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:

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:

We’re All In This Together

Hello! It has been a while since I have just written a blog without a podcast. I will have our weekly devotional/Bible study out tomorrow. But for today, I thought I would just sit and write for a minute, and be honest…and maybe not so practical?!

This sucks. (There is no better way to say it, and if my mother was alive, she would probably allow me to say that, even though at 16, she’d correct me.) But it does! It is tough for everyone right now, but being a parent is especially rough. You are being asked to home school, while trying to work from home. There are those who may not even be working right now because your place of business is shut down, or you are worried about losing your job. Maybe you are part of the population who can’t work from home, still have a job, but no childcare. As parents, we are all anxious. We are living through a situation for which we are not prepared. The closest thing to this in my memory is 911, but even that is different. Then we did go out, we did gather to support each other, we just didn’t fly…for only four days! Our churches saw a huge surge of people gathering for worship, and we made it through…together.

But here we are, sitting in our homes, or going to work, then straight home. No church, no school, no concerts, no games, no practice…even no toilet paper! I want to remind you we are still in this together. Stay calm, especially for our children

I am a mom of an 18 year old who is a senior in high school and a Marine who just turned 21. It has impacted us. We are consoling our senior who is grieving the thoughts of the possibility no graduation or prom, and also the last weeks of school with all of her classmates and beloved teachers. And supporting our Marine from afar who is stuck at his current base, as his schooling is over, and he unable to travel to his Permanent Duty Station.

But, I keep reminding them, and I will remind all of you. Find the blessings. Look for the good. We get to sit down as a family every night and have dinner TOGETHER. My husband isn’t gone, traveling for work. We can watch movies, play games, do whatever we want because no one is running out the door to practice or a meeting. We are right here, TOGETHER. What a blessing!

And on the days you can’t find a blessing…be one! I just saw a friend post that her son is out of the country on military deployment, and while he is very safe, his is worried for his young family who is quarantined on base. So, this friend asked for people to send letters. I’ve also seen suggestions to send letters, or have children draw pictures to send to those in nursing homes. Do it! Maybe you can show support to the first responders in your community. Or just simply pick up the phone and make a phone call to someone who lives alone. Praise God this is happening at a time where FaceTime exists! How wonderful to see faces of loved ones that we can not visit right now.

Where are you struggling? Where are your blessings? Keep your chin up friends, we are all in this TOGETHER…and if you have kids my age (and maybe younger) these lyrics may be in your head now and are so fitting:

Together, together, together everyone
Together, together, come on lets have some fun
Together, were there for each other every time
Together together come on lets do this right

We’re all in this together
Once we know
That we are
We’re all stars
And we see that
We’re all in this together
And it shows
When we stand
Hand in hand
Make our dreams come true

Peace my friends! Stay healthy and calm.

***Image taken from Pinterest of Disney’s High School Musical

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:

Matthew: A Gospel for the Jewish Community

This gospel is the first in the new testament but is actually written a generation after Mark. Remember, these stories were not written down in journals while the disciples were with Jesus. The stories were shared verbally for a couple of generations before they were actually written. Take a listen to this podcast to find out some more interesting truths about this book of the Bible.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-20, Matthew 11:7-19, Matthew 13

Teaching Points:

  • The gospel of Matthew was written in a formal, polished Greek that would have been used in synagogues at the time Matthew was writing. This helps us understand his identity and his audience.
  • Matthew probably dates from 80-90CE. A few scholars suggest as early as 70CE and a few as late as 110CE.
  • As with Mark, the author of Matthew is unknown and the name was likely assigned for symbolic reasons. The author of Matthew may have been someone named Matthew (we don’t know), but it was almost certainly not the apostle of the same name. (It would have been the wrong time frame, just for starters.)
  • In our last podcast, we shared that Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke. This is affirmed by the fact that about 91% of Mark’s content shows up in Matthew (600 of 661 verses). [Note: There is probably a tendency amongst literal readers of scripture to use this similarity as an argument for both gospel authors having been present and rendered Jesus’ words verbatim. We may want to decide if we want to address that or not.]
  • It might be helpful to suggest the idea that gospel writers were more compilers and editors (storytellers, in a sense) than they were creators of original material. This makes sense when we consider the time frame and that stories had been being passed down for some time. Matthew draws on at least three sources: Mark, material that is common to Luke (“Q”), and material unique to his community and tradition.
  • The Christian community to which Matthew belonged was still part of the larger Jewish community, but to some degree, they were beginning to be cut off from their Jewish roots. Recall that the Jesus movement began as a movement WITHIN Judaism and only later became a distinct religion. There was undoubtedly conflict between Matthew’s community and other Jewish communities as they began to diverge in their understanding of Jesus.
  • The gospel of Matthew has its own unique attributes: for example, it identifies Jesus as the “new Moses” (liberator) by telling the story of his family’s flight to Egypt (unique to this gospel). It doesn’t bother to explain Jewish traditions, since its audience was Jewish themselves. It includes a birth narrative that expresses a particular view of Jesus’ kingship.

Discussion Questions:

  • Plagiarism is a HUGE issue in schools these days. What is the difference between just copying someone else’s story and using it as a source to tell your own story? What are some examples in our world? Song remix, updated movie, etc.
  • How do we understand the fact that Matthew was using the Gospel of Mark as source material? Is that surprising? Unsettling?
  • One source calls Matthew a “creative reinterpretation” of Mark’s gospel. What do you think about that?
  • Matthew stresses the divinity of Jesus, often by making small changes to the narrative. Why do we suppose this was important to
  • Matthew at the time he was writing? Can we identify how this is a little different than Mark? Is it ok that one gospel writer might stress Jesus’ divinity a little more while another might focus more on his humanity? How might this be helpful for us as readers of scripture?
  • Matthew often uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (29 times!) because of a Jewish tradition of not speaking (or writing) the name of God. How might this change our understanding of passages that appear to be referring to heaven but actually refer to the “kingdom of God”? [See, for example, the passages in Matthew 11 and 13.]

Podcast:

When There Aren’t Any Words

Talking to young people about life and legends and leaving a legacy.

Yesterday the world lost a legend. Kobe Bryant was a legend on the basketball court as well as in his daily life. We are shocked. I was on the phone with my son when he said I think Kobe died in a helicopter accident. I said, “Are you sure? It’s probably a hoax.” But unfortunately, a quick Google search confirmed the tragedy. Shocked.

I’m sure we are all asking the questions. Why? Why would God take him when he was so young? Take his daughter? Take the other parents and children in the helicopter as well? Good people gone so quickly. It doesn’t seem fair. So what do you say?

The honest answer…I…don’t…know. There is just no answer. It’s a question we ask every time we lose someone. And, we are not God. However, we know that God is good, and that there is more to our lives than this world. We must find the positive in everything that happens. When we are focused on finding good, we begin to heal. Somehow we need to cling to the idea that our lives have a purpose. We must celebrate the lives of those around us, taking advantage of every moment and being present with the people we care about the most.

When talking about losing a legend, like Kobe, it’s helpful to talk about legacy with young people. What is the legacy that Kobe will leave behind? What are his accomplishments that the world will always remember? What kind of things can we do on a regular basis in our own lives that help us to leave our own legacy? When we experience loss, it is often a time for us to readjust our own priorities.

No matter if you live or work with young people, make sure you are having the conversation. It is through discourse that we are able to process our emotions. Give teens and young adults the opportunity to express what they are feeling. Allow them safe places to ask the hard questions. And be OK with not having all the answers. Sometimes we just don’t understand, and don’t have the words to make it better.

Praying for Bryant family and for the families of those who were with him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding,” ~Proverbs 3:5

The Light That Keeps On Coming

In our last week of Advent, we take a look at some verses from minor prophets as well as Mary’s song in Luke. We are using a traditional picture of the nativity for our blog. This may also be a good opportunity to talk about how often times we misrepresent Jesus’ birth with people who look like us, with kings present or even snow! But also talk about how when we relate to Christ’s birth personally, we can see the importance of the story in that He came to free us all of our sin. Enjoy the podcast and discussion. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:10-16 (Advent lectionary) and (perhaps) Amos 5, Micah 6 *Also Luke 1:46-55*

Teaching Points:

  • We are looking at some of the minor prophets this week. (Minor= smaller books).
  • The prophets were prophesying during times of crisis. The podcast goes into more detail about these crisis’s. It is important to help students understand the place where the prophets were when they were writing.
  • The message being sent here is, “God wants His people to create a just society.”
  • Social justice is helping change systems of power to give voice to the voiceless
  • If you have the time, or would like to bring in some New Testament, look at Mary’s Song in Luke.

Discussion Questions:

  • What, really, is the point of telling this Advent story again and again each year? Are we really expecting anything new and different, or is it just a nice story to tell?
  • Mary’s song shares her words of joy about God. Why is she singing praises to God? (Help students see that God first appears to this poor, unmarried girl. Not to a rich powerful man.) What does this say about our God? How does this compare to how our community, or the world views God? Where do you go to find God?
  • Some of the prophetic voices speak powerfully of the transgressions of the people that must be overcome in order that a new light might come into the world. What does this mean in our own time? Are we, perhaps, too “tame” in our expectations and in our willingness to use our own prophetic voices during this season of Advent?
  • What are YOU hoping for? What light would YOU like to see come into the world? What social justice issue are you passionate about? Where could you bring a voice to the voiceless?

Podcast: