January 10 — John 7

2018.01.10 - 1HBS

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The problem with looking for a Messiah with a preconceived notion of what he looks like is that you end up never finding him and who he really is.

John 7 may be the most “real” chapter in John’s entire gospel. So far in John’s gospel we have seen Jesus do miracles and teach in some amazing ways. He has drawn a crowd wherever he goes, yet there is something just a tad undefined about him. By that, I simply mean this: If you have never read this story and you know nothing about Jesus, at this point in the narrative you know he is important and he obviously is the protagonist, but you cannot clearly define why he does the things he does. What is his purpose in life, anyway?

If you have these questions about Jesus, you are no different than the characters of John 7. Taking a moment to look closer at what is happening in the text, we discover these questions being asked:

Jesus, are you going to be a public Messiah, rallying the crowds around you?

A Messiah was the person who was appointed by God to rescue God’s people Israel from their current situation in which Rome occupied their land and prevented them from being the truly free nation they had once been in the past. The word, which simply means “anointed” (by God) began to be a catchword for those looking for the political hero who would gain freedom for the once great nation of Israel most likely through military means.

Many assumed Jesus was this person because of the great things we have read about him doing up to this point in the gospel. Even, we discover, his disciples thought of him as one who should be out in the public arena. “You cannot act in secret if you want the people to follow you,” they tell Jesus.

Jesus, are you good or bad?

The people do not ask this question quite so bluntly, but if you read carefully verses 10-13, there were quiet rumblings about whether he was a “good man” or a “deceiver.”

Jesus, how did you learn to teach like you do?

In all of the gospels, we discover that Jesus’ teaching was one that amazed people. It was full of authority. To be a teacher with authority in Jesus’ day, a rabbi would spend his entire life in school, learning what the scriptures said and what other, more knowledgeable rabbis said about the scriptures. Jesus was not a rabbi, in the true sense of the word, nor had he the formal education the rabbis did. On top of that, he spoke in ways that seemed to defy the need for someone to instruct him on how to teach scripture. It was almost as if … God had told him what to say. (Which of course is what DID happen.)

Jesus, are you a demon?

Funny how when people get too powerful, we have to discover other ways to undercut them. If they are too smart for us, then something else must obviously be wrong with them.

Jesus, why do you come from the wrong town?

This seemed to be representative of everything that was wrong with Jesus being the Messiah in the eyes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, the Jewish religious leaders. According to the scriptures these people studied so diligently, the Messiah would be from the line of David and come from Bethlehem. The problem they had is that has versed as they were in the scriptures, they had not spent any time studying Jesus.

John does not record the birth story of Jesus, but if you look in the first chapters of Matthew or Luke, what you discover is that Jesus was born in … with for it … Bethlehem. It happened during a census where Jesus’ father Joseph (who was a descendent of David) had to go back to Bethlehem to “report in,” if you will.

Truthfully, even if the Pharisees knew this, they would not have believed Jesus was the Messiah. He did things all “wrong.” The Pharisees had already determined what rules the Messiah would follow, what he would and would not do. Certainly, healing on the Sabbath was one of those things you DID NOT DO as a good Jew (see chapter 5) and so Jesus had already disqualified himself from consideration.

The problem with looking for a Messiah with a preconceived notion of what he looks like is that you end up never finding him and who he really is. This was one thing the Pharisees would discover they knew all too well.

Questions:

If you were going to start a religion, what sort of things would you do to advertise or let people know about what was happening? Do you ever wonder why Jesus did not do these sorts of things? At the same time, Jesus attracted crowds wherever he went. How could Jesus have attracted these crowds without the benefit of Facebook, Twitter or the like?

As you have looked through the teachings of Jesus, has there ever been a time when you found yourself amazed at what he had to say? Why do you think this was the case? What sort of things can we do to recapture that amazement at the story of this Messiah?

In what ways has Jesus been unlike anything you expected him to be? We often hear of people who refuse to believe in God because he doesn’t act like they want/expect him to. Why do you think we are so quick to create our own image of what God or Jesus is supposed to look like or do? How can we do a better job of being open to understanding Jesus for who he really is, not for who we want him to be?

January 6 — John 4

2018.01.06 - 1HBS

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Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again. (John 4.13)

The episode where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well is one of my favorite stories in John’s entire gospel. In it, we discover that Jesus has a heart for those who are outside what we might consider the “appropriate” circle.

Jesus’ whole reason for leaving Judea was rooted in the fact that the Pharisees were beginning to ask questions about the influence Jesus was having in baptizing disciples compared to the number of followers John the Baptist was baptizing. (For more on this, see John 3.) Jesus was not one to shy away from a confrontation with the Pharisees, but I do think his desire was to avoid any unnecessary problems when Jesus had more important things to do. So, he heads to Galilee…

John tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria,” which if you had been a good Jewish reader of John’s gospel would have caused you some heartburn. To a good Jew, there was never a reason any Jew should have to go through Samaria. The conflict between these two people was long and complicated. It centered on things like what books should be in included in what we would now call the Old Testament and as a result of including some, but not others, having a difference of opinion on where one could worship God. (Notice the woman’s statements about the mountain on which the Samaritans worshipped in verse 20. This was a nod to these conflicts.) Add the fact that the Jews burned down the Samaritan temple and you can see why there was a tension between these two peoples.

So the question we might ask ourselves is this: Why was it important for Jesus to visit with this woman? It would have been no big deal for him to ignore her. Cultural norms would have dictated as much: she was a Samaritan. Not only was she a Samaritan, but she was also a woman. Women did not have much of a standing in Jesus’ day and in the world in which he lived. Finally, she was a woman who had a “checkered” past. If we were going to list the people we might bring together to start Christianity, women with 5 husbands probably do not rise to the top of our list.

So why did Jesus spend time sharing with this woman (whom we do not even know by name)? I think quite simply, it was because this is what Jesus did. To him, she was a woman in need, a woman who needed to hear the good news, and a person for whom Jesus cared. While the “important religious leaders” were dickering over how many followers Jesus or John or the Pharisees might have attracted, Jesus was attracting people who he knew needed him. And in the midst of this woman and many of her friends following Jesus, we discover that he really was “the Savior of the world.”

Questions:

If Jesus came back today, who do you think would be the “Samaritan woman at the well” that he offered living water? How well do we reach out to these people you have identified? What things can we do to exhibit more of the attitude Jesus did to this woman?

How surprised are you to find that a Samaritan (remember: these would have been people despised by the Jews) is one of the first in John’s gospel to proclaim Jesus as “Savior of the world?” When you consider what you have read in John’s gospel up to this point, how important is this proclamation? How important is it that it comes from a Samaritan?

Jesus is said to have performed two signs up to this point in John’s gospel: turning the water into wine at the Cana wedding feast in John 2 and now healing a royal official’s son who was ill (there will be seven total signs). Why are these signs important? How do these signs affect the people of John’s gospel? While we may not have Jesus here on earth healing people, how have you seen signs of his presence with us/you and how have these things helped your belief in him?

January 5 — John 3

2017.01.05 - 1HBS

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Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life… (John 3.36)

Along with Psalm 23, John 3 may be the best-known passage in all of scripture, or at least one verse from John 3 can lay claim to this distinction. While many of us probably do know John 3.16 (For God so loved the world…) and can also most likely say it from memory, there are other significant ideas found in this chapter.

The chapter opens with Nicodemus, a “Pharisee” and a “member of the Jewish council” coming to Jesus at night. Why at night? John never tells us explicitly, but a safe assumption would be that the darkness of night provides a cover so that Nicodemus’ other council members would not know he went to Jesus.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born again” to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus finds this confusing and truthfully, reading this passage literally would result in the same reaction from us, as well. The confusion lies in the fact that Jesus is speaking of a spirit rebirth, not a physical one. What does it mean to be born again in the spirit? It means believing in Jesus, or more specifically, believing that it is through Jesus that we have eternal life.

John goes on to explain this in the next section of this chapter, verses 16-21. Here we find that famous passage, but do not miss the other parts of the section. For instance, John tells us that Jesus came not to judge the world, but save it. Many people have a view that Jesus’ (and God’s) only job is to smite down those who sin or fall out of line. John’s words here should be a comfort and a correction against such thinking.

John also explores a theme he uses often in his gospel: light versus darkness. Jesus, John says, exposes evil because he is the light. Those who love evil prefer darkness; they do not want to be exposed for who they are.

Finally, we wrap up the story of John the Baptist within John’s gospel. There is a moment in the conversation where it would appear that John might be expected to take a defensive stance against the actions of Jesus and his disciples, who were baptizing and having the crowds come to Jesus. Had John not understood his role as the one preparing the way for Jesus’ coming, it might have been easy for him to feel slighted, or like he was losing his influence. Instead, he rejoiced in the coming of Jesus. Like a best man helping a groom get ready for his wedding, John recognized that what was happening was what was supposed to happen. The things he had been preparing the people for was coming to pass.

John concludes this chapter with a reminder of what we read in John 3.16: Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.

Questions:

Why do you think Nicodemus wanted to ask Jesus the questions he did? In what ways should have Nicodemus already known that answers to these questions? In what ways do you think Jesus was creating a new definition of what it meant to follow God?

As you read through John 3, what stands out to you that you have not read or seen before? In what ways does the famous passage of John 3.16 come to life more when you read the chapter in its entirety?

How hard would it have been for you to have the same attitude of John when he sees the crowds beginning to follow Jesus? In what ways might we be called upon to prepare others for a greater role in the kingdom of God than we ourselves have? How can understanding the importance of God’s kingdom help us to see things more important that just our role in that kingdom?

January 2 – John 1

2017.01.02 - 1HBS

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Jesus became human and built a house on our block.

John 1 tells us three big ideas about Jesus.

First, he is both fully God, but also became human. John begins his gospel writing about the beginning (you get echoes of Genesis 1 here). While John does not immediately identify the entity he is writing about as Jesus—he calls him the Word—we read that he was with God from the beginning and through this Word, all things were made. There is a sense of sovereignty in these words. This man helped create the world, meaning he has a hand in ruling the world, as well.

After a brief interlude about John who would witness to this one called the Word, we read that the Word became flesh and “made his dwelling among us.” I like to say that Jesus became human and built a house on our block. Think about the people who live around you. While we live in an increasingly disconnected society, my guess is that some of your neighbors are friends and you through the years have learned about their families. Perhaps you even do things socially with someone who lives on your street. This kind of relationship is a far cry from knowing “about” someone or even just reading a description of them. Jesus came to be one of us. As a result, he knows us and what it means to live a human life. We cannot dismiss that as just trivial information.

Second, we learn that while John is not the Messiah, Jesus is. When the Jewish leaders seek out John to ask him who he was, he is emphatic in his response denying himself as Messiah. (In the Greek, you can create an understood subject just by using a specific verb form. However, when the speaker or writer wants to be emphatic, you include the subject, so it reads more like: I, I am… or in the case of John: I, I am not the Messiah.) Why would John be so emphatic? Because he wanted all the attention to go to the one who WAS the Messiah, and that was Jesus. As great as John was, there was one even greater coming after him.

The last thing John tells about Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel is that the role of Messiah—remember this is Jesus we are talking about—was to be the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (v. 29, and also in 36) Lambs were used as a sacrifice, including a sacrifice of atonement. Lambs were also central to the Jewish Passover, which was a celebration of a moment in Israel’s history when God rescued his people from slavery and bondage in Egypt. (See Exodus 1-12 for more.)

Why is Jesus as Lamb of God important? Remember yesterday we discussed Isaiah describing a voice calling in the wilderness to prepare for the coming glory of the Lord? Well John (the Baptist, not John the author of this gospel) describes himself using these same words. He is, he says, the one who is preparing the people for the One to come. This Jesus, in flesh and living among us, offers us salvation from sin. He rescues us, much in the same way that the people reading Isaiah would have seen God’s rescue in Isaiah 40.

Questions:

How does the thought of Jesus living on the same block as us affect the way you think of him? In what ways does it bring you comfort? In what ways does it cause you to want to do better?

When you hear the term “Messiah,” what are your first thoughts? Do these describe the ways you typically thing of God? Why or why not?

How have you discovered attempts to rid your life of sin to be much like New Year’s Resolutions: great ideas in principle, but a lot harder to accomplish than you originally thought, perhaps even impossible? How does the idea of Jesus being the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world” help you better approach an understanding of salvation from God? What would be one way you can live more of an understanding that Jesus saves you, versus you save you?

For Your Family:

Ask you children to describe to you their picture of God. In what ways does their image include an understanding of God/Jesus becoming flesh? How can you do a better job of living a life that shows them Jesus acting in and through you?

 

Just How Bad Could It Hurt?

20170604 - 1HBSJust as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles or slaves or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 33:12-22
Ezekiel 11:17-20
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
John 20:19-23

I do not know where I heard it or even if there is someone who can be identified as the author, but I heard someone once say: “Anyone who thinks there are inconsequential parts of the body has never stubbed their little toe.”

Think about it, is there anything that hurts worse, especially given the size of the offending object? You are walking through the house after everyone has gone to bed and you discover that the dresser sticks out from the wall more than you thought it did. Since it is late at night, you do not want to wake anyone up, yet between the noise of slamming your foot into the dresser and your muffled screams as you fall to the floor in agony (and perhaps your spouses laughing at the dramatics), everyone within three city blocks are probably awake at this point.

The next morning it still hurts and you try to walk without a noticeable limp, because it is your little toe, after all, but that little toe hurts beyond belief. NFL players sit out of professional football games due to “turf toe,” so the pain must be bad, right?

It is easy for us to forget the importance of the little things in our life. We spend so much time and energy trying to make a (big) name for ourselves and accomplish (great) things, the small joys we can find in simple things escape us.

This is true in church, too. We come to worship or Bible class and resign ourselves to sitting quietly in the pew because we know we are “not as important” as the preacher or the teacher. If we were asked to speak, we would just stumble around and be too embarrassed to say anything important or say it in a way that made a difference to someone else. We do not have the right gifts, or at least it seems at times certain gifts are important for a body of believers and other gifts, well, they are of the little toe variety.

Read carefully the words Paul pens to the Corinth church. Even if you have already read them, go ahead and read them again, start to finish. Now, in just a couple of words summarize what Paul stresses as important.

I don’t know what your words were, but as I read through this passage, I keep zeroing in on the idea of oneness or sameness. How many times does Paul use the word “same?” The emphasis Paul seems to be making here is even more than the little things (or gifts in this context) are important. All of our unique gifts and abilities—“big” or “small”—all come together in the sameness of God’s Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that takes the differences we all inevitably have and melds them together for the common good of one another. Your gift, my gift, his gift, her gift, all of them.

Next time you gather with your church family, look around the room. Look for who looks different, talks different, acts different, and maybe even believes some different things than you do. As you take inventory of everyone else, say a prayer of praise that God has called them—and you—together as his family, as his body.

 

Questions:

•“No king is saved by the size of his army.” How well do you think the people you know receive this passage from Psalms? What about the people who are our governing authorities? What is the point the psalmist is trying to make to us in this psalm? How can we better understand the power of God in comparison to our own power and might?

•In what ways do you feel you have an undivided heart? What are the things that divide you? Søren Kierkekgaard famously stated: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Similar to the undivided heart of Ezekiel 11, how do we will one thing? How does God help us be pure of heart?

•When you read through Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, what role does the Spirit play within the body of Christ? Specifically, what does Paul say about the sameness of the Spirit in connection to the uniqueness each one of us have? How can you live today more in the understanding of the unifying actions of the Spirit?

•Jesus tells his disciples in John 20 that he is sending them out in the same way he was sent out. On what way was Jesus sent and how does this impact how you live a life of faith today? What did you do today that was the result of you being sent? What can you do as a result of that “sentness?”

Be Compassionate and Humble

20170521 - 1HBSWho is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?
(1 Peter 3.13)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 148
Isaiah 41.17-20
1 Peter 3.8-18
John 15.1-8

If you live long enough, you will probably make someone mad at you. (I know, for some of us, it didn’t take that long, did it?) You don’t mean to, it’s just that the tosses and turns of life at times rub people the wrong way and you end up on the wrong end of their ire.

My grandfather lived well beyond his 90th year and to my knowledge, he never had anyone who disliked him. (Obviously I am both biased and somewhat sheltered from all of the negatives, but when we rehearse family stories, a conflict with someone else is never a part of those stories.) You couldn’t. He was calm, kind, gentle, and always sought the best in others. He was so busy doing good, he really didn’t have time to rile people up and if he did, he was so busy doing good you wouldn’t have wanted to stop what he was doing.

I am sure I get more joy of thinking about my grandfather than you do, since you did not know him, so let me make this a little more personal for you. When you read Peter’s words: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble,” who comes to mind?

And as you continue to read, who is a person who would never repay evil with evil?

Let me make this even more personal still: Are you a person of whom someone would say they always repay evil with a blessing, never an insult? That is easy to long for, yet I find it incredibly hard to do. We seem to be conditioned at an early age to hit back as soon as someone hits you first. (Ever hung out in an elementary or middle school cafeteria and listened to the banter?) If someone talks bad about you – true or not – we seem to understand it as a license to return the favor.

We could discuss all day long why we do this. It may be an act of protection, avoiding getting our feelings completely destroyed by someone else. It may be an act of aggression, trying to one up someone else so that every knows who’s “boss.” It may be that we are just mean.

Whatever the case, Peter says it’s wrong. Rather than try to fight back, we should be eager to do good. Who’s going to come after you if you are spending your time doing good for others? (Want to bring a “cut-down” session to a screeching halt? Agree with the insult and then say something nice. It’s not nearly as fun to argue with someone who agrees with you!)

Peter goes on to say: don’t be wishy washy or back down from answering people about why you have hope in the Lord, but when you answer them, do so with gentleness and respect. It is a rare but valuable commodity to be able to disagree with someone but do it in such a way that they feel loved and cared for in spite of their dissenting view. If we could figure out how to do this more, the world would be a better place.

 

Questions:

•When the psalmist calls on us to praise the Lord, he does so because we understand the Lord as the one who made us. Why does knowing that the world came from God change our perspective about how we view him? If God made the world and everything in it, why would we not want to praise (i.e.: give him the honor he deserves) him?

•In what ways has God given you water and caused rivers to flow when you need it most, when you were “on barren heights?”

•Most of us try to avoid suffering at all costs because we assume if we are suffering, we must be doing something wrong. Peter argues that if we suffer, we are simply following in the example that Jesus gave us. How do you feel about suffering and how it relates to living a life a faith in Jesus Christ?

•What does it mean to “remain in Jesus” and allow yourself to continue to be connected to the vine? What are some specific ways you can be connected to him today, tomorrow, and this week?

You Alone are the Lord

20170507 - 1HBS1You alone are the Lord.
(Nehemiah 9.6)

Today’s passages:
Psalm 23
Nehemiah 9.6-15
1 Peter 2.19-25
John 10.1-10

This week’s study is going to be a lesson in doing.

Sometimes we spend time in a lesson like this trying to squeeze out the truths of the passage, hoping for something we can readily use to help of live for God better. Other times we discover a passage like Nehemiah 9, which we almost have to ignore it to NOT see the ways this passage calls us to action.

Nehemiah 9.6-15 is interesting, because it is a praise of God right in the middle of a chapter containing a confession of sins to God. That seems almost contradictory. I think of times when I had to confess a wrong to my parents. I can never remember a single time I came into their presence shouting their praises. No, I spent more of my time timidly approaching them not saying anything for fear of some sort of wrath.

We learn some valuable insight about God in this passage. Whatever confession of our own wrongdoing we need to make is overshadowed by the greatness of God. (This is actually true whether we have a confession to make or not.)

So the Israelites confession goes something like this: God, you are great and you have done incredible things all throughout our life with you and God, we are sorry, but we forgot those things and thought we were great. We did our own thing, thinking it was somehow more important than what you called us to be or at the very least, we thought it would work out better for us. It didn’t and we repent.

So what if we reversed this pattern. What if, instead of forgetting about the greatness of God until after we had done our own thing, we spent all of our time reciting the great things God has done so that there would be no need to try to come up with a plan on our own? God’s plan and his goodness would be so ingrained in our daily lives that we had no room for anything else but him.

What if we spent a week trying to do that?

 

Exercises:

•Spend time everyday reading through Psalm 23. Remind yourself often that the Lord is your shepherd.

•Make a praise list for this week. Keep this list with you at all times and write down the things you see God doing in your life and in the lives of people you love. At the end of each day, spend time in prayer thanking him for what he has done that day.

•We often assume that because we follow God, everything in our life will be wonderful and if we find ourselves suffering, we must be doing something wrong. 1 Peter reminds us this is not the case. If you find yourself suffering this week, thank God for the opportunity to follow Christ’s example.

•As you go through these exercises, you may discover you are in conflict with how you want to live your life. Remember that Jesus is the good shepherd that his sheep follow him because they know his voice. Who’s voice are you listening to?