29 January 2011

Leadership Prezi

This morning at the UUMC Leadership Training, I utilized a "prezi" instead of PowerPoint to share my ideas about the committee structure in our church. I wanted to post it here so that those of you who were not able to attend can see it and ask questions if you have any.

15 January 2011

Mark 3-4

At the opening of today's reading, Jesus challenges the assumptions that the religious leaders of his day hold dear - "do no work on the Sabbath". They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, but he went right ahead and healed the man with the shriveled hand. He challenged them as to "which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? But [the Pharisees] remained silent" (3.4). According to Jesus there is only one answer to this question, but his answer angers the PTBs and angering the PTBs usually never turns out well for the non-PTBs.

Mark also includes the "Parable of the Sower" (see my thoughts from Matthew's account), but his placement of the explanation immediately following the parable keeps the reader engaged with the story and drives home the point he is making.

Mark 4 has several agricultural parables [Sower (1-20); Growing Seed (26-29); and Mustard Seed (30-32)] in it, but small note in verse 34 shows that Jesus spoke many things in parables to everyone AND he explains everything to the disciples when they are alone. How often do we hear a word from God in the midst of a crowd, but don't receive an explanation until we are alone with God?

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Mark 3-4?

14 January 2011

Mark 1-2

It should come as no surprise to anyone at University UMC to hear that I am a big fan of Mark's Gospel - I spent 7 weeks looking at just the first chapter last January!

The first thing any reader should notice about Mark's Gospel is that there is no birth narrative. The story picks up with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus to enter the world (fully grown) and begin his ministry. Just nine verses into the book Jesus is being baptized by John in the Jordan River - that took two and a half chapters in Matthew!

Jesus' earthly ministry begins quickly with healings, calling disciples, driving out evil spirits, time for prayer, and forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man. Just as in Matthew, the people here in Mark are "amazed" at what Jesus is doing, teaching, and saying. They just can't believe their ears and eyes.

One of the great things about Mark is that Jesus is always going somewhere or leaving one place for another - he doesn't seem to linger anywhere longer than necessary. As you are reading through Mark, notice how many times the word "immediately" is used in reference to Jesus' movements and/or work. Things happen quickly in Mark - perhaps that's why his Gospel is the shortest - with all that action taking place it didn't take as long as Matthew and Luke!

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in reading Mark 1-2?
What do you hope to learn about Jesus as you read the Gospel of Mark?

13 January 2011

Matthew 26-28

Matthew's Passion Narrative is one of the most moving pieces of scripture in all of the New Testament. Each gospel writer captures these last moments of Jesus' life and his subsequent resurrection in different ways, but Matthew's is my favorite - although I will probably say that about each Passion Narrative as we read it.

In these last few moments with his disciples, Jesus institutes the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion) in 26.26-29, predicts Peter's denial, prays for the cup to pass from him, is betrayed by a friend, arrested by a mob, and lead through a laughable excuse for a trial before being flogged, spat upon, laughed at, denied, mocked, nailed to a cross, and ridiculed for supposed inability to save himself.

When Jesus dies (27.50) he cries out in a loud voice, gives up his spirit, and the curtain of the Temple is torn in two - symbolizing the cessation of the need for intermediaries between humans and God. Matthew is the only Gospel to have an earthquake happen the moment Jesus dies, but unlike Mel Gibson's version - there is no tear from heaven falling to earth.

Jesus rises from the dead on Easter morning (again with an earthquake) and angels tell the women that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but is alive again. The guards who fell asleep at the tomb are paid handsomely to tell a story about the disciples stealing Jesus' body, then Jesus gives the Great Commission - go make disciples, baptize them, and teach them.

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 26-28?
Now that you have read the entire Gospel of Matthew, what have you learned about the Jesus Matthew describes?

12 January 2011

Matthew 24-25

Jesus continues with the rest of the Matthean Apocalypse (chs 23-25) in today's readings. Even as Jesus' life is drawing to a close, he is still taking the time to teach his disciples and all who will come and listen about the end times.

Listen to what Jesus says in 24.12-13, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved." Jesus tells his disciples that as the end times draw nearer and nearer, love will begin to shrivel up and grow cold. Does it sometimes feel like there is less love in the world now than say 10, 20, or 50 years ago?

In 24.36 Jesus says, "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." The day that the world will come to an end is not known to anyone - so stop worrying about December 2012 or any other day some human is telling you that the world will end - they don't really know - only God does!

The "Parable of the Ten Virgins" is steeped in Jewish wedding tradition that gets lost on many modern Christian audiences, but would have made perfect sense to Matthew's Jewish audience when first read. I would encourage you to do some research on Jewish wedding traditions to see how this parable is teaching preparation for the coming of Christ.

The "Parable of the Talents" is another fun parable when it comes to understanding how different people are gifted with different abilities, but we are all held accountable for what we did with what we were given, not necessarily the results of our actions.

The "Sheep and the Goats" closes out the readings for today and this is one of those passages that hits at the heart of Jesus' gospel message - acting on our convictions means acting for the "least of these".

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 24-25?

11 January 2011

Matthew 21-23

These three chapters begin our journey through the last week of Jesus' life in the Gospel of Matthew, beginning with what we now call "Palm Sunday" or Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (21.1-11).

OK, this is one of those "Bible-nerd things," but take a close look at 21.5 (a quote from Zechariah 9.9) and tell me how many animal(s) the king is supposed to ride upon.

Notice the language that is used to describe Jesus as he is entering Jerusalem: "king," "Son of David," "he who comes in the name of the Lord," and "the prophet from Nazareth." What images come to mind when reading these descriptors? What do you think the people are expecting from Jesus when they use terms like these? Do you think Jesus actually fulfills the roles these names put him in?

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus turns over the tables in the Temple as he is living his last week on earth. When does John's Gospel place this event? It is one of the events that each Gospel writer includes, but context and timing are everything with this one.

Chapter 22 includes a passage I refer to often in leading the church (and indeed preached a whole series on back in September): the Great Commandment. I am such a fan of these verses that I had them inscribed on the back of my first iPod. I truly believe that if we loved God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength it would be virtually impossible not to love others as ourselves.

Today's third chapter begins what is known in academic circles as the Matthean Apocalypse - Matthew 23-25. The Seven Woes (23.13-39) are quite descriptive in their view of those who would stand in the way of God's justice reigning on the earth. Jesus' words for false teachers, hypocrites, the Pharisees, the scribes, and many others cut to the bone and sear with anger. Read at your own risk!

What verse(s) stuck out most to you in Matthew 21-23?

Matthew 19-20

As we enter the last portion of Matthew's Gospel, I have started to notice that the questions from the detractors have gotten more intense, more pointed, and aimed more at trapping Jesus in a situation that he won't be able to talk himself out of:

1) What about divorce? (19.3)
2) Who can get into heaven? (19.16)
3) How can you pay workers the same wage when they haven't worked the same amount? (20.12)
4) Let my sons sit at your right and left hands in glory! (20.21)

In the midst of these tough questions there is a beautiful scene where the people gathered to hear Jesus are bringing the children close to him so that he could lay hands on them and pray for them. The disciples rebuke them, but Jesus affirms their worth and value by explaining that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. We don't see the daring in Jesus' words today because we value children (especially in the US) and do whatever we can to protect them. In Jesus' day, this was not the case. Children were not cared for as valuable members of society, they were seen as means to an end. They were not looked after, they were bought and sold to pay debts. Children were still innocents, but they were not the protected segment of society that they are today.

The "Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard" is one of my favorite passages to throw onto Jr. High students because they invariably argue with each other about what Jesus does in the passage. It provides hours of discussion fodder and I have even seen a number of adult groups struggle with the themes of justice, fairness, and equality latent within this parable. This parable often reminds me to turn things on their heads in order to gain a new perspective - and it works!

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 19-20?

09 January 2011

Matthew 17-18

Again, lots going on in these two chapters so I'll keep my thoughts focused on a few passages:

The Transfiguration (17.1-13)
Peter, James, and John follow Jesus up a mountain and witness an amazing event that terrifies them. They may not have clearly understood what took place that day, but they knew it was a game-changer.

They even received a better understanding of John the Baptists role in Jesus' ministry.

Dealing With Sin in the Church (18.15-17)
What if church leaders (or regular church folks too) dealt with sin in the way Jesus describes? What if we had the gumption to actually talk to someone who wronged someone else face-to-face? What if we then brought in an additional person to verify our conversation of confrontation? What if we then took the unrepentant sinner in front of the church to confront their sin? What if we then turned the unrepentant sinner out?

I'm glad living biblically doesn't stress me out...

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 17-18?

08 January 2011

Matthew 14-16

In today's readings, Jesus feeds a bunch of people (twice!), John the Baptist loses his head, the disciples think Jesus is a ghost, a Canaanite woman receives crumbs from the table (and a healed daughter in the process), and Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for his death. These are some pivotal chapters in Matthew's Gospel.

The story of Jesus walking on the water and his discussion of defilement drew my attention today.

Jesus Walks on the Water (14.22-33)
Jesus sends his disciples across the lake ahead of him and goes to spend time in prayer alone. A storm has come up and the disciples are having trouble rowing the boat across the lake. Jesus, being God and all, strolls out onto the water toward the boat. The disciples see him walking on the water and believe him to be a ghost. He straightens them out and then Mr. Act-First-Think-Later (aka Peter) decides to give water-walking a shot. He does fine until he stops focusing on Jesus and begins to focus on the storm.

As Jesus enters the boat, with a slightly wet and embarrassed Peter, the storm dies down and the disciples begin to get the picture about who Jesus really is. Isn't funny how moments where utter catastrophe can bring out the deepest faith claims of our lives?

That Which Defiles (15.1-20)
I really don't have much commentary on this passage other than to echo Jesus' words to the people listening. I truly believe that the things stored up in our hearts will one day spill over from our mouths - usually when we least expect it - and will cause irrevocable damage to the ones we love, the ones we are in ministry with, or the ones who least deserve to have more damage inflicted upon them.

I strive to live a life that could never be described with his quote from Isaiah 29.13, but I don't always live up to that.

What verse(s) stuck out to you in Matthew 14-16?

07 January 2011

Matthew 12-13

Many of the religious leaders in Jesus' day were more concerned about the buildings and items used for worship than they were for the people who came there to worship. Jesus remarks to the Pharisees, "I tell you that one greater than the temple is here" (12.6) because he knew that the Pharisees were more concerned about keeping the temple pure, than providing food for those who are hungry. I sure am glad this doesn't happen anymore in churches!

As people were gathering around Jesus, straining to be close to him and hear his teachings, he redefines some basic human relationships. He tells his followers that those who "do the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (12.50). The implication is that there may be relatives of our who are less "brother[s] and sister[s] and mother[s]" to us than those who are connected to us through the blood of Christ. I sure am glad this doesn't happen anymore in churches!

Every time I read the "Parable of the Sower" (13.3-9) I think of Rob Evans, the Donut Man, and the song he wrote to tell this story. The images in Rob's video make it very clear how the different soils respond to the seeds that land upon them.

Before telling a series of parables (weeds, mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, pearl, and net), Jesus explains that his use of parables is because the "knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you [who understand the parables], but not to them [those who misunderstand them]" (13.11). Have you ever read a parable and thought: "What in the world does that mean?" I know I have!

What verse(s) stuck out to you the most in Matthew 12-13?

06 January 2011

Matthew 10-11

Jesus gives very clear instructions to his disciples as he sends them out:

1) do not go to the Gentiles (10.5)
2) heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers (10.8)
3) do not take any gold, silver or copper (10.9)
4) do not take an extra shirt, pair of sandals, or a staff (10.10)
5) stay in the same home the entire time you are in a town (10.11), etc.

Jesus also clearly tells him that being in ministry in his name will not be a walk in the park, but spiritual warfare. How many times does ministry in the church look like flowers and candy instead of swords and shields? Anybody want to sign up for this committee?

Jesus' words in 11.16-19 give me pause as a clergy member of the itinerant kind. Jesus speaks about how the people complained about John the Baptist because he did not do certain things, but those same people complained about Jesus because he did do those certain things. It seems in the course of Christian ministry (even in the first century) there will always be people who complain about the sun coming up and complain about the sun going down. They will never be happy no matter what we do, so I have to stop putting so much stock in complaints from those folks.

I find comfort in 11.28-30 as I ponder resting in my Lord, learning from him, and taking his yoke upon my shoulders. I am weary at the end of difficult seasons of ministry and the rest that Christ gives is like springtime to my soul.

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 10-11?

05 January 2011

Matthew 8-9

I am continually amazed at how Jesus instructs those who have been healed of disease or demons to keep quiet about their miraculous encounter. How could someone who has been touched by the hand of God keep quiet about it? I would want to shout it from the rooftops!

I must say that "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (8.12) is such an interesting image to me. I picture someone off in a dark corner grinding their teeth as hard as they can while they cry uncontrollably - not a pretty picture by any stretch of the imagination, but biblical nonetheless.

Again, there is an Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in Jesus: Isaiah 53.4 (see 8.17)!

Every time I read the Gospels I am reminded about how human the disciples are in their attempts to follow Christ. They doubt, they stumble, they misunderstand, they do exactly what I do in my own life. I will admit that makes me feel a bit better about my staggered path of discipleship!

Oh how often do I need to be reminded that sick people need the doctor (see 9.12)! How often does the church operate as a hotel for the healthy instead of as a hospital for the hurting?

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 8-9?

04 January 2011

Matthew 5-7

The Sermon on the Mount provides Christians with many of the most well-known verses in all of the Gospels. In these three chapters Jesus speaks on adultery, divorce, loving enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, treasures in heaven, worrying, judging others, getting into heaven, and quite a few other topics.

Since there is so much content, I'll focus on just two passages (giving the rest of you an opportunity to chime in on the sections that stood out for you):
1) The Beatitudes (5.3-10)
2) the closing two verses of chapter seven (7.28-29)

The Beatitudes
Jesus spells out the groups of people whom he calls "blessed" and what their rewards for that blessing will be. The people Jesus mentions in the Beatitudes are not the people who would often find themselves in seats of power, positions of authority, or with a great deal of influence within their community. The people Jesus calls blessed are not called blessed by the majority of society. They are the overlooked and the stepped-on.

In short, they are not the people we expect to be blessed, but Jesus rarely does what we expect.

The Closing Verses
As Jesus finishes three chapters of teaching, the crowds are "amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." The crowds sat slack-jawed wondering who this guy was who just taught them about life in community and living to a totally different standard. He was not the typical rabbi because he taught with "authority" - more so than other rabbis, scribes, and Pharisees of the day.

I wonder how many rabbis, scribes, and Pharisees who were there that day would have taken objection to the thoughts of the crowd?

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 5-7?

03 January 2011

Matthew 3-4

Why does the phrase, "Heeeeere's Johnny!" come to mind when I read Matthew 3? Oh well!

I love how honest John the Baptist is in his approach to his ministry. He understands that he is here for only a short time and that the one who will follow him - Jesus - will be even greater than him.

Isn't it interesting that Jesus requests to be baptized? Why would the Son of God need to submit to the act of baptism? Jesus says it is "to fulfill all righteousness" (3.15), but notice that as Jesus is coming up out of the water we see the first appearance of the Trinity in Matthew's Gospel:
1) Voice from heaven - the Father
2) Jesus coming out of the water - the Son
3) Spirit of God descending like a dove - the Spirit

Immediately, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights of fasting. Notice in Jesus' interactions with the tempter that Jesus uses scripture to refute the arguments thrown at him (4.4 quotes Deut 8.3; 4.7 quotes Deut 6.16; 4.10 quotes Deut 6.13). Further notice that the tempter is fully capable of quoting scripture to advance his point as well (Ps 91.11, 12).

Jesus begins his public ministry following these 40 days and 40 nights in the Galilee preaching a message of repentance and recruiting his first disciples, promising them that they will "fish for people" (4.19). Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John all respond the same way to Jesus' call - immediately dropping what they are doing and following him.

As Jesus begins his ministry large crowds are already beginning to gather around him, but it won't take long for them to start thinning out - keep reading!

What verse(s) stuck out the most in reading Matthew 3-4?

02 January 2011

Matthew 1-2

Each Gospel opens with a different take on how to begin the story of Jesus and Matthew is no exception. He opens with seventeen verses dedicated to tracing Jesus' lineage back to Abraham - the "father of nations".

Several interesting notes about what can seem at a glance to be a long list of hard to pronounce names:
1) there are five women mentioned in Jesus' genealogy - Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah's wife (Bathsheeba), and Mary
2) the historical events mentioned in the genealogy - David's reign, the Babylonian exile, and the birth of the Messiah - would have all been items that would have pricked the ears of Matthew's Jewish audience

Unlike Luke's Gospel, Matthew focuses on Joseph's interactions with angels and the Holy Spirit - he has dreams, he names the child, he decides not to divorce Mary, etc. Also unique to Matthew's Gospel is the story of the visit of the magi from the east bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Again Matthew uses the dream motif to move the plot along - magi have dreams, Joseph has several more. All leading to the safe-keeping of the Christ-child and his fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

As you read Matthew, keep track of the number of times the Old Testament is quoted - either directly or via allusion - you will be astounded at the great lengths Matthew has gone to in order to root his good news in the Jewish traditions, but more on that later.

What verse(s) stuck out to you the most in reading Matthew 1-2?

90 Days Through the New Testament

Welcome to "90 Days Through the New Testament"!

I hope that you enjoy your TIME reading the New Testament and joining the discussion over the next three months.

I will be posting my thoughts on each day's scripture reading here and on University UMC's Facebook page. I invite you to comment with your questions, thoughts, prayers, and concerns as we journey together.

As you consider joining the online discussion, please keep these things in mind:
1) as each of us brings a different set of lenses with which we read scripture through, there will be different opinions about what a passage means - this is just fine
2) when said differences arise, please remember that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ as you respond to the various discussion threads
3) invite your friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. to join us on this journey

Once I figure out how to post the .pdf of the entire reading list, I'll let you know. Until then, pay attention to the study guide of each Sunday's bulletin for the next seven days of readings. If you must have it sooner - just send an email to pastor (at) uumcwf (dot) org.

Blessings for the journey!