Revelation

People have been obsessed with the end times pretty much since Jesus left this earth. Every generation has thought they were living in the “end times,” including this very moment. This blog/podcast addresses this topic head-on. Take a listen and dive a little deeper with us. 

Scripture Readings:

  • Revelation 7:9-12
  • Revelation 14:14-20
  • Revelation 17:1-6
  • Revelation 21:1-4

Teaching Points:

  • The book of Revelation belongs to the literary genre of apocalypse. It was a known genre at this time and is not the only example we have of apocalyptic writing.
  • Revelation was controversial even as the biblical canon was being developed. It was one of the last books to be accepted into the bible and some parts of the Eastern Christian Church still do not accept it.
  • Eschatology is a big word for the way we think about the “end times” or the end of life as we know it. The book of Revelation has been used to frame Christian eschatology (or expectations about how this world will end). However, understood as a work of the apocalyptic genre, it may not be reasonable to read it as predictive of the future. Rather, it tells a story about how people imagined a future in which God finally cleaned up the world and punished those who had caused them so much suffering.
  • A big chunk of Revelation tells a rather wacky story about beasts, trumpets, scrolls, angels, plagues, death and destruction on a massive scale. There is also a large portion that is quite beautiful in its description of a hoped-for future in which all nations and peoples join together in worship (ie. Rev. 7).

Discussion Questions:

  • Can you think of ideas you have about the “end times” or things you have heard that might come from the book of Revelation? (mark of the beast, 666, rapture, 1000 year tribulation, etc) How do you respond to those ideas?
  • Revelation 14 describes a scene in which a figure like the Son of Man swings his sickle and “reaps the harvest” of the earth such that the blood runs as high as a horse’s bridle for a distance of 200 miles. This is death on a massive scale, arguably at the hand of Jesus… or a figure who is reminiscent of Jesus. What do we make of this?
  • Revelation 17 talks about the “great whore” named Babylon. Can you theorize as to who or what this metaphor might have meant to people at the time Revelation was written? Does that give us any clues as to the meaning or significance of the book in general?
  • Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture, often read at funerals. How does that contrast with some of the earlier passages in our reading for this podcast, and what do we make of that contrast?
  • There is interesting food for discussion about the way we use scripture out of context sometimes. For example, a famous worship song of the 1990’s borrows text from Revelation 7. Does it change the meaning of a worship song to recognize that it comes from such a difficult and controversial part of scripture?
  • There was a book series called “Left Behind” that was popular in the early 2000’s. (There were also movies of the same title.) The series presented some very literal renderings of ideas that are presented in Revelation. The central tenet of the book was that, at some point, all the “genuine” Christians in the world will be raptured (taken up/away to somewhere else), and everyone else will be “left behind” to deal with tribulation. Is this thinking helpful or harmful? Why?
  • How does our eschatology shape the way we live and make decisions? Is there any danger in an eschatology that believes God will eventually come and “fix” everything for us? Is there any other way to imagine a hopeful eschatological future?

Podcast

Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_Ep_32

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The Church Develops

This blog and podcast will cover later New Testament writing (pastoral epistles) We discuss a popular verse that addresses gender roles.

Scripture Readings:

  • 1 Timothy 3:1-13
  • Titus 2
  • Ephesians 5:21-33

Teaching Points:

  • 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are referred to as the “pastoral epistles.” They were traditionally attributed to Paul, but most scholars now agree that they are not genuinely Pauline. These books date to the late 1st or early 2nd century. (Remember that Paul was writing in the mid-1st century.)
  • We can see in these readings that there is a shift in “tone” regarding what matters in the developing church. There is emerging concern about roles and positions and the attributes that are required to hold these roles within the church structure. It is in indicator that the church is growing and changing, creating a sort of infrastructure to guide their development.
  • We have talked before about some of the reasons that books might have been attributed to a particular person even though they were written by someone else. We may want to revisit that briefly.
  • We often group the epistles of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. However, scholars generally agree that Galatians and Philippians were written by Paul while Ephesians and Colossians were not and were probably written between 80-100 CE, after Paul’s death.
  • A good chunk of Ephesians contains instructions on everyday life, including the passage in our readings. This language about gender roles and the relationship between spouses has been a source of much discussion and disagreement.

Discussion Questions:

  • How do the rules and regulations about elders and deacons “feel”? Does it sound like material Jesus would have said? Why or why not?
  • Why would a growing church feel the need to outline these guidelines?
  • Do we ever create rules and structures that serve one particular group of people? What effect does that have?
  • How do the roles of men and women described in Ephesians 5 sound to a modern reader? What do we do with this material now?
  • This passage (Ephesians 5) is still read at weddings fairly regularly. What do you think about that?
  • What do you remember Jesus having said about men and women? Or what do you remember about the way that Jesus treated men and women, respectively? How does that compare with this passage?
  • What do you think accounts for an emerging emphasis on defining gender roles more clearly?

Podcast:

Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_Ep_31

Divisions in the Early Church

A quick look at the 13 books historically attributed to Paul, recognition of which probably were and were not actually written by Paul, and a focus on those that are “authentic.” This is the other “side” of the Pauline story.

Scripture Readings:

  • Galatians 1:11-17 (Paul’s conversion, per his own description)
  • Romans 3:21-31 (it’s interesting to read the entire chapter for context)
  • Romans 6:1-14 (again, would suggest reading the whole chapter)

Teaching Points:

  • Traditionally, 13 books (letters) were attributed to Paul: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. (Hebrews was sometimes included as a 14th attribution.)
  • In modern scholarship, only 7 letters are agreed upon as authentically Pauline: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon. The remaining 6 (or 7, if you include Hebrews) were probably not written by Paul, though debate remains about some more than others.
  • When I preach to my congregation about Pauline authorship, I include only the 7 books known to be Pauline.
  • We want listeners to understand that writing under the pseudonym of one’s mentor/teacher was a common practice at that time and was seen as an honor to the teacher (Paul, in this case). Authors were not trying to be intentionally misleading or trip us up.
  • That said, it is really helpful to know which books are Pauline and which are not, because they are quite different in theme, style and content… and can give confusing messages if we are not clear on their context and timeline.

Discussion Questions:

  • Paul describes his own conversation in much less detail than does the author of Acts. Paul was writing earlier and, obviously, knew his own story. What do we make of that?
  • The letter to the Romans is a deeply theological (and complex) book in which Paul articulates his understanding of concepts like sin, grace, justification, and righteousness. These passages from chapters 3 and 6 articulate some of his thinking. How do we make sense of the idea of justification today?
  • How does Paul seem to explain grace in relationship to our responsibility to avoid sin? This has been a real point of contention in the church over the years! How do we understand it today?
  • Paul loves to use the metaphors of dying and rising, in conjunction with the idea of baptism, to talk about how we are transformed as Christians. How does this use of metaphor help us understand the way Paul writes?
  • Though they are not included in our readings, the authentic Pauline letters (like the letters to the Corinthians and Philemon) seek to address some very real problems and conflicts in the church at the time. Who is writing the “contemporary epistles” of our own time and attempting to address and unravel conflict in the church?

Podcast:

Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_29

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Paul’s Missionary Journeys

This week we are talking about Paul and one “side” of the Pauline story. This also introduces some of the attributes of the early church (communal, house churches, etc) and controversies that developed early on.

Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-21 (Luke-Acts’ Pentecost story)

Acts 9:1-9 (Paul’s conversion, per the author of Luke-Acts)

Teaching Points:

  • The same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke authors the book of Acts. We might think of Acts as a continuation of the story of Jesus as begun in Luke. As such, there is a cohesive writing style and some consistent themes throughout. We refer to this as Luke-Acts.
  • Acts has two key structural principles.
    • The movement from Jerusalem, core location for the Jews, to Rome, core location for the Gentile world.
    • The roles of Peter and Paul –  Peter deals with the Jewish Christian church; Paul embraces the mission to the Gentiles
  • Thus, the first half (or so) of the book focuses on Peter’s work and the early church (including Paul’s conversion), and the second half of the book focuses on Paul and his missionary work.
  • There are three missionary journeys described in Acts (ch.13-14, 16-20), although a few people assert a possible fourth journey or sometimes the voyage to Rome (ch.27-28) is included as a fourth trip.
  • Acts presents a very different picture of the early church than is presented in Pauline writing. For example, Acts presents a very harmonious church and a peaceful relationship between Peter and Paul. Paul’s own (earlier) writings signal discord in early faith communities and significant disagreement between Peter and Paul.

Discussion Questions:

  • We could spend—and people have spent—an enormous amount of time trying to understand and detail Paul’s various missionary journeys and the development of the early Christian church. Undoubtedly, we have some of it correct and some of it totally wrong. What do we make of this account of Peter and Paul, their relationship, and their movements that is so very different from what Paul describes himself? What are the overarching themes and principles that we might draw out of such complex stories and narratives?
  • What might have motivated the author of Luke-Acts to present a cohesive-looking vision of the early church?
  • Acts presents a communal picture of the early church, in which every shares what they have and gives large sums of money (even selling off property) to support the mission. What do we make of this?

Podcast:

New Life, New Hope

We are talking about the new church and what the followers of Christ were going through after his death. It’s interesting to take a look at bodily resurrection, ways to understand and interpret Jesus’ various appearances and the words he shares with followers post-resurrection.

General Background:

  • We are coming into the home stretch with our podcast series! These final podcasts address some of the remaining “hot button” questions that we know young people ask and also address (as best we can) the remaining parts of the bible that we have not yet talked about.
  • Since these podcasts cover broader swaths of scripture, we’ll try to focus in on a few passages here and there as representative of the genre we are discussing.

Scripture Readings:

Luke 24:13-35

John 20:19-31

Teaching Points:

  • We want to remain cognizant of the time frame in which these stories were written. The Gospels were written between about 70-110 CE, or 2-3 generations after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • Luke, in particular, was probably written around 90 CE. John was the last gospel written, sometime after 100 CE.
  • It’s important to remember that the authors were writing down parts of the historical memory of Jesus, not necessarily eyewitness accounts that were meant to be taken literally.

Discussion Questions:

  • We sometimes gloss over the sadness and despair that Jesus’ followers experienced after his death. But they didn’t know how the story was going to end. How do you think they were feeling? What do you they were talking about?
  • How might this be helpful for us to remember in our own walk of faith?
  • How does remembering the sadness of the community around Jesus help to frame the Emmaus story? What jumps out in this narrative and what is the author trying to tell us about Jesus?
  • Luke commonly tells stories about Jesus in lengthy parables. There has been some assertion that the Walk to Emmaus is, in fact, one of those parables. Does this change our understanding of the story?
  • The idea of a bodily resurrection is one of the theological assertions with which some people struggle. How important is it to believe that Jesus’ physical body was reanimated? Are there other ways to understand resurrection that are equally helpful and valid?
  • The story of Thomas’ encounter with Jesus in the upper room is often preached as a story about doubt/belief. What do we do with our own doubt? How does Jesus respond to it?
  • This might be a neat place to talk about the various Greek words that we translate “faith.” (assensus, fidelitas, fiducia, visio)

Podcast

Losing a Savior and Gaining a Future

During this Holy Week, as we prepare for Easter, nothing is the same as before. We can not prepare to gathering in one building for Easter services, or plan Easter dinner with extended family. But we can still celebrate. It may take digging a little deeper this year to search for the blessings, but they are still there. Please take a few minutes to listen to the podcast and challenge yourself to look at the Easter story in a new way.

Scripture Reading: John 18:28-38

Book recommendation: “The Last Week”

https://www.cokesbury.com/9780060872601-The-Last-Week?cid=6663109565&aid=79443367579&keyword=895352700411%3A%3Apla-895352700411&kid=895352700411&gclid=Cj0KCQjwybD0BRDyARIsACyS8msfCg2i0srr7yhAf-jUzfNdtZjUomZuT2J1iSjqoIkwHzTYehMbj6IaAhLlEALw_wcB

Discussion Questions:

  • Theologians assert that this exchange between Jesus and Pilate is a profound statement about non-violence. (It helps to know that other men claimed to be the Messiah and usually tried to prove it through efforts to overthrow the Roman government through violence.) What do you think?
  • Much ink has been spilled over verse 38, in which Pilate asks, “What is truth?” What do you imagine he was thinking when he asked that question?
  • The story of Good Friday raises some tough questions for us as Christians.
    • Do you believe that it was impossible for God to forgive humanity without the death of a sinless person? Why might that story have made sense to Jewish communities? Is it harder for us to understand now?
    • What is atonement theology? Is that the only way to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection?
  • The Easter story is central to the Christian faith, and it is not uncommon for Christians to assert that belief in a bodily resurrection is “the” non-negotiable element of being Christian. At the same time, many young people wrestle with the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection from the dead. What do you think about it?
  • Are there other ways of understanding resurrection that might be equally valid?

Podcast:

Movie Night~"The Longshots"

Grab your popcorn, and invite your friends, family or youth group to join together for a movie night on Netflix Party. Everyone can watch at the same time, and there is a chat box where you can all talk as you watch. Below are some discussion questions and a short Bible study you can do along with or after you finish. (Everyone needs a Netflix account.)

Directions: 1. Download Chrome 2. In your Chrome search bar, download Netflix Party 3. Go to Netflix website 4. Pick the movie 5. Click on the “NP” icon next to the address bar in Chrome 6. Click “start party” 7. Copy URL and email to friends

The Longshots (125 minutes) rated: PG

  • Sometimes we have to focus more on what we do have and not on what we don’t. Have you ever had to learn this lesson first hand?
  • Have you ever felt like you were not a part of the “in crowd” like Jasmine? How did that make you feel? What did you do to overcome that situation?
  • Jasmine was trying to fit in with the other girls. But they kept disappointing her. How do you know with whom to trust? Is it the same or different with adults?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where someone in your presence was getting made fun of? What did you do? How did it make you feel? Has someone ever stood up for you?
  • Words can really hurt us. Jasmine’s Uncle Curtis said some mean things about her. Have you ever been in that situation? (Either the one saying something or the one who overheard.) What did you do?
  • Jasmine hides her insecurities behind books, Uncle Curtis behind football. Why do people do this?
  • Have you ever been embarrassed by your parents/family? How did you handle it?
  • Football was a way that the pastor connected with Curtis, and the way that Jasmine and Curtis got close. Thinking about your life, have you ever had a hobby, or past time that has allowed you to become friends with or grow closer to someone? How could we use this to multiply the kingdom?
  • Uncle Curtis saw Jasmine’s talents before she recognized them in herself. Who has encouraged/mentored you in your life? Who is in your corner, cheering you on in your accomplishments? Who do you cheer for?
  • The opposite can be true. Sometimes people, especially when they are jealous or out of fear, will tear us down. What would you do in that situation?
  • What are some examples of teamwork in the movie? How can we relate those examples to real life? To our Christian walk?
  • When the coach had a heart attack, the assistant jumped in and encourage Uncle Curtis to help out. Have you ever had to respond in a tragic situation? What about what we are going through right now? How have you adapted? You have you leaned on to help you?
  • Why was Uncle Curtis hesitant to step into the coaching roll? What was he running from? What happens when we run from fear?
  • Coach Curtis told the team not to celebrate touchdowns. Why do you think that is? How can you celebrate victories with humility?
  • Jasmine welcomed her dad with open arms. Do you think you would have extended the same grace to him? That changed in the end. Why? Do you think her response was justified? Why or why not?
  • Coach Curtis said, “If we have heart, we have everything we need.” What does this mean? Where does it apply in your life? What if you replace “heart” with “Jesus”? Do you feel like it is true?
  • The community gave up their prized possessions to help the team get to the Super Bowl. Have you ever given up something for the benefit of someone else? How did that feel?
  • How did you view Uncle Curtis at the end of the movie compared to the beginning? What can we learn from this?
  • Jasmine was disappointed that her dad didn’t show for the Super Bowl game. Has anyone every disappointed you? How did you handle it? This is a reminder that humans will disappoint, but God is always with us.

Bible Lesson: 1 Samuel 16

The Lord sends Samuel out to anoint the new king.

What is Samuel’s response at first to this command? (He is fearful) Why does Samuel responds this way?

What does this teach us about God when we are facing our fears?

Verse 7 is especially meaningful. Read that again. Put it in your own words.

How does this verse relate to the movie?

How can it relate to your life today?

How do you think the older brothers felt when Samuel passed over them and anointed David? What are the similarities to David and Jasmine or David and Curtis in the movie?

Why do you think Saul’s heart was changed?

What lessons can we learn about God and about our human nature from this story and/or movie?

Everything Happens for a reason, or does it?

Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders. He had a key role in the story of the arrest and eventual crucifixion of Christ. Was Judas a pawn in this event? Was it free will or predestination? What if he had made a different choice? We dive into these questions and more in this podcast.

Scripture Readings: John 13:21-30 and 17:6-19 (focus v12)

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you think everything happens for a reason? What situation could arise where this idea may be damaging to a person?
  • How do we answer that same question from the framework of our faith?
  • In the gospels, there is some suggestion that Judas was “used” in order to accomplish a greater purpose. What is your reaction to that?
  • Do you think God uses people to accomplish certain purposes?
  • How do we understand the relationship between free will and God’s will?
  • Can you think of other stories in the Bible in which it seems that people do/don’t have free will?
  • How does this help/change your perspective on your own life?
  • Or in your life decisions?

Podcast:

Sheep & Goats: Heaven, Hell, Judgement

We spend a lot of time as humans wondering and talking about afterlife. There have been movies and books created to offer renditions of what things may be like after our time on earth is done. But what does the Bible say? What do you think? Take some time to listen to the podcast and read some scripture, and see what conclusions you draw.

Scripture Readings: Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31

Discussion Questions:

  • The afterlife is a matter that concerns and interests Christians and, frankly, most people in general. Why do we suppose that is? How important is the idea of the afterlife to people’s understanding of Christianity?
  • What does the passage from Matthew seem to suggest about the afterlife? Is that Jesus’ central concern?
  • There are many images of hell, most of them from literature and other non-biblical sources. Regardless of how we envision it, what do we do with the idea of eternal punishment? How does that square with God’s character?
  • Similarly, most visual renderings of heaven come from non-biblical sources, and scripture does not paint a single, uniform picture of heaven. What are some of the ways that people define and understand heaven?
  • Is it possible that, through God’s grace, everyone will ultimately end up in heaven? Why or why not?
  • The parable of Luke paints a picture of the afterlife in which there is clearly a positive place (with Abraham), a negative place (Hades), and interaction between those realms and the mortal world. Is this meant to be taken literally? Does the author of Luke share Matthew’s view on how these outcomes will be determined?
  • Does this parable from Luke suggest anything surprising about who will receive blessing and who will receive condemnation and for what reason?

Podcast:

John: A Story that Transcends

The gospel of John takes a very different approach to telling the story of Jesus, putting it in a category of its own (not a synoptic gospel). It was long held by scholars that John did not use any of the source material (Mark, Q) that was available to Matthew and Luke. Some now think that the author(s) had access to Mark and possibly also Luke but felt very free to deviate in both style and content. Take a listen to learn more about this unique Gospel

Scripture Reading: John 2:1-12, John 4:4-42, John 8:2-11, John 11:1-44

Teaching Points:

  • The gospel of John takes a very different approach to telling the story of Jesus, putting it in a category of its own (not a synoptic gospel). It was long held by scholars that John did not use any of the source material (Mark, Q) that was available to Matthew and Luke. Some now think that the author(s) had access to Mark and possibly also Luke but felt very free to deviate in both style and content.
  • John has many stories that do not appear in any of the other gospels.
  • John dates to 90-100CE in the form we now know it, but scholars believe there were at least two earlier “editions” of the gospel. It was undoubtedly touched by multiple authors and redactors.
  • There has been much ink spilled over the idea that the author(s) of John was/were “Gnostic” to a greater or lesser degree. Gnosticism was a competing understanding of Jesus/Christianity that was deemed heretical. It asserted that the imperfect world was created by some lesser deity (in order to explain the presence of evil) and that the true Divine was at great distance from the world. Gnosis was the secret knowledge that enabled people to understand the truth, and Jesus was the one sent to bring gnosis to the people. There were actual gnostic gospels that were generated in the 2nd century, however debate continues as to whether John truly has gnostic elements. This may or may not be germane to the discussion today but this gospel is often referred to as the “gnostic gospel.” The central reason is that John almost entirely avoids any suggestion of Jesus’ humanity, even suggesting that his spirit departs his body before death on the cross so that his spirit never truly dies.
  • John does not include theology of atonement or vicarious sacrifice that is suggested to various degrees in the other gospels. It is about exalting Jesus and his return to God rather than the notion of saving people from sin.

Discussion Questions:

  • The suggested readings for this podcast are all pericopes (stories) found only in the Gospel of John. We might take a look at them in order to uncover themes important to the author and his community.
    • The Wedding at Cana – Jesus’ relationship with his mother, theme of abundance, the idea of “signs” as John describes them (not “miracles”)
    • The Samaritan woman at the well – relationship between Jews and Samaritans, themes of sin and forgiveness, her eagerness to share her story and bring others to belief
    • The woman caught in adultery – Jesus’ unwillingness to impose sentence, exposing the hypocrisy of others, note the absence of the person with whom the woman was caught
    • The raising of Lazarus – foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, one must wonder why such an incredible “sign” does not appear in the other gospels, Jesus emotion toward the family

Podcast: