Tagged: study

Seeking to Love

2018 Blog Tour cI sat across the table with one of my closest friends and mentors, lamenting to him, “Since when did discipleship become only about Bible study?” Later that day, I read this: “You are hungry for knowledge; you thirstily drink up biblical ideas; you long to be Christlike; yet all of that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into a way of life. It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”* You’re good, God…

“Would you disciple this person?” I remember asking a mature Christian of a new Christian. “Sure, but I don’t have a lesson plan or a bunch of studies ready,” was the reply. It was a reasonable response, after all, as part of my schooling I was tasked to write a 12-month discipling study; it’s little wonder that many people don’t have that lying around…

“Let’s form a teaching schedule from real-life principles that our teens face, with every lesson geared towards reinforcing that one principle a quarter,” came the cry at the educational curriculum meeting. “But, how do we make sure we teach all of Scripture?” came the earnest, if expected, critique…

“What’d you think of the lesson?” I asked of someone visiting a class taught by one of my favorite in-house Bible teachers. “Fine,” she replied, “but he didn’t use very many verses…”

calm pond fishing 01

For 4 months the fly fishing rod produced no fish but much suffering, yet here in my hand it was again. I had only just learned the (still too thick) line and (way too big) bug to tie on, and so I cast with hope. With barely any knowledge of how or why it would, a hooked trout shook my rod for the first time, and a passion for the sport, nurtured in suffering, was born that continues today.

In a tradition that emphasizes Bible study as the goal of assembly, a contrast strikes me. Is there value in knowledge and study? Absolutely. But to what end? Often, this leads to assumptions that the more we know, the more God-like we are. Personal experience has taught me that’s vehemently false as a rule. This also assumes humans are mainly thinking beings, and that learning can and will change habits. This is how services and Bible classes are geared, and we lament when those raised to know everything from Scripture fall away. Except we don’t apply this logic to other disciplines such as exercise, or on-the-job training, or nutrition, or even fly-fishing.

Jesus didn’t ask Peter what he knew about Himself in John 21:15, Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Jesus didn’t say in John 14:15 that if you know more about Me you’ll keep My commands, but if you love Me. This isn’t a false dichotomy – what we love is what drives us, motivates us, and orients our life, far more than knowledge alone. We know this because we can know the benefits of exercise all we want, and never do it. We can know that cake is bad for us, and still eat it. And we can know about Jesus without ever truly loving Him.

What if discipleship was less about learning about Jesus, and more about loving Jesus more? What if church services were less about information and more about transformation? What if our goal was less about making sure the whole Bible is covered and more about covering our whole selves with the love of God seen in Jesus? What if our goal was less a habit of church attendance and more about attending the habits of the church that lead us to be more, or less, like Jesus? What if we spent less time learning about being a Christian, and more time living like Jesus?

Bible study is essential, no doubt. Should the whole Bible be taught and preached? Absolutely. But knowledge alone isn’t the thing which will keep Christians faithful. Simply knowing about your spouse isn’t what keeps you married. Love: what you love, whom you love, and why you love, is what God is after – that you desire Him above all else, and orient your life to keep Him oriented as your goal. We’re not to know as Christ knew, are to love as Christ loved.

Four months of habitual fishless fly-fishing that finally produced one fish lead to a passion, one that then produced a love to learn more, fish more, and do what was needed to transform into a better fly-fisher. If a tiny little trout could produce that much life-change in the hobbies of a man, where could truly discipling, not just teaching, someone to where they catch the smallest glimmer of true Christ-likeness in themselves lead? Perhaps, just perhaps, it could lead to truly becoming what we love. In one case, an able fly-fisher. I’ll take Christ over a trout every day.


Thomas Pruett - pic

Thomas Pruett is a disciple of Jesus, a husband to Amy, a father of four Ms, who prefers to be outside when possible and with coffee when indoors. He currently serves the Northern Hills Church of Christ in western South Dakota and will transition to serve the Circle Church of Christ in Corvallis, Oregon starting in February 2019. He rambles usually every week at www.northernhillscofc.org/blog.

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The Shadow: Elijah

  • Read Matthew 11:7-15 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

I’ve been reading a little book by Raymond Dillard called Faith in the Face of Apostasy that explores the connections between the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha and the ministry of Christ.  This connection is important to demonstrate because so few Christians recognise the importance and relevance of the Old Testament.  Dillard provides a good little list of why this is the case.

  • We’re Christians, and Christ arrives on earth in the NT, and therefore Christians only come into being in the NT.
  • The Old Testament seems more distant culturally than the Greco-Roman culture of the NT.
  • The genres of the books of the Old Testament are less familiar to us than those in the NT.
  • In all these ways, the OT seems to communicate to today’s readers, “this was not written for you.”

Most often when we do read the Old Testament we gravitate toward the stories.  We’re familiar with names like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Daniel, and Jonah because we know their stories.  We learn from the events of their lives: their victories and failures.  But is that the sum of it? Are their lives preserved in Scripture just so we can learn from their examples?Or is there a bigger picture?

So I launched this sermon series by placing Elijah and Elisha within the grand scheme of redemptive history, rather than focusing directly upon their lives.  Their mission was to call Israel away from the worship of Baal, and back to God. However, their significance reaches beyond their immediate mission.

The Old Testament closes (Malachi. 4:5) with a promise that Elijah would return before God brought his judgement upon the wicked.  This explains why people of Jesus day were looking for Elijah.  In John 1:21 people came to ask John the Baptist who he was and they ask, “Are you Elijah?”  Later in Mark 8:27-28 when Jesus asks his disciples who the crowds are saying he is, they respond, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah…“.

Jesus himself provides clarity as to how the prophesy in Malachi 4:5 should be understood.  In Matthew 11:14 he says, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” So there we have it.  John the Baptist is the Elijah predicted by Malachi.  Look at the comparisons:

Both wore “clothes of hair and a leather belt” 2 Kings 1:8 & Matthew 3:4a
Both opposed powerful women 1 Kings 19:2 & Matthew 14:8
Both had someone build upon their ministry 2 Kings 2:11, 15 & Matthew 3:16
The same prophecy was made about each Malachi 4:6 & Luke 1:17

As a final point, it’s worth noticing that before John was born, an angel told his father about John that, “he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah.” (Luke 1:17)

Elijah was a powerful prophet who came to represent all the men of God.  He spoke up for God in the face of strong opposition and accompanied his speech with spectacular miracles. He questioned God at times, but his faith was consistent.

John the Baptist also spoke boldly for God in the face of opposition.  He was ultimately killed because of his message.  John also called people to follow God, specifically to Jesus, God incarnate. John had questions, but like Elijah, his faith remained firm.

The meaning wasn’t always clear, but throughout history Elijah cast a shadow that ultimately revealed Jesus.  The closer Jesus’ arrival approached the more intense the shadow grew.  Finally it was Jesus that revealed the culmination of that shadow as he met with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. (Matthew 17:1-3)   Jesus was fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.

  • I know this post is mostly interesting observations and not a lot of application, so let me ask, “How does the Old Testament impact your life and understanding of God?”
  • Do you agree with the short list from Dillard’s book at the start of this post?

Rescue

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age according to the will of our God and Father.”  Galatians 1:3-4

  • You can listen to this sermon here.

Usually, when we think of the benefits that come with the forgiveness of sins, we consider the eternal consequences.  In this, almost, throw away line from Galatians we find another benefit of Christ’s sacrifice.  Jesus died to remove our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.  I don’t know that I’ve heard that before.

Even as Christians, we continue to live in a world held in the grips of sin.  We confront suffering.  We experience pain.  We witness injustice.  But Jesus died to rescue us from this age.  He has another age, a better world, a heavenly destination for us: Eternity in the presence of God.  That’s quite a rescue.

Although our ultimate rescue involves eternal life rather than eternal death, the theme of rescue isn’t just an abstract conjecture. God continues to rescue us in our present evil age.  He cares about his people in the here and now.

I did a little Bible word search for the word “rescue” and came up with several examples from this time-space continuum.

Throughout the Bible people often cry out to God for rescue from their world.  Psalm 140:1 ff pleas for God to rescue the psalmist from his “present evil age”.

“Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers; protect me from the violent, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day. They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips. Keep me safe, LORD, from the hands of the wicked.”

I hope that you don’t relate too closely to that description, but maybe you do.  Maybe you need to pour your heart out to God.  Sometimes, even God’s people need rescue.

My favorite result of the word search is found in Judges 10:15.  The Israelites have suffered punishment for idolatry for 18 years, finally “they said to the LORD, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.””  That’s a brave prayer that reflects a hopeful knowledge of God’s grace and mercy.  Then look at God’s response in the very next verse, “he could bear Israel’s misery no longer” and the following chapter describes how he rescued them.

God provides eternal rescue, but we can also cry out to him when our lives in the present reach a point of despair (or before).  He’s not a distant, impassive God who’s detached from the lives of his people.  He’s powerful and compassionate, able and wanting to rescue us.

  • What’s your impression of the prayer in Judges 10:15?  Would you feel safe praying it?
  • Do you agree with Paul’s assessment of the “present evil world”?  Is our world better or worse than his?
  • Paul’s emphasis in Gal. 1:4 isn’t the present evil world, but the rescue God provides.  How can Christians avoid focusing on the evil around us and remind ourselves of God’s rescue?

A New Command

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35

  • You can listen to this sermon here.

If we were writing an outline of “love commands” the New Command to “Love one another” would display as a subpoint to “The Second Command” to “Love your neighbour as yourself“.  Since Jesus had already instructed his disciples to love those around them, even their enemies, why did he need to specifically tell them to “love each other“?  I can think of several reasons, you may think of more… or you may disagree with mine? 🙂

First, toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel (chaps 18 & 20) we find the apostles competing for honors in Jesus’ kingdom, asking who will be the greatest.  Back in John’s Gospel (13:21-30) we see that Judas has just left the Last Supper to betray Jesus.  In v38 of this chapter Jesus predicts that Peter himself will deny Jesus.  Then in chapter 14 Jesus predicts his departure.  Jesus is leaving.  He’s leaving a competitive group of guys who’ve just been betrayed by Judas, and who themselves have deserted Jesus at his death.  These are the guys who’ll continue the mission of the Kingdom of God.  In order to get through the tough times ahead, they’re going to need to “love each other”, just as we still need to.

Second, Jesus tells us that it’s by our mutual love that outsiders will recognise our commitment to God.  He doesn’t say this when he tells us to “love our enemies“, although that’s sure to raise eyebrows.  Surprisingly, people don’t see God as much when we serve our communities as they do in the way that we love each other.  Perhaps we don’t recognise this point as much because we don’t love each other as strongly.  Consider the example of the first church who sold their possessions to meet the needs of the poor among them. (Acts 4:32-35)  What would prompt you to sell something to give to a needy brother or sister?  How severe would their need have to be?

Third, Our love for each other reflects God’s love toward us.  “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  The way we treat each other reflects the way Christ has treated us.  That’s a pretty huge responsibility.  With the world looking at us, the church, we have the job of modeling God’s love for His people: for all people.  The more we mature in Christ, the more we understand the way he loves us, the better job we should do of loving those around us.  Our love for others derives from God.  Our love from God expresses itself to others.

  • If you had to choose a 3rd “love command” do you have another preference?  Why?
  • Why do you think Jesus had to be more specific than just “love your neighbour”?
  • It’s easy to say “love your spiritual family as Christ loved you”, but how do you express God’s love for you in relationships with others?

Matthew 16-17: We Might Be Wrong

  • Read Matthew 16:21-17:27 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (20 March), you can listen to it here.

Matthew 16:16 contains one of the key events of Jesus’ ministry.  Peter has spent close to 3 years studying for this exam, and finally he knows the answer.  Jesus asks “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Stage 1 of Jesus’ ministry is complete.  He finally has acknowledgement of both his kingship, and his deity.

After all that study, Peter must have been so proud of himself that he passed that test.  But then Jesus immediately predicts his death.  Peter, not realizing it’s still the same test as before answers confidently.  In v22, he takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.  Mega-Fail!!

Now, in chapter 17 we find that six days later Jesus takes Peter, along with James and John, up a mountain.  There before their eyes Jesus is transformed, or transfigured.  Then, out of nowhere, two guys show up who can only be Moses and Elijah.  Peter wasn’t prepared for this pop quiz, but you have to answer something, right?  So in v4 he suggests building three tabernacles or tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus.  But again it’s the wrong answer.

It’s easy for churches in general or Christians individually,  to find themselves thinking that because we’ve got one answer correct, we must have all the answers.

For instance, if  the Church of Christ correctly interprets Scripture regarding believers baptism by immersion, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the CoC also has a correct interpretation of the role of women in the church.  Both may be correct teachings in God’s eyes, but they’re not necessarily connected.  Sometimes we can be so confident in our interpretive approach to one issue, that we assume any other interpretive conclusion we make is also 100% correct.

It’s important that we have convictions about our beliefs and faith.  Scripture tells us to be ready to defend them (1 peter 3:15b).  But just because we have beliefs doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep our mouths shut at times.  Peter would have been much better off biting his tongue.  We would often also do well to do likewise.

Because Peter gave one correct answer, he was no longer teachable.  All Christ followers do well to develop a habit of listening first.

In his book UNChristian, David Kinnaman summarises and discusses survey results of non-christian20-30 year olds.  He notes,

The primary reason outsiders feel hostile toward Christians, and especially conservative Christians, is not because of any specific theological perspective.  What the react negatively to is our ‘swagger’. Outsiders say that Christians pssess bark — and bite. Christians may not normally operate in attack mode, but it happens frequently enough that others have learned to watch their step around us.  [Outsiders] say their aggression [toward Christians] simply matches the oversized opinions and egos of Christians. (2007, p26)

I believe this is why 1 Peter 3:15-16 doesn’t stop with the instruction to defend our beliefs.  “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  There certainly seems to be a disconnect between this verse and the description above.

Right answers can breed arrogance.  We don’t need to apologise for having confident beliefs, but we do need to listen first, and express them with gentleness and respect.  After all, we might be wrong.

  • Have you ever found yourself in Peter’s shoes, gaining confidence from a success only to turn around and fall flat on your face?
  • Why do you think outsiders have this opinion of Christians?  Surely they’re talking about someone else, not you and me?
  • This is a very pertinent lesson for me.  I get in trouble for speaking when I shouldn’t way more than often than I want to admit.  What tips do you have for developing a habit of listening first.

Matthew 14-16: Persistent Faith

  • Read Matthew 14-16:20 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (6 March), you can listen to it here.

When we talk about faith we often used language like, “We need to place our faith in Jesus”.  But what does that mean?  As a starting point, it means that we  accept that Jesus is who he says he is.  As the apostle Peter declared in 16:16, we have to accept that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  But this phrase can be misleading at times, because it sounds like a one-time event, while in actuality God seeks persistent faith.

When Jesus encountered the Canaanite woman with the demon-possessed child (15:21-28) he really tested her faith.  Three times Jesus ignored her cries, but four times she kept asking him for rescue.  She had faith the first time she asked, but after four pleas Jesus was able to say, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”  Sometimes we get to thinking that because we have faith in Jesus that he’ll solve our problems quickly. But do we still have faith if his response isn’t instant?

We see this same message in the example of Peter walking on the water (14:25-33).  Peter had tremendous faith to jump out of the boat in the middle of a storm expecting to walk on the water… but his problem was he didn’t have persistent faith.  It’s the absence of that consistency Jesus criticizes when he says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?

Let me suggest that we often get our priorities confused.  God’s not just looking for us to step out in faith and do GREAT things for him.  He’s looking for us to do MANY faithful things for him over a long period of time.  Although Peter got off to a great start, he took his eyes of Christ, the solution and started focusing on the waves, the problems.  If we’re honest, we’ll admit that our faith often has an “use by date” also.  We often arrive at a point where we say, “God, if you’re not going to act on this request, I guess I’ll just have to do it myself.”  It’s hard to be patient and persistent.

Romans 5 describes suffering and perseverance as elements in Christian maturity.  But persistent faith doesn’t come from our own inner strength and resilience.  Perseverance results from us tapping into the hope Christ gave us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 5:3-5  … but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

The Canaanite woman knew she was in the presence of the Messiah and so persisted with her request.  Peter forgot that God was with him, and started to sink.  Remembering that we are always in the presence of God adds to our faith, perseverance.

  • Do you think Christians make a “profession of faith” too big of a deal?
  • Have you found persistent faith to come naturally, or do we have to work at it?
  • Considering the text above from Romans 5, have you experienced suffering that produced hope? 

Matthew 13: Parables and Riddles

  • Read Matthew 13 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (27 February) you can listen to it here.

Chapter 13 of Matthew is a unique chapter in that it contains a collection of 7 parables.  Jesus begins each of these parables with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”.  I’ve mentioned previously that the core message of Jesus ministry, is that “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near“.  In this pivotal series of parables Jesus speaks to the crowds and challenges them to make a decision.  Are you in?  Or out?  Even the use of parables is intended to weed out the serious followers from those seeking a sideshow. (13:11-17)

  1. Parable of the Soils (2-9, 18-23) – Remember Jesus is speaking to the crowds, not his disciples.  When the the curious crowds hear this parable, they’re challenged to answer the question, “What type of soil am I?
  2. Parable of the Weeds (24-30, 36-43) – According to v38 the field represents the world, not the church.  Again, his audience needs to consider, “Am I wheat or weed?”  The kingdom of heaven exists in the world, not separate from it.  In many ways wheat and weeds look the same.  “Which am I?”
  3. Parable of the Mustard Seed (31-32) – For those expecting the Messiah to arrive with a great army and fireworks, Jesus has some somber news.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.”  Tiny.  It will one day be great, but that’s not how it arrives.  “Can you accept this reality?”  Will you stick around to be a bird living in the branches of the kingdom?
  4. Parable of the Yeast (33) – Similar to the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  The idea of the kingdom (yeast) working “into all things”, is an interesting one.  We can see today how this applies both individually, and globally.  But it all began in little ole Galilee 2000 years ago.
  5. Parable of the Hidden Treasure (44) (see below)
  6. Parable of the Pearl (45-46) – Jesus makes a clear point in these two brief parables.  The kingdom of heaven is worth the price.  When you recognize the value of the kingdom, you’ll give up everything for it.  The parables contain an implicit question, “Are you ready to be my disciples?”  Whether you stumble across the truth of God’s kingdom, or whether you’ve been searching for it, “How much are you willing to give up to enter the kingdom of heaven?
  7. Parable of the Net (47-52) – The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net.  We might think that the kingdom of heaven would be 100% pure, but that’s not the case.  However, it’s not our job to sort out the fish, or the weeds.  That’s a task reserved for the return of Christ.  In the meantime, we keep living by kingdom principles, and we keep sharing the Good News.  They’re our responsibilities.  Determining one’s eternal destiny is Jesus’ job.  This parable contains the warning, “How will you be judged at the end of the age?

Yes, this is a confrontational discourse.  This chapter represents a turning point in Jesus ministry.  People, it’s decision time.  Jesus is no longer a mere curiosity and wonder worker… if he ever was.  Jesus is now a walking question mark.  His presence and his message challenge us all to make a series of decisions. This cut and dried message may sit uncomfortably with a society that prefers ambiguity and compromise over truth claims and dogmatism.  But I can’t change the message.  It’s always DECISION TIME.

  • Do you agree that “our society prefers ambiguity and compromise…”?  How would you demonstrate your answer?
  • Is your understanding of the Parable of the Soils changed by considering the audience?  Do you agree with my summary?
  • The Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Net both teach the church not to function as eternal judge.  Why do you think so many churches have struggled to limit themselves in this area?

Matthew 8-9: Authority

  • Read Matthew 8-9 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (6 February) you can listen to it here.

Chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew’s Gospel describe 10 miracles performed by Jesus.  (Give or take 1 or 2 depending which events you group and which you separate.)  The scope of the miracles is quite diverse as he heals, casts out demons, reprograms the weather, raises the dead, and perhaps most miraculously of all, he forgives sins.

I could preach a sermon, or post a blog on each of these miracles, but in keeping with looking at the big picture of Matthew I’m going to use this post to highlight how Matthew weaves his themes throughout his writing.

I mentioned in my previous post how the summary comments regarding the Sermon on the Mount highlighted the authority with which Jesus delivered it.  Back in 4:23 Jesus’ ministry was summarised as “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” Matthew the proceeds to give examples of both the preaching and healing aspects of his ministry.

When looking at chapters 5-9 as a complete unit, authority is a good summary word.  First, Jesus’ teaching was authoritative, now we see the power of his healing ministry.

In 8:8-9 the centurion compares his military authority to the divine authority of Jesus.

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a  man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’ and he comes….

This comparison with human military authority, and the whole authority topic in general, reminds us of Matt. 1:1 which declares Jesus to be the Messianic descendant of king David.  If Jesus is a great king, then it’s no surprise to see him speak and act with authority, that’s actually just what we’d expect.

In 9:6 Jesus himself declares that he has the authority to forgive sins.  “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….”  He performs a healing as evidence of his authority to forgive sins and in 9:8 the crowd praises God for giving this authority to a man for the benefit of humanity. This statement using the messianic title “Son of Man” reminds us of the angel’s words to Joseph regarding the birth of Jesus.  “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Lastly, and slightly outside the parameters of our passage, in 10:1, 7 Jesus blesses his disciples with a measure of his authority to heal and drive out demons as he commissions them to disperse and proclaim the message, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  The same message that Jesus himself proclaimed in 4:17.

Matthew 1:1 describes Jesus as the Messiah.  The Sermon on the Mount and the miracles of Jesus illustrate the authority he carries as the Messiah.  All of chapters 5-9 demonstrate the Good News that the “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is what the kingdom looks like.  It demands a higher ethic of the heart and hand while also demonstrating the power of God available to citizens of the kingdom.

  • The concept of authority is not the only link between chapters 5-7 & 8-9.  Can you see some others?
  • Compared to God’s love, how important is the authority of Jesus in your life?
  • How does the authority of Jesus express itself in your life?

Matthew 2: The Wise Men

  • Read Matthew 2:1-18 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (26 December) you can listen to it here.

My current sermon series on Matthew concentrates on identifying themes and structures.  A verse-by-verse study of the book would just take too long.  So I need to point out that the magi’s search for a newborn king supports all the kingly concepts captured in 1:1.

Despite Jesus kingship, an appropriate word to summarise this chapter is “turmoil”.  Look how the events described impact people’s lives:

  • Joseph: His betrothed is suddenly pregnant!  (1:18-21)  I imagine this was pretty traumatic for Mary also!!
  • Jerusalem’s Religious Establishment: What would happen to them if the Messiah arrived?
  • Herod: Suddenly, his crown is threatened by an apparent challenger.
  • Bethlehem: When a king faces turmoil, so do his subjects.  The murder of all boys under the age of 2 surely brought unimaginable terror to the town.
  • Jesus’ family: Forced to live as refugees in Egypt for about 4 years.

While the Gospel of Luke presents the birth of Christ as the traditional Christmas message of peace and hope, Matthew conveys a different message.  Matthew presents the dramatic inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven that challenges the existing order and establishment.

Matthew’s dramatic narrative is not designed to inspire revolution.  Instead, he tells a story of reassurance.  In the midst of turmoil God is still in control.  Herod sought to use the magi to destroy the Messiah, but God protected him.  Chapter 2 concludes with Herod dying, and Jesus’ family settling peacefully in Nazareth.  After his tumultuous entry into the world, Jesus experienced 25-30 years of peaceful anonymity.  As frenetic as the magi’s visit may have seemed, God was able to bring Jesus and his family safely through the storm.

I wish I had better answers as to why all those children had to die in Bethlehem just to protect Jesus.  Was God in control in their lives too?  My best rationalisation is that it serves as a reminder of the severity of the spiritual battle taking place around Jesus.  It demonstrates the evil and suffering that Jesus came to forgive, and to remove.

This is a well-known story, please share your reflections with us.

  • Is there a particular aspect of this story that captivates you?
  • Do you agree that “turmoil” is an appropriate descriptive word for this chapter?
  • How do you process and explain the deaths of those Bethlehem babies?
While the Gospel of Luke presents the birth of Christ as the traditional Christmas message of peace and hope, Matthew conveys a different message.

Church Theme: LOVE

  • Read Matthew 22:34-40 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (9 January) you can listen to it here.

My elders at the Lawson Rd Church of Christ have agreed to make the congregational theme for 2011 a play on the initials for our name, Lawson Road (LR).  The first word was a no-brainer: LOVE.

I suspect this word often becomes a cliche around churches. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded how central the theme of love is to our faith.

  • The Greatest Command – Love God with your whole being. (Deut. 6:5; Matt 22:37)
  • The Royal Law – Love your neighbour as yourself.  (Lev. 19:18; Jam. 2:8; Matt. 22:39)
  • A New Command – Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (Jn 13:34)
  • Love Your Enemies – (Matt. 5:43)
  • The Golden Rule – Do to others what you would have them do to you. (Matt. 7:12) (I know, it doesn’t say “love”)
  • It Identifies Disciples – By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another. (Jn 13:35)
  • John 3:16 – Love for the world motivates God.  (Perhaps the only verse better known for its reference than for what it says.)
  • The Greatest of These… – 1 Corinthians 13

I’ve also been doing some reading on how churches can be more welcoming to guests, and one of the recurring messages in the literature is that “Every church thinks they’re friendly.”  So every church wants to practice love.  But not every church is known as loving.  We need to consider the question, “Who do we love?”

Most people who stay at a church for any length of time come to regard it as a loving church, whether that was their first impression or not.  How long would you continue to attend an “un-loving” church?  Most churches do a good job of loving their members, but just as important is the question of how well we love those outside the church.  Yet it’s not possible to say that internal or external love is more important than the other.  Rather, the church just needs to be characterised by love regardless of who crosses its path.

  • Can you add a “key verse” or two to my list of love passages?
  • What type of behaviour have you experienced that would prompt you to describe a church as loving. (let’s keep it positive.)
  • Do you think it’s more important for the church to love those inside or outside the church?
  • Given the centrality of the Bible’s teaching on love, “Why don’t more churches have a reputation in the community for being loving?”