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!

The Folly of Mere Religion

Image result for elephant at a parking meterDid you know that according to a law in Orlando, if you leave an Elephant at a parking meter, you have to pay the full fee that you would pay for a car? Some insist that no such law ever existed, but others are adamant about it. It’s hard to say, but we do know that strange laws like that still remain in the layers of various states legislation. I love trying to imagine the context for coming up with laws like Missouri’s ban on driving with an uncaged bear in you car. It would be hard to discern the original intent behind a law like that.

Still, with any law, original intent is important. One of the constant themes of the New Testament, and especially the gospels, is this conflict we witness between those who insisted on pressing the letter of the Old Testament law, and Jesus who administered the spirit, or intent of it.

That’s something we’ll be considering in our text this Sunday as we read Matthew 12:1-21.

In v 1-8 Jesus defends his disciples against accusations of breaking the commands of Oral Law, the Talmud, which forbade harvesting and threshing wheat – which they applied to the actions of the disciples in this section. What do you think Jesus’ point is in referring to David eating the showbread of the Tabernacle? When Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” – what does that mean to you? How does this apply to your life of following Jesus? What do you think he means by calling himself the Lord of the Sabbath?

In the second story, the same issue of Sabbath keeping is at the center. Jesus responds to the inquiry about healing on the Sabbath with a hypothetical situation where someone’s sheep falls in a ditch – common sense dictated that it was a necessity to come the animal’s aid. Jesus states his point quite clearly – people matter more. But by going ahead and healing on the Sabbath, we realize what he means – people mean more than _______ – what?

V15-21 act as sort of a summary of these two events. They give us a picture of Jesus that is very different from the religious leaders and Pharisees of his time. Their emphasis was on domineering people through their religion. Based on these verses, what is Jesus’ emphasis, and what sort of atmosphere surrounds his triumph?

This is a great section of the gospel to explore! Hope to see you this Sunday!


God’s Healing Rule

  • Image result for taxmanWhat are your first thoughts when you read the letters IRS together? Do you have negative or positive feelings about this agency? That’s sort of a rhetorical question, I don’t know many people who get the warm and fuzzies when it comes to our government tax agency. As John Oliver says, “It’s no wonder people hate the IRS. They’re unavoidable, they often function poorly and they combine things we hate the most: losing money and math.”

Things were no different in the world of Israel in the first century. Actually, tax collectors were probably hated more intensely in that context. They were considered traitors for collecting money from the hated Roman oppressors. Add to that the propensity of tax collectors to overcharge people who had no recourse for objection and we can see why tax collectors were lumped in with murderers, robbers and prostitutes.

That’s what makes Jesus’ actions and words so alarming in the section of Matthew we’ll be reading this Sunday – Matthew 9:9-17.

In v9-13 we find the invitation given to Matthew the taxman to become a disciple of Jesus. We wonder if Jesus knew Matthew beforehand and how much Matt knew about Jesus to accept this offer so suddenly. The party afterwards is where the main action develops. What does it say that Jesus is doing at the party? Is he lecturing people about ethics and occupations? Is he handing out tracts? What is he doing according to v10? Sharing a meal was a powerful statement in that culture and time. It meant acceptance and connection. People who ate together were considered a part of each other. Do you see what is perplexing the Pharisees now?

What do you think Jesus’ answer means in v11-13? What does the focus of his mission seem to be on? What is it that the Pharisees focus on? What should we learn from this?

In v14-15, John the Baptist’s disciples seem confused by Jesus’ behavior as well. John taught his followers fasting as a way to encourage God to send his kingdom and end the days of exile. The Pharisees taught that tradition as well. But here is Jesus who seems to be eating a lot (its one of the main thing Luke’s gospel portrays Jesus as doing). Jesus’ answer points to himself as an important part of what it is that John’s disciples were waiting for. What do you think he’s saying?

v16-17 provide two word pictures that contrast something rigid with something flexible. Jesus is contrasting the work of God’s kingdom coming through him with what came before. What came before? What do you think the new wine is, and what is the value of a flexible structure around it?

This should prove to be an intriguing study- hope to see you Sunday!


An Unsettling Grace

Whoops! Got invited to go fishing and forgot to update Wonderwhat. Sorry about that. This Sunday we will be doing our final study in the book of Jonah. What a fun ride this has been! We’ll be reading all of Jonah 4.

Does a movie with really happy ending ever cause you to be furious enough to want to die? I’m going to suppose not. At least I hope not. That would be attitudinal behavior that would warrant some professional intervention, wouldn’t it? Yet that’s very much like what we’ll read about our prophet in this final installment of our study.

What reason does Jonah give for being so mad in v2? Why do you think God’s grace and mercy are  so upsetting to Jonah? Have you ever struggled with the idea that God really, really loves that person who did something terrible to you, and would forgive them if they repented? What ways do you find to reconcile God’s justice and mercy?

What does the vine God appointed represent to you? If Jonah built a shelter to get shade from the sun – why do you think God provided the plant? What does v6 say that God gave him the plant to save him from? The Hebrew word that’s translated “discomfort” in the ESV is “re’eh”. It appears 306 times in the bible and 112 times it’s translated at a different word. Follow the previous link to find out what it’s translated as 112 times. Does that change your idea about why God provided the plant?

If you were to summarize what God is trying to get across to Jonah as a stand in for all of  God’s people, what would that message be?

I hope you’ve like this study as much as I did! Hope to see you on Sunday!


The Cost of Running


I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

…From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase, 

And unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat – and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet –

‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

~The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson

This Sunday we’ll be continuing in our study of Jonah and we’ll be covering all of chapter one. Jonah has four main acts or movements. The first is in chapter one, where Jonah runs from God. In this part of the story we see Jonah’s determination to go as far away from God’s calling on his life as he can, and the cost of making that run. As the character from Thompson’s poem realizes – when we run from God, all the things we chase after for fulfillment will betray us. God won’t let them satisfy us. That’s not meanness on his part – it’s mercy.

In v 4-6 we see a contrast of actions. What are the pagan sailors doing? What is Jonah doing? Who is it that reminds Jonah what he should be doing? Compare the words of the ship’s captain to God’s original command to Jonah. What significance do you find there?

Jonah gets exposed as the epicenter of the storm in v7-10. When Jonah explains that his “occupation”, or job, is to fear (revere and serve) Yahweh we see a clear contradiction between his job description and his present way of life. The sailors catch it too. “You’re supposed to serve the God who made the sea, but instead you’re running from Him…….on OUR BOAT!?” When our culture tells us that what we do privately is our own business and has no bearing on others – do you believe that? Do you really believe that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? What sort of ways can you imagine that our resistance to God’s way of life affects those around us?

In v11-16 scholars are divided about what’s happening with Jonah. Some believe he’s coming to his senses and repenting because he feels bad for the sailors he’s brought into this. Others see this as just another move away from God’s original calling, to go to Nineveh. What do you think – is he repenting or not, and why? Have you ever made a move to fix an immediate crisis without really dealing with the root problem? How well did that work for you?

In v 14 we have the first prayer offered to God. Who does it come from? What seems significant about that to you?

Finally, in v17 we get to the big fish! What do you think – is the fish a judgment or a mercy…or both? Remember the Hound of Heaven – “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me”.

Hope you’re liking this study – I’m really enjoying it! See you Sunday!