Challenge and Grace

Even though, based on our appearances, we might seem different from one another, we all experience very similar internal lives. For example, we all struggle with feelings of inadequacy, fear, and shame. We all experience frustration, anger, and uncertainty. We might do a good job hiding those feelings from one another, but we all encounter them. Our shared experiences with those emotions prompt our consideration of Peter in this lesson. The New Testament’s account of Peter draws attention to his struggles to highlight Jesus’ response. Therefore, we will consider some of Peter’s struggles to see what insights they may offer us into our relationship with Jesus.

In Him – the Blessings God gives through Jesus

IN HIM The blessings God gives us through Jesus, Ephesians 1:3-14 The in-crowd offers a standard narrative and cinematic motif. Even though it usually finds employment in predictable ways, the idea of insiders and outsiders remains compelling because it resonates with everyone’s experiences. Paul opened his letter to the Christians in Ephesus by describing an in-crowd and the privileges that attend belonging to that group. But the in-crowd he wrote about avoids the usual, negative things we tend to associate…

Jesus and Technology – Every Step Must Make Life Better

Every Step Must Make Life Better Psalm 115:1-8 Technology & inventions should make life better. However, they can spoil as frequently as they can enrich. Jesus doesn’t focus on what man invents, but instead on the heart of man behind every invention. From out of the heart come the things that stain, scar, and defile (Mark 7:20-23). To what extent do our devices enrich our devotion to Christ & others? How much do they leave us distracted, isolated, & spoiled?

Crucified with Christ

Paul wrote that he had “been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), a well-known phrase describing the nature of his relationship with Jesus. Knowing Paul’s desire to be like Jesus and recognizing that it should occupy a similarly important place in our lives does not, by itself, bring clarity to that expectation. Therefore, we will consider Paul’s letter to the Philippians in which he offers insights into how his focus on Jesus shaped his life and explore how his transformation offers guidance for us.

Christlikeness and Suffering

Advertisements populate almost every space in our lives. Those ads often try to convince viewers to buy whatever goods or services they market by outlining how they will improve their lives. I have yet to see an advertisement that – in a non-humorous nor non-ironic way – sells its product by highlighting the persecution and suffering it will bring into peoples’ lives. However, that is the tactic Peter used to address the suffering experienced by his audience. We will therefore consider Peter’s message in 1 Peter and its connection to our effort to become increasingly Christlike people.

Jesus Shaped Ethics – Jesus and Sexuality

1 Corinthians 6:12-20–It seems that our culture talks about sex and sexuality all the time. Our culture’s apparent lack of shame finds counterbalance in the embarrassment that often accompanies discussions about the topic in the church. However, even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that it also has a lot to say about sex and sexuality, indicating that it is an important topic that we should not avoid. So, we will use this morning’s lesson to consider a few…

Jesus Shaped Ethics – Jesus and Work

Genesis 2:15 — In 2014, the Barna Group published a report about trends in faith, work, and calling among people who self-identify as Christians in the United States. The report included the following paragraph:  “Most churchgoers are craving more direction and discipleship when it comes to the theology of calling, especially as it relates to work. Barna research shows nearly two-thirds of churched adults say it has been at least three years or more since they heard church teachings on…

Jesus Shaped Ethics – Politics

It seems the last few years have witnessed a dramatic increase in the politicization of our nation. The expected patriotic response to the sight of our nation’s flag or the singing of our national anthem has been joined by a growing tension in our country, a tension built on the belief that the future of our nation hangs in the balance. That tension has resulted in distrust and fear that enflames existing political and social divisions in our country and has engendered a rising suspicion of those who hold differing opinions. And, as we have all seen (and probably even experienced), that distrust has broken relationships and even festered into violence. Given the political climate in our nation, we should ask ourselves, “How should following Jesus shape my politics?” This lesson will consider Jesus and his kingdom to prepare us for our group discussions this evening that will explore practical applications of Jesus’ kingdom in our nation’s current political setting.

Christlikeness and Community

The concept of “community” reached a popular level when I was in graduate school in the late 1990s. It had become a way of casually defining people based on their assumed sociological needs. While the idea certainly possessed rigor, I often saw it uncritically used to reduce the impulse to be part of a group to no more than a longing for belonging. In reference to religion, for example, some would offhandedly comment that it offered like-minded people a community without seriously considering the ideas that formed the community and motivated individuals to want to belong to such a group. Even though some might misuse it, community nevertheless occupies a vitally important role in Christianity. Rather than merely being the result of the desire for belonging, God designed the church as a community built on the foundation of Jesus. It requires participants to understand and believe in Jesus’ authoritative identity and submit themselves to the purposes he sets for the church. As we continue to explore our effort to be like Jesus, we will use Paul’s comments about the church in Ephesians to consider the relationship between Christlikeness and community.

The Call to Be Christlike – Putting on a New Self

Ephesians 1: 3-10–We live in a society that carefully parses identities. African American, Native American, Caucasian, Latino, cisgender, LGBTQ, gen X, millennial, etc. – we have categories into which we place others and ourselves that mark our place in our culture. That same boundary marking exists in religious circles where people are identified by their affiliation – Protestant, Catholic, mainline, fundamentalist, charismatic, progressive, etc. And, categories can overlap to create increasingly narrow subgroups – African American gen X charismatic or…

Good at Being a Man

Good at Being a Man Reading: Mark 3:24-27 Jesus is the strongest man. The gospel of Mark reveals Jesus’ strength and power over nature, over disease, and over demons. Jesus walked the earth as a man, God’s Son. He wields his strength & power as a man. He shows us that when a man is good at being a man, he brings glory to God the Father.

Thinking Like Jesus: About Self

For forty years, Burger King marketed its burgers with the motto “Have it your way.” Then, in 2014, the company changed its slogan to “Be your way,” stating that its changed saying had been designed to remind people “they can and should live how they want anytime.” A year later, the company changed its motto to “Your way,” a more familiar slogan that maintained the spirit behind its predecessor. Slogans offer insights into our culture because they attempt to capture the ‘spirit’ of a generation to capture consumers’ attention. Burger King’s mottos points to something I suspect we all recognize – we live in an increasingly individualistic and self-absorbed culture. Paul’s teachings stand in contrast to our culture’s focus. Because of his understandings of Jesus, Paul urged people to have an attitude about themselves that would motivate them to put others’ interests ahead of their interests. We will consider Paul’s comments to the Philippians, in which he holds out Jesus as a model for how his audience should think about themselves.

God Loves Me

I recently read a short news story about “body-positive models,” about plus-sized fashion models trying to change perceptions of beauty. Those models sit within our culture’s growing emphasis upon positivity that advocates love for self regardless of one’s shape, color, sexuality, or any other identifying features or qualities they may possess. Loving oneself also holds an important place in the Bible. Consider, for example, Jesus’ second greatest command – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 7:39, emp. added). While positivity culture and the Bible may overlap, a key difference separates them – the love our culture advocates is individualized to each person, while the love the Bible discusses focuses on God. We will use this lesson to consider God’s love for us and some of the applications it has within our lives.

Descending into Greatness

Mark 1:29-31 The gospel of Mark starts when Jesus starts his ministry. Mark skips the Christmas story. He ignores Jesus’ royal & human genealogies. He even leaves out the part about the Word being with God in the beginning. Mark shows us Jesus the Servant. As he does this, Mark captures the reaction of those watching Jesus descend into service. He captures their wincing reaction as the first witnesses see their great Messiah become the slave of all. To be the Messiah who saves from suffering, Jesus comes as the Messiah who serves & suffers.

Practical Discipleship – Forgiveness

Jesus taught that God commissioned him with a love-motivated mission to save the world rather than condemn it (John 3:16-17). His saving mission focused on forgiving people of their selfish decision(s) to rebel against God. The vital place forgiveness holds in Jesus’ mission extends to those who commit to following him; the forgiveness defining Jesus and his mission must characterize all who disciple themselves to him. It does not take one very long to realize that, while the Bible clearly describes forgiveness important place, it devotes very little space to exploring the complexities of practicing it. Rather than providing an exhaustive list of ‘if…,then…’ scenarios to guide people, the Bible expects individuals to work out how to practice forgiveness in ways consistent with Jesus’ teaching and practices. So, we will use this lesson to explore the practice of forgiveness.

THINK LIKE JESUS Use your wealth to benefit others

Early in my ministry, an older preacher jokingly told me that you “don’t mess with people’s money or kids.” Conversely, I have noticed that people tend to like lessons that focus on other people more than ones that focus on them and their concerns. Despite seeing the same things, Jesus persistently directed his audience’s attention to their problems. His strategy often angered his audience and even motivated them to try and kill him on a couple of occasions. We are a church family committed to following Jesus. Like those who followed Jesus in the gospels, we should also be prepared to be disquieted by his teachings. However, the discomfort Jesus creates seeks to transform us so that we can enjoy the life God intended us to live. We will, in this lesson, consider the transformed relationship with wealth that Jesus expects to take root within the lives of all who follow him.

God, Our Mother

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I began seeing gender-inclusive religious slogans like, “Our God, She is alive.” Academic debates about feminism and patriarchy had reached a popular level and started to appear in bookstores and on bumper stickers. While some opposed gender-inclusive Bible teaching because of prejudices and others pushed gender-inclusive Bible teachings into unbiblical areas, the debate revolved around a clear center – God does describe Himself using feminine imagery in the Bible. As we celebrate Mothers’ Day today, we…

Where Your Treasure is – Thinking Like Jesus about Possessions

A [large] contingent of practicing Christians are more inclined toward materialism, the view that the material world is all there is. For them, “meaning and purpose comes from working hard to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life,” a view held by one-fifth of practicing Christians (20%).[1] The above quote comes from a 2017 Barna Group report summarizing its research into various worldviews influencing the beliefs and practices of self-identified Christians in the United States. While I suspect the finding that many believe “meaning and purpose comes from working hard to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life” does not surprise us, the number of “practicing Christians” who espouse it should alarm us. That finding should disturb us because its claim that life’s meaning and purpose revolves around wealth stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ numerous teachings about wealth’s dangers. As we continue to explore what it looks like to commit ourselves to following Jesus and learning from him, we will use this lesson to consider Jesus’ teachings about wealth in Matthew 6:19-24. [1]

The Cost of Community

The Cost of Community Jesus promises that his community of believers will be a blessing and a support. How close are we supposed to be in this community? And why will there be challenges? Though Christian community comes at a cost, Christ tells us it is worth pursuing.