16 October 2019

Matthew 21:23–27, 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12

Religious figureheads are often accused (too often, correctly) of seeking their own gain, whether by influence or money. Even those with no Christian background see a problem with it. Truthfully, it is not just Christianity that has this struggle, not by far. As Christianity is the culturally “dominant” (though how dominant it truly has been is questionable), we generally see more of the Christian-flavored versions.

What makes a religious figurehead true or false is a good question to have. The chief priests and elders weighed the cost of their answer. In their case, it was a matter of influence and power. They chose what they thought was the safe (or unanswerable) response. Yet, Jesus had a response for them. Their attempt to be safe did cost them, after all, though not for long.

The ability of the American people to retain the collective antagonism toward religious figures was also played out in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Apparently there were some (likely outside of the Thessalonian Christian community) that were actively trying to discredit Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Somehow the mess at Philippi continued to (unjustly) follow them, which was being used to discredit them. They were being accused of being into evangelism and church leadership for the money (or for free room and board). It is actually the flattering speech that has caused many churches and leaders to fall.

When hardships come (which they do) flattering speech does not produce deeply rooted disciples. It actually can create a mob of people who feel betrayed and will go after those that “hurt” them. As Christians, it is our responsibility to move beyond the shallows of faith and move to deep waters. The deep waters are scary, yet if we well anchored in our faith, we will not go—nor be lead—astray.

1) Who are some people (not necessarily religious ones) that speak with flattering speech? Why do they do it? If they are successful in speaking that way, why do you think that is?

2) In this day and age, business leaders and politicians seem more likely to greedy motives. What is the attraction to their many followers, do you think?

15 October 2019

1 Samuel 2:12–17, 1 Samuel 2:22–36, Matthew 10:16–23, Ephesians 6:10–20

Who or what are the dark powers that Paul talks about in Ephesians? Perhaps they are the family members that oppose believers. Perhaps they are the family members the “dress up” in righteous clothing and whose behavior is unrighteous.

Eli’s sons Phinehas and Hophni are the second set of “pastor’s” kids in the Scriptures (the first were Aaron’s sons) who went off the deep end. Their lack of respect for others’ sacrifices was bad just on an interpersonal level. It was a form of bullying. Was there a penalty? Yes, but that doesn’t really improve the results. How many people were scarred toward the priesthood? How many became reluctant attendees because of their behavior? This can only be thought of through conjecture. Just based on human behavior, it seems likely that the behavior of Eli’s sons caused a ripple effect of unseen damage. For cultural, societal, and religious reasons people would still go, for the cost of not going could result in ostracization.

What kind of opposition was Jesus expecting? Families kicking out believers. Families turning in believers. Family gatherings devolving into religious arguments and divisions. Even Jesus’ own family was divided until at least after his death.

The dark powers really are the sin of humankind. Yes, there are dark supernatural powers and influences. Sadly, however, humanity has enough darkness inside itself that outside influence is often not required to make a mess of things. Jealousy, envy, hatred are in many respect the true dark power of humanity. Along with pride, humanity will often do many things which appear to be contrary to the concept of humanity.

Within families, the excesses often seem to be magnified. While we often think about the awkward family reunion, sometimes we find it in other “families”, whether they be fraternal orders, unions, clubs, church, Homeowners Associations, or whatever. There are always powers that work to separate the ties that bind us together.

1) What have you experienced that tests the bonds of your relationships with others?

2) Do you have a tendency to look at yourself or at others first when there is a problem?

3) What is the strongest tendency you have that pushes others away from you? What is the strongest tendency you have that draws others to you?

14 October 2019

Matthew 10:5–15, 1 Corinthians 15:1–8, Ephesians 3:8–14

What is your mission? What is your calling?

In the Christian world, these can be powerful questions. If we let ourselves get wrapped up in them, they can bring us down. However, if we don’t see, or choose not to see that we have a calling, then we have a different issue. There are two words that are almost used interchangeably: vocation and calling.

Merriam-Webster defines them as:
vocation: (1) a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action, especially a divine call to the religious life; (2) the work in which a person is employed [occupation]
calling: (1) a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence; (2) the vocation or profession in which one customarily engages

We can see that dividing them, by definition, is difficult. Part of it is, oddly, religious tradition. Others will say that one receives (or discerns) a calling and then joins as a vocation.
Perhaps (not to confuse the issue), we should think of the calling as God’s nudge in our life with certain parameters. Then vocation becomes the occupation by which we fulfill the calling. Defining vocation and calling this way allows us to recognize our giftings, while not (necessarily) defining how we use them.

The 11 original Apostles were called. Some became religious/organization leaders (vocation), while others were…actually, we don’t know. The starting point of their vocation was to reach the descendants of Israel. They were not to go to the Gentiles. It seemed, on the outset, that this was exclusionary.

Paul had a calling to teach and lead. His initial vocation was to harass the young church. Then he had a transforming encounter with Christ, and his vocation was transformed. The call was the same.
We are all called to be children of God. We are all called to be bearers of the light into the world of darkness. The vocation is ours to live the call out.

1) We often confuse vocation with career. Why do you think that is?

2) What do you think the difference is between career and vocation?

3) Why is it important to separate call from vocation?

4) Paul’s story shows that vocations can change. Is it time for you to find or change your vocation?