Monday, February 8, 2016

WMTRBW 26: Making It Real

Again, this week we will have to read two chapters to complete section 2, "Alive in the Adventure of Jesus," in order to begin section 3, "Alive in a Global Uprising" with the start of the season of Lent this coming week. So, read chapters 25 and 26; this blog will focus on chapter 26 since chapter 25 was focused on in worship yesterday!

As Brian McLaren was writing this chapter, he says in his additional commentary on the book,

"I wondered if we might need a fresh definition of faith. As it stands, faith often means conviction that some things happened in the past. I wonder if faith is even more truly a conviction that something can, must, and will happen in the future, and by its very existence, it helps those things come to be."

This chapter also offers a new perspective not just on faith, but on another loaded word: "belief." In the chapter, imagined as a dialogue between Mary Magdalene and two inquirers about Jesus, Mary says,

“What about you? Are you beginning to believe in him? Do you trust him?” That question has a peculiar power, doesn’t it? “Do you trust him?” is not the same as “Do you believe he existed?” or “Do you believe certain doctrines about him?” It’s a question about commitment, about confidence.

If you had to define "faith" and "believe," how would you define them? Are your definitions closer to the "traditional" ones (faith as conviction about past events, belief about concrete existence or doctrines) or to the ones put forth in this chapter (faith as about the future and action, belief as about trust, commitment, and relationship)? How could expanding or refreshing your definition of these words change the way you think about and follow Jesus?

Monday, February 1, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 24: Jesus and Hell

Rich Man and Lazarus by Bonifazio Veronese
Note: Since Lent begins so early this year, we will be doubling up on our chapters from We Make the Road by Walking the next two weeks to get on the right schedule. This week, please take time to read both "Jesus and the Multitudes" (Ch. 23) and "Jesus and Hell" (Ch. 24). Since I preached on Chapter 23 this week, our blog will focus on Chapter 24.

"Hell" holds a more prominent place in many modern forms of Christianity than it does in the pages of Scripture. Jesus does occasionally talk about a fiery place of punishment, but as our chapter this week points out, when he does he says some surprising things about it. Consider this central passage from our chapter this week:

"Jesus clearly agreed that there was an afterlife. Death was not the end for Jesus. But one of the most striking facets of his life and ministry was the way he took popular understandings of the afterlife and turned them upside down. Who was going to hell? Rich and successful people who lived in fancy houses and stepped over their destitute neighbors who slept in the gutters outside their gates. Proud people who judged, insulted, excluded, avoided, and accused others. Fastidious hypocrites who strained out gnats and swallowed camels. The condemnation that the religious elite so freely pronounced on the marginalized, Jesus turned back on them. And who, according to Jesus, was going to heaven? The very people whom the religious elite despised, deprived, avoided, excluded, and condemned. Heaven’s gates opened wide for the poor and destitute who shared in few of life’s blessings; the sinners, the sick, and the homeless who felt superior to nobody and who therefore appreciated God’s grace and forgiveness all the more; even the prostitutes and tax collectors...Again and again, Jesus took conventional language and imagery for hell and reversed it. We might say he wasn’t so much teaching about hell as he was un-teaching about hell." (Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking pp. 112-113, emphasis mine)

Consider how this teaching compares to what you were taught, have heard in the media, or think is generally believed about hell. Some questions to reflect on:
Who do we popularly hear is going to hell? 
Who do we popularly hear is going to heaven? 
How might Jesus want to take our conventional imagery and language for hell today and un-teach it, turning our preconceptions upside down? 

Monday, January 25, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 22: Jesus the Teacher

As we read our twenty-second chapter of We Make the Road by Walking this week, it's good to be back! I want to extend my thanks to Karen, Nicole and Nancy for filling in so ably and thoughtfully on the blog these past few weeks as I have been out on maternity leave. I've enjoyed reading your reflections on the text!

This week's chapter is on Jesus as teacher (duh, the title is pretty clear on that one!). I was captured by a couple of things in this very rich chapter.

The first is one of the discussion/reflection questions at the end of the chapter: "Share a story about one of the most important teachers in your life and what made him or her so significant." There are four or five teachers, from first grade to college, who I can name as making a deep impact on my life. The one on my mind after reading this chapter, though, is my 9th grade English teacher Mrs. Miles. My sister had had Mrs. Miles in high school as well and loved her, so I was excited to be in her honors English class. I'd always been good at English so I looked forward to impressing her. I ran into a problem, though: Mrs. Miles was HARD. She was demanding. I had never had to work so hard on my writing to hone it. But as I look back, I realize Mrs. Miles was the teacher who really taught me to write. Since that is now a huge part of my livelihood, I realize I have much to be thankful for! I wasn't thankful for how hard I was working at the time, but I am deeply grateful in retrospect.

What does Jesus ask and demand of us as a teacher? A different way of thinking, a deeper discourse. The second thing that captured me in this chapter is what it said about parables, and how this major vehicle Jesus used for his teaching challenges us to think, talk, and interact in different ways. Consider what Brian McLaren wrote about the parables:

"[Jesus] knew that most adults quickly sort messages into either/or categories—agree/disagree, like/dislike, familiar/strange. In so doing, they react and argue without actually hearing and thinking about what is being said. His parables drew his hearers into deeper thought by engaging their imagination and by inviting interpretation instead of reaction and argument. In this way, parables put people in the position of children who are more attracted to stories than to arguments. Faced with a parable, listeners were invited to give matters a second thought. They could then ask questions, stay curious, and seek something deeper than agreement or disagreement—namely, meaning." (WMTRBW Ch. 22).

As I listen to the way we talk to each other these days, I think maybe we need to be taught by and through parables once again.

What captured you from this chapter? What teachers have impacted you, and how is Jesus' teaching shaping and re-shaping you these days?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

WMTRBW - Chapter 21

Is God still in business of miracles?  In today’s culture, some people hold that the age of miracles is over; that it ended when the Bible was completed. Others take the opposite position and say miracles are available to everyone, if they only have enough faith to believe.  But thinking of miracles in those terms limits God, by attempting to define the parameters of His sovereignty. In Isiah 55:8 God tells us “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. So the truth of the matter is God can do what He chooses, when He chooses, for whom He chooses, and for whatever reasons He chooses.
I think in all our business, as we rush through each day we miss array of miracles that God has given us. Like the miracle of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or in a baby’s smile, or a loved one’s laugh, or (for me, my personal favorite) the miracle of a close parking space on a busy street. It’s the day to day miracles that we totally overlook or are too busy to take notice.  But perhaps the greatest miracle of all is that miracle when a sinner accepts Christ and passes from an eternal death sentence to eternal life with Him.

What are your thoughts about miracles? Do you have any miracle stories you would like to share?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

WMTRBW - Chapter 20: Join the Adventure!

In Chapter 20, we examine the importance of enduring a period of preparation in joining the adventure of following Jesus...

The author draws a parallel between Jesus’ fasting in the desert for 40 days, both with Moses’ 40 years in the wilderness prior to freeing the Hebrew slaves and with the Hebrews’ 40 years in the desert before making it to the promised land.

To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to accept the invitation to follow Him and enter discipleship.  This means we need to clearly understand what it means to follow Him – to align our mission with His.  If we dare to follow Jesus, we can also expect to enter a time of preparation;  a time for refinement; a time to shed earthy desires and shift to an eternal perspective.

Let’s consider a few things:
What is the temptation you need to overcome?
What do you need to be freed from?
What promised land are you striving for? 
And finally, do your answers to these questions line up with His mission for your life?

It is a beautiful thing to choose to be His disciple and also to endure times of preparation, even though preparation can be painful.  I believe this preparation time is actually not just one period of time but that it continuously weaves throughout our lives, refining different aspects of our character and building our spiritual muscles to match up with His plan for our life.  For example, do you need to be more courageous? Then perhaps you will endure a season which requires bravery.

Share a story about a time you went through some hardship or temptation that prepared you for a later opportunity, or a time when you missed an opportunity because you were unprepared.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Chapter 19 Redux

Since I mistakenly posted my blog on Chapter 19 of Making the Road by Walking several weeks ago, REDUX came to my mind.  Let's bring consideration of that chapter back, revive it.

Our Scriptures  this Sunday gave us not only pictures of two young men Jesus and Timothy but the reactions of several people to these obviously precocious young men.  Men?  I'll give you that Timothy was a man but Jesus at age 12?  Well, at least close to it.  Jewish boys were said to be men at 13 and Jesus like some of our young people may have been saying, "I'm twelve and a half or twelve and three quarters" and feeling very 'adult'.  As we heard in our sermon, Jesus was fully human and fully God and was surely living in the tension of his childhood obligations to his parents and others around him yet increasingly aware of the grown man obligations on his life both at twelve and in the future.  Jesus certainly was acting an adult role -theological questioning and debate with the temple teachers.  And Timothy?  He was certainly young yet already in a leadership position in a community of new believers. We know their stories.  Let's look at some other actors in these men's lives.

Jesus' parents were upset with him and basically did what we would call fussing at him for his staying in the temple engaged with matters of his growing faith and knowledge.  They wanted this young Jesus to be a dutiful, obedient son.  They wanted him to fulfill his culture's expected role.

The temple teachers obviously found Jesus' attention, questions and his answers impressive enough to sit and discuss scripture with him for two days.  They wanted to both learn from him and encourage him to pursue a teacher/learner role.

Paul saw a need in Ephesus in a new community of Christ followers for a wise, prayerful, loving leader.  He could have filled this role himself, but instead gave full support to a young Timothy and followed up with wise counsel delivered in a thoughtful letter.  Not only did he give wise counsel; he gave strong encouragement.

*  Jesus' parents weren't bad parents. They were worried and upset and most likely too near     him to yet see his potential.

*  The teachers didn't know Jesus' past childish mistakes and errors. They weren't tasked to    help him conform to his cultural background.  They experienced him as a wise stranger        and by accepting him helped him find more about where he could serve God and mature      in his faith.

*  Paul saw great potential in a young person who had been raised well by two wise female       relatives and helped  him find where he could serve God and mature.
    Paul was not a parent to Timothy.  He could not be blamed if Timothy failed to grow in his     faith. Paul only saw two things.  A need in God's kingdom and a man he thought could         fill that need.

All of us as adults can fit into the life of some child or youth in one of these ways. What role can YOU play in the development of a young person?  Can you raise a boy or girl wisely as a parent? Can you interact with a child as a growing believer?  Can you point a child or youth to Godly work that fits their gifts?  Can you help some young person learn to make the road while walking?  

Now,  if you skipped it three weeks ago or forgot it, go back on the blog and read that original blog about this chapter.  Are you still who you were at twelve years old?  Have you grown?  Have you changed?  Who helped you walk the road?

Monday, December 28, 2015

WMTRBW - Chapter 18: Sharing Gifts

In Chapter 18 of ‘We Make The Road By Walking’ we learn about sharing gifts. During the Christmas season we might try to figure out if someone has bought us a gift we have really wanted. Perhaps we might even snoop around the house to find what has been bought. It is very easy to get caught up in the materialism of it all and forget that the real message of Christmas is not found in the gifts that we give to one another. Rather, it is a reminder of the gift that God has given to each of us. It is the only gift that truly keeps giving. Here are a few thoughts about God’s gift of Jesus to us:

  • God's gift came to us in the humblest of wrappings. What would we think if we saw a gift under the Christmas tree that was wrapped in dirty newspaper and tied up with string? But that’s exactly how God presented his gift to us. Jesus was not born in a palace of gold; He was born in a stable with animals. He was clothed with rags. He was laid in a feeding trough. What a great sacrifice God made for us! God's gift to humanity, the ultimate gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ, came in the simplest and humblest of wrappings.
  • We don't deserve the gift God gave us. At Christmas, we give gifts to those who we care about, those who have been kind to us, or who have given us a gift first. We don't give gifts to the person who has been talking about us negatively of gossiping about us or to the angry neighbor who never has a kind word to say. Yet God gave us His gift when we were His enemies. He didn't give this gift to us because we deserved it. In fact, it was just the opposite. The Bible tells us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

  • The gifts we give always tell us something about the giver. When we want to give someone a gift, we might start thinking about it ahead of time. Hopefully, we try to find what that person wants or needs. However, when God decided to give us the gift of eternal life, it wasn't something that He just thought of. Way before there was a town called Bethlehem, there was a garden called Eden, and a decision was made in eternity that God would send forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those that are under the law.

So Christmas isn't about those gifts that we have under our trees this season. All of those things will be gone one day. All that will be left after this life is the human soul, and that will live forever. We put so much stock in what we have, but it will all pass away. Life is about what happens beyond the grave. Life is about knowing the God who made us and who gave us the greatest gift we will ever receive. Let’s take a moment this Christmas season to give our Heavenly Father the greatest gift He desires: the gift of our heart.

What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped, or surprised you?