16 September 2019

John 17:9–19

Jesus prayed for the disciples, a lot. There is something quite interesting here. He didn’t pray for the world (that he died for). He prayed instead for his disciples. Why? Why his disciples?

Jesus prayed for his disciples. Jesus prayed for his friends. Jesus prayed for their protection.

He prayed for them…for us.

Without the disciples, we would not know Jesus. With Jesus’ protection, we would not have the disciples. Jesus did pray for the world…just indirectly.

All too often, we want to see direct effects. We want to know that the power of God is active in our lives. We want to know that God loves the world…and even us.

Ultimately, with Jesus’ death, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the 11 remaining disciples, along with all those who were with them in the upper room. From those 11, the church was born. The church despite its brokenness. The church despite all the hurt that its imperfect people caused and suffered.

We wonder sometimes if our prayers are effective. Perhaps it’s not our prayers that we should be thinking about, but the prayers of those who are praying for us.

1) Have you ever had the experience of learning that someone was praying for you, and it came to be? What was your response?

2) Have you ever prayed for someone else (especially not family), and watched it come true? What was your response?

3) Prayer should be the most uniting thing we as a church do. How can you be more united with your church framily in prayer?

15 September 2019

Psalm 51:1–13, Luke 15:1–10, 1 Timothy 1:12–17

“Be gracious to me…Against…you alone…have I sinned…Purify me…Turn your face…from my sins…create a clean heart for me…Do not banish me…sustain me…sinners will return to you.”

The (very) abbreviated Psalm 51:1–13 above probably resonates with you. The Psalms are often flowery poems, and when we strip much of that away it hits even deeper. As you read the full and abbreviated Psalm, did you feel gratitude toward God and his grace given to you? If not, I urge you to re-read both again.

After almost 2 millennia of digging in and seeking God’s truth and wisdom, it has almost become the default setting that Jesus is God (though often still hard to fully grasp). Why is that important? Well, if Jesus is God, then Jesus would display God’s nature and character. That being the case, we ought to look at the Gospels as insights into God.

In Luke 15:1–10, we often focus on the parables, which are great. Yet, the whole reason for the parables was to explain, “…[Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.” God WELCOMES sinners and eats WITH them. Pardon the philosophical wanderings things brings to mind, but are we the church—the so-called bride of Jesus—doing that?
Is the church so concerned about purity—and apparent holiness—that it (they, we) doesn’t welcome sinners and eat with them? This is not a new struggle. In the early years of the church, there was a barrier to entry for the literal safety of the church. With Augustine’s official recognition of the church (and its sad becoming a place of worldly power), the barrier became toeing the party line (in both Western and Eastern Christendom).

Perhaps instead of looking at the last few decades as the way things ought to be, perhaps we ought to look to the founding of the Church of the Nazarene. Phineas Bresee—viewed by many as the primary (but not only) founder of the Church of the Nazarene—had his church in (what came to be called) Skid Row. The alcoholics, prostitutes, drug addicts (opium) were all there. They didn’t have it all together. Do you?

Yet the church puts litmus tests on a lot of things. It’s so much easier to say here is the line you must cross. Jesus died while we were yet (and to be) sinners. Jesus crossed the line! Jesus just crossed it the “wrong” direction. Thanks be to God!

A parable: There was a company whose workers were on strike. The strikers’ singular complaint was that the company kept trying to bring in the “wrong” people. Those people were dirty, smelly, believed the wrong things. How DARE the company try to bring them in! They—the striking workers—were the ONLY ones who knew who belonged. A person trying to answer employment ad tried to get in, but the strikers wouldn’t allow it. The company president saw the person being spat on, yelled at, and even struck. The president then went to the person, crossing the picket line. The president grabbed the person’s hand and brought the person in. The person said to the president, “your workers are bad people! Look what they did!” The president responded, sadly, “You see, they think they are on the inside protecting the company, but really, by their actions, they are now on the outside.”

1) Are we excluding the people that the Holy Spirit is bringing to us? If so, how and why?
2) What is the difference between purity and holiness?

3) Which is more inviting? Telling a person how wrong they are, or telling a person how loved they are? And, then, how do you show either one?

14 September 2019

2 Samuel 1:17–27, Romans 12:9–21, Romans 13:1-10

David had been pursued by the House of Saul for many years. Even after Saul acknowledged that David had been acting more righteous than he, there wasn’t restoration. David was cut off from his friends (like Saul’s son, Jonathan), his first wife, his nation. He was in exile. David had been anointed to be king but was kept from the throne by an unrighteous man.

In the political climate of today, we can easily imagine the celebrations of the other “side” (whichever one that is) celebrating the death of the king and his family. In fact, it seems to have become a tradition for the last few presidents to have people asking and praying for their deaths. David was not like that with Saul.

David could have been angry and arrogant. Instead, he mourned. He wrote a song to mourn the passing of the House of Saul. He insisted others learn it and share it. He was not happy that the throne was his. He was miserable for the loss of the leading family. In the current political climate, do you see that happening for any politician?

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, we have to remember that they were lower than the Jews in Roman eyes. Paul still charged them to love. Bless the persecutors? No eye for an eye? Be at peace? With them? Talk about countercultural!

“Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”
—Romans 12:21

While the Roman government was certainly no friend of Christians, Paul still told them to submit. While there is an ongoing distrust of government today (been there since the founding of the country), the odd thing is, in the US the citizens choose their leaders. We are still called to pray for them as much as we may not agree with their decisions.

This also leads back to love. If we view people with whom we disagree as anything other than people for whom Jesus Christ died, we have a problem. When we behave or believe that we cannot be wrong, we have removed God from the throne of our heart and put ourselves back on it. Back to the way our hearts were before we found salvation in and through Jesus Christ.

1) There is a strong human need for an enemy…an other. When have you been tempted (or succumbed) to treat another with whom you disagree as an enemy? What if they are family or framily?

2) We are called to be of one mind with Christ. How does treating a Christian as an enemy make a person of one mind with Christ?

3) One of the greatest tools of the enemy is division. How can you oppose this tool with the heart of Jesus?