I Did Not Come to Bring Peace

As time passes, associations with people change. We move from brother to uncle, sister to aunt, Eddie to Ed, son to dad, but these changes do not affect our true identity. Jesus is referred to in many different ways; son, brother, friend, great physician, suffering servant, prince of peace.

Think about the titles for Jesus, which bring the most meaning to you? We generally see Jesus in the way that is most meaningful to us… forgiver, helper, our rock, fortress, salvation, physician… and that changing association reveals a dynamic relationship.

Can Jesus actually be the prince of war? We don’t usually address Him as a general or a warrior, but our passage today causes one to think. There are plenty of passages that promote peace (Romans 5:1-2, Revelation 21:1-5, Romans 8:38-39, Philippians 4:6) but we tend to overlook the ones that mention Jesus as the bringer of war – Luke 12:49-53 and Matthew 10:34-39. How does the cost of following Christ described in these passages reflect what you have experience? How do you reconcile these conflicting views of Jesus?

The audience of Jesus was primarily Jewish, and they really believed that a relationship with God was only for the Jews, not the gentiles. When a Jew came to Christ, he did not change status; he may still be a fisherman, with a fisherman’s family, living a fisherman’s life, raising fisherman kids. In a monotheistic society, Jesus is considered a blasphemer punishable by death, a heretic, offensive to the very core of their existence and identity. The twelve abandoned all they knew for the unknown. What has faith cost you in terms of relationships? Include relationships with family and friends and co-workers.

Think about the mission of Jesus, John 3:16, right? What is this mission all about? As people join in with Jesus, what changes can happen in their lives? Christ came to bring peace between God and man because His mission was one of salvation, not condemnation. Without all of this, we would be at war with God, whether we are aware of it or not! What we need to understand is the difference between His mission and the effects of His mission. Making peace with God can bring about a different war in our lives. MLK preached peace but his life ended tragically. Gandhi promoted non-violence but he was assassinated at age 79. John Lennon wrote the words, “give peace a chance” and was killed by a gunshot. Why would it be any different for Jesus, the ultimate peace bringer?

Violence can be a by-product of one who desires to bring peace. The peace He brought to earth involved such a radical change that people would be put at odds with the world around them. The Spirit indwells His people, and the fruit of the Spirit should be evident, but there comes a time that the old life needs to be pried away from us… things, habits and some people. We get a new vantage point, seeing our lives from God’s perspective. Then we can find ourselves at odds with our friends closest to us. We see things differently that we did before, and from the way our friends see them now… which brings conflict.

When we connect with Jesus we connect with His mission. We get stirred up and live our lives with a sense of purpose.

The biggest loser seems to be the winner! Check out John 10:10, Matthew 10:38-39 and Luke 9:23. Losing life and finding it; taking up your cross, daily. The language Jesus used was not about leaving something behind; it is the language of death. In what ways does the Christian life involve loss? We often think about what we gain, but we cannot neglect the fact that new life in Christ involves loss. We need to lose our self-sufficiency, destructive habits, some relationships, hate for enemies, our vengeance, potty mouth… and be prepared to go against the flow. We are called to swim upstream!

Resting one side of Christian theology is getting only half the truth: peace and conflict give us a clear picture of Christ and His mission.

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No Forgiveness For You

This is part three (my teaching notes for this Sunday’s lesson) on the tough sayings of Jesus. [ Part One ] [ Part Two ]

 

How often do you find yourself knowing the boundaries, yet pushing yourself to the very edge, just to see how far you can go without crossing the line? Kids do it, and we never grow out of it!

 

Rules provide security because we know what to expect. Think about reality TV, like Survivor. Just when you think you know the rules, this season brings a change that no one expected. The Bachelor (ABC’s reality show featuring a somewhat handsome yet morally despicable fellow) makes a choice, hands out a rose to the ones he desires to keep around, and then one day at the end of each one-on-one date, he decides who goes and who stays right there, to the amazement of the contestants and the audience as well. After these types of twists and turns, the level of distrust, hatred and insecurity will rise. Just when you have life all figured out, the rules change without warning.

 

The same is true in our relationship with God. How do rules meet needs deep inside of us? What are some of the rules (or expectations) in your relationship with God?

 

Matthew 12 has a serious plot twist in the Jesus story. Generally we believe that you can’t out-sin the grace of God, which is what we call a hard and fast rule. But check out Matthew 12:31. How do you interpret what Jesus is saying here? What is this unforgivable sin described here? Why is it so unforgiveable?

 

Is this what we might call the “fine print” in our relationship with God? Is this the clause in the contract? How do we sin against the Holy Spirit? Have we already done it and are we just condemned dead-people walking around? Unforgiveable sin goes against all we know about God. We can always come back, you can count on it. What sort of life can be so unsecure and ambiguous?

 

Look at the context. What is happening just before and after this passage? Everyone seems to be confused about the identity of Jesus. Some said He was the Messiah, others wondered how He could be. Then comes this conversation after Jesus heals the man with the withered hand (Matthew 12:9-14) and the demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (Matthew 12:22-28), all done on the Sabbath. The consensus is that Jesus is of the devil; He broke tradition, the Sabbath, and made outrageous claims about His authority.

 

What are some of the most popular ideas about the identity of Jesus today? What could be the source of some people’s reluctance to acknowledge Jesus as God? Why would He cast out demons if He was working for them? Just what is blasphemy anyway?

 

Blasphemy is defined as deliberate and defiant sin against God, with a punishment (Numbers 15:30-31). Jesus says this unforgivable sin is only against the Holy Spirit, like say what you want about Me or the Father, but you cross the line by bad-mouthing the Holy Spirit. Why is this sin so devastating?

 

According the John 16:8, the Holy Spirit’s role is to convict us of sin. What other words can we use that mean convict? The Spirit works to expose our sin. In our tolerant age, we seek enlightenment, with no moral absolutes, and the Spirit steps in to expose the error in that sort of thinking. So, when you continually resist the truth of God that He has exposed to you through the Holy Spirit, when you refuse to listen to Him as He convicts you of the wrongness of your worldview, when you insist that the ways of Jesus are foolishness, then you have shut out your only opportunity for forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness is offered to those who repent. People repent under the influence of the Holy Spirit. If you do not accept the Spirit’s voice in your life, you will never repent. Resistance belittles the Spirit so much that He withdraws forever, rendering us unable to repent. The heart is hardened, the conscience is seared.

 

Where’s the encouragement here? Have you ever asked the question, if you had committed this mysterious sin? Those who have committed blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not question themselves on it. Just this self-examination tells me that someone has not committed it!

 

How comfortable are you with these mysteries in faith? Why would God want to preserve these mysteries?

 

Think back to the Pharisees. They did not want answers, they wanted to teach. They were not listeners, but talkers. They were not humble, but proud.

 

When we ask about life, God’s will, doing the best thing for our lives, and making sure we do not grieve the Spirit, we show a concern for the things of God. This is the paradox in life: we believe, we still have questions, we know, and yet there is a mystery. My faith exceeds my understanding. My faith in who God is in my life is greater than my questions. His love for me is not dependent on my ability to understand the answer to questions. His love for me is a starting point for my journey, not the destination.

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You People Are Dogs!

This is week two of the notes in my Bible study class. Week one is here.

 

We need to rediscover a faith that melts barriers. Check out Matthew 15:21-28, another tough saying of Jesus, quite disturbing, actually.

 

Some things look better on paper than they do in reality, take sushi for example. We say it’s for a sophisticated palate, food in its most natural state, but in the end it is the food itself that is the problem… it still tastes like raw fish and seaweed.

 

Christian unity may be another item on the looks-better-on-paper list. We champion it, talk about it, study it, intellectually ascend to the concept of it, yet Christian churches all across the country are divided by different issues of belief or practice or race or style of worship. Many are gathered cliques devoted to its own members.

 

If there was anyone on this planet who was open to relationships, it was Jesus. He associated with people that society called off-limits.

  • How would describe your racial biases and their sources?

The Church has only one mission… the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). He said to go (which really means “as you are going…) and He assumed that as His followers were going they would make disciples.

  • How do you view sharing the gospel as you go? What does that look like in your life?

The whole point of the gospel was to break down cultural barriers, and that’s the point of the story for today. We believe that we have a set of expectation on how Christians should act while they are on mission for God, but this story causes us to back up and say, “Did I read that right?” This response of Jesus seems to be intolerable (Matthew 15:25-26).

 

Those Kind of People 

There were obvious racial biases in the Bible, and we deceive ourselves if we believe that we don’t have a prejudice tendencies (due to cultural upbringing or personal experience with a small group of people).

 

In this region of Tyre and Sidon, in northwest Philistia, were OT symbols of paganism and godlessness. These poster children for God’s wrath and judgment were condemned by Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

  • What do you know about typical Jewish opinion of non-Jews?
  • How do you think the disciples felt about this region?
  • What relationship between people groups in our culture reflects this sort of prejudice?

Beautiful Desperation 

There must have been something about this Gentile women that caused her to approach Jesus in the midst of such hostility, desperation.

  1. She demonstrated that she knew how to approach God, using the very Jewish title, “Son of David.” She was passionate, loud and kept it up, annoying the twelve.
  2. She may have been the ideal person for Jesus to help: she believed He could help, she properly approached Him, passionate about her situation… all the keys to getting a response from God.

How did Jesus respond? First He ignored her, which seemed to suit the twelve. She was wailing, a Gentile woman, a pagan, someone below them and unclean. Ignoring her did not work so Jesus made a subtle statement about her status (Matthew 15:24, Matthew 15:26). Remember that dogs were not the loveable pets like we have today. They were scavengers, filthy and dangerous. Imagine the insult.

 

Jesus is pleased with her response (Matthew 15:27), and He immediately grants her request.

  • What pleased Jesus in her response?
  • What did her words reveal about her faith?

Purity: Inside Out 

Just before this event, Jesus faced off with the Pharisees, over the issue of cleanliness (Matthew 15:2). They were pretty critical of Jesus ministry already and Jesus was quick to defend His friends, claiming that their omission didn’t have anything to do with real purity. Purity is an internal matter of the heart. So, it’s not about where you live, or your race. So Jesus explains purity in the most unclean place imaginable.

  • How do you define purity?
  • How do you differentiate between inner and outer purity?
  • What is the most unclean place you know?

The disciples were uncomfortable, they felt dirty, and this woman showed them what being clean is all about. The woman seems to play along (Matthew 15:27). Her expression of need is the ideal picture of purity. We need to change our picture of purity. We think we need to clean ourselves up and then come to Christ.  Jesus commends this woman’s moral perfection in knowing how much she needed Him. In this dirty place Jesus finds something clean.

 

Need of Him

She was desperate, not thinking about how this must have looked or about her motivation. Jesus saw the purity of her desperation, the thing the Pharisees and His disciples lacked. When we express our need for God it says something about God. Society frowns on being needy and asking for help, but we are to come to God with empty hands and allow Him to be the Provider.

  • In what ways do you feel comfortable (or not) talking about your own needs that drive you toward God?

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You Have to Give Up Everything?

These are notes to my lesson for the New Beginnings class on Sunday, January 4th, so if this post seems a little disjointed you’ll know why. Week two is found here.

 

Imagine the difference between a salad vs. a salad bar? Think about it; once everything is piled up can you really call it a salad?

  • Traditional methods are plenty in the church – evangelism, outreach, Bible study…
  • Which evangelism methods do you know?
  • Do they all come down to a verse to memorize and a prayer to pray?
  • This encounter seems too easy.

Look at Jesus in action – Mark 10:17-31.

 

Jesus could have said, “Your question is flawed, you can’t DO anything…” Jesus never mentions faith! In fact, He tells him he has not done enough!

  • When have you felt that you needed just one more thing to do to get this spiritual life thing right?
  • What is the relationship between what you do and what you believe?

Who was the rich young ruler?

Matthew mentions he was young, Luke mentions he was a ruler. He ran to Jesus, what does this action indicate? He humiliated himself publicly! What sort of profile can you build based on his question?

 

Two facts:

  1. He calls Jesus “good” (a word not lightly used, in fact it really referred to God alone, so, he had already come to some serious conclusions about Jesus).
  2. The man was at the end of his rope (he’s running, in the wind, in the dust, kneeling, asking an question – with an answer anyone would know).

The man’s unfair reputation over the years:

  • Is he proud, self-righteous, spoiled, and haughty?
  • Perhaps he’s more like a disillusioned church kid who knew all the right answers, done the right stuff but still feels unfulfilled.

Keep the Law?

Two times the disciples are amazed – why at Jesus’ response here?

  • This guy more than anyone else was blessed – he had money, power, position…
  • If one is poor, hungry, sick, you were definitely not blessed by God.
  • Jesus asked this guy to get rid of everything that was considered a blessing of God.
  • Beatitudes: blessed are the poor, not the rich. A redefinition of what it means to be blessed by God. How do you define blessing? Are you blessed?

Another shock for the twelve? It’s not about doing, it’s about receiving! But Jesus’ response goes against all we know about grace. Yet in the midst of all the rule-keeping, he had missed something.

 

The Hidden Key? Mark 10:21

Jesus loved him before he did anything else, even before the man refused to do this one more thing.  We want to reverse the order, do something, and then receive the love.

  • When have you felt that Jesus is judging your performance? That He’ll love you more if you do better?
  • When you are well connected to Jesus, how is life affected?
  • In what ways do you feel that you need to prove your love for God?
  • What other relationships do we have where we need to justify why you deserve to be in that relationship?

Identity Check

Consider how people define themselves. Imagine you’re at a party, what is the usual conversation? Our identity appears to be wound up in what we do.

  • What three things do you usually tell people about yourself?
  • How important are career and achievement to your identity?
  • How many friends REALLY know you, not just know facts about you?
  • How well do you feel that you know yourself?

Career, education, position, family name… all can crumble around us, but who are we? Here’s the point of the story. This is the question Jesus was trying to get the young ruler to ask: The man knew how people defined him (like us, as a rich young ruler), Jesus wanted to get to his core, so selling his possessions, even considering it, would strip this man of his identity. In this life crisis, he could define himself the way Jesus wanted. In what was his faith?

 

The identity question can only be answered in the moment of crisis, when your life is altered or threatened. Who was the rich young ruler when all of his possessions were gone? That’s the point Jesus was moving him towards. How do I know? Mark 10:13-16.

 

Become like children

In this society children were not really people. They offered nothing to mainstream culture. But for Jesus, these nobodies embodied the qualities that were kingdom-worthy. Jesus wanted this man to embrace nothingness to experience the kingdom. The old things have passed away, behold all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Nobodies don’t rely on trivial marks of identity. Their significance comes from a deeper source!

 

The rich young ruler could not embrace an existence where he brought nothing to the table. He could not stomach the crisis of nothingness.

 

Can you hear the Scripture? Can you feel Jesus trying to pull from your fists whatever is keeping you from true poverty, and thus, true wealth? Go and sell your self-righteousness, sell you drams of fame and fortune, sell your popularity, sell you comfortable future, come and trust Me…

 

Are you living a life defined by Jesus? Is there anything in life that you need to trade off so you can have true faith?

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