbolic imagery begins to take on a different meaning which encourages us to hold fast to our faith in Christ.

We began an expository study of Revelation last week, and this week we’ll continue, still in chapter one, reading v9-20.

The first eight verses were the introduction, the last 11 are the opening of the prologue.

A dramatic and powerful voice commands John to write this down in a letter to 7 churches in the province of Asia Minor. When John turns to see who’s talking, he gets an eyeful. Jesus stands in the middle of 7 lamps, which v 20 says stand for the 7 churches. The number seven will be significant in this book. It’s actually a significant number in the whole of the Biblical Narrative. Easton’s Bible Dictionary says: “Seven is used for any round number, or for completeness, as we say a dozen, or as a speaker says he will say two or three words.”  Given this usage of that number – what significance do you think “seven churches” has?

The One speaking isn’t named as Jesus, but his self-description of being dead but now alive is a clear indicator of who this Risen One is. Where is he standing? Given that the lamps are the church, what is significant about his placement?

Look at the descriptions of Jesus. A long robe, a golden sash, white hair, flaming eyes, shining skin, burnished bronze feet and a literally sharp tongue (sorry, couldn’t help myself). All of these symbolic descriptors are meant to indicate Jesus’ power and ability to preserve and empower his church. What do you think these descriptions imply about Him in relation to the church?

We’ll go into more detail on Sunday – but take some time to read this passage before-hand. Get the feel of how John uses imagery. Let your imagination take flight and do your best to picture what John is describing. This is how we’ll enter into this as an experience and not just another lesson with more information to store. Let’s get stoked about “The First and the Last, the LIVING ONE!”

Hope to see you Sunday!

Kingdom Come – the Gospel of Matthew

matt FB web

This Sunday we’ll be starting a new study in the gospel of Matthew! We’ll be reading all of chapter one. I’m pretty stoked about this as it’s my second time through this gospel. I know it can be a disappointing shock when you begin to read this story and realize it begins with a long genealogy. Not the exciting start we’d hoped for, but an important one for establishing Jesus’ claim as Messiah. The expected Messiah was most certainly supposed to be Jewish, and from the family line of King David. The list of names that Matthew provides establishes just that.

Now, pay attention to the names of the characters in this list. Look up Tamar and Judah. Do some research on Rahab and her occupation; Ruth and her origins. What event launched David and the mother of Solomon in thier relationship? Explore the lives of all those descendants of Solomon and look at the epitaph that they left behind, including Solomon himself. Does this look like a squeaky clean list of characters? Do you spy, with your little eye, any skeletons in Messiah’s closet? What does that tell us about God’s kingdom and who it chooses to work through? How can that combat any shameful past we may have?

V 21 and v23 give us names that declare mission and the nature of the mission of Messiah. What do those names mean to you personally?

Hey – the Bible Project has done a set of WONDERFUL introduction videos that lay out and explain the structure and emphasis of Matthew’s gospel. Please take the time to look at them in preparation for this study! Hope to see you Sunday!

A Change of Priorities

Hey everyone! Hope your week is going well.  This Sunday we’re going to be looking at Luke 6:12-26.

The narrative transitions from the conflicts Jesus had with the Pharisees to the choosing of the 12 apostles and the establishing of the Kingdom ethic.  As we explore this passage this week, I’m going to try and focus on the change in priorities that Jesus introduces us to.  A change from the standard priorities of this broken world to the values and priorities of Jesus’ kingdom project (to use a phrase coined by N.T. Wright).

v 12-16 we have the account of Jesus selecting his 12 apostles.  This occurs after an all night prayer session that Jesus has.  As I look at that list of names, something occurred to me as I considered Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot both being included on the team.  Considering the differences between the values these two men may have embraced, what, if anything, does it speak to you about our priorities and purposes in the community of Christ’s followers?

v 17-19 describes Jesus ministering to the multitudes.  If you were to try and summarize with one word the priorities revealed in these verses, what would it be?

v 20-26 begin what is referred to as “the sermon on the plain“, where Jesus teaches many of the same things, with a few variations, as he taught in the “sermon on the mount”.  With this opening salvo of “beatitudes”, or blessings, and the contrasting “woes”…what kind of picture do we see emerging about the values of the kingdom project?  Where does personal comfort place in these values?  Do these verses comfort or disturb you (or both)?

This should be a very interesting study…you never know, it may even get me into trouble.

See yer’ Sunday!