Sunday, May 1, 2011

Next Book

We have finished the Lenten study on the book "24 hours that Changed the World." Hopefully, you are in the habit of checking this blog on a weekly basis. I will try to post about books that people at Dove of the Desert UMC are reading...not necessarily a formal study, but interesting tidbits.

Such as, The Slumber Party from Hell by Sue Ellen Allen. Mrs. Allen presents a collection of essays describing her years in the Arizona prison system. She challenges your assumptions about criminals and how we treat them. She shares bits of wisdom and draws you into her journey.

I am looking forward to meeting her at the "Meet the Author" event at Dove, this Thursday night, May 5th from 7 - 8:30 pm.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Week 7 - Christ the Victor

The angel said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here." (Mark 16:6)

Frederick Buechner said "Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing." What does that mean in your life? I've been reading Sue Ellen Allen's book Slumber Party from Hell, and she says she leans on the quote "God makes everything all right in the end - so if it isn't all right, then it's not the end." I'm also reminded of the hymn "Because He Lives, I can face tomorrow."

Recall some of the site we have studied these last few weeks: Gethsemane, the pit beneath Caiaphas' house, the whipping post, the stone pavement, the Stone of Unction, the Garden Tomb. What new understanding do you have of Jesus? What does this mean for you? for the world?

In John's Gospel, the risen Christ appears in a garden and is mistaken for a gardener. If we are called to participate with Jesus, the Gardener, in restoring and bringing healing to the original garden of our world, what might that look like in your life?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Week 6 - The Crucifixion

We have come to the foot of the cross. Read Mark 15:25 - 39
"It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him...Those who passed by derided him...those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon...Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom."

We must spend some time thinking about the nails that pierced our Lord. The visions we have from Renaissance paintings are soft and romantic. Crucifixion was a horribly painful and lengthy way to die. The nails actually went through the wrists, an understandably stronger position than the fragile bones of the hand. Archeologists have found evidence that the feet were placed on the sides of the vertical beam, and nails went through the heels. As the body starts to sag, the natural impulse is to press down on those nails to keep the windpipe open and enable the victim to breather just a little longer. And Jesus did not have just a few drops of blood from those nails - He had been whipped and beaten the night before.
What feelings or thoughts come to mind as you think about the cruelty of crucifixion?

What does the cross mean to you? Author Adam Hamilton says that the cross is a reminder of many things: 1) we need saving, 2) God experiences suffering because of our brokenness, 3) God has chosen to be merciful and forgiving toward us, and 4) God loves us. How do you respond to those reminders?

Psalm 22: 1 - 5
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Psalm 22 can be described as a "lament psalm," one that complains because God seems far away. But nearly all of the lament psalms end with an affirmation of faith. Hamilton says "The very act of praying a complaint psalm is an affirmation of faith. When darkness seems to prevail in your life, it takes faith to even talk to God and complain to Him!"
When was the last time you complained to God out of an experience of despair or darkness and yet ended up affirming your trust in God? Describe how you moved from lament to trust.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Week 5 - The Torture and Humiliation of the King

Read Mark 15: 15b -23

In this passage we see Jesus being flogged, humiliated by Roman soldiers and forced to carry his cross to Golgotha.

Author Adam Hamilton says:
1) In the beating and humiliation of Jesus, we see evidence of an evil kind of cruelty in which human beings torment one whose very existence is a challenge to them.
2) The cross Jesus carried weighed nearly 100 pounds. It is likely that after Jesus attempted to carry it some distance, Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service.
3) John's Gospel tells us that Jesus carried his own cross, undoubtedly wanting readers to see the connection to Isaac carrying the wood on which he was about to be sacrificed.

Another Biblical parallel is that Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, reminding us of the gifts of the Magi - gold, frankincense and myrrh - offered to a baby in a manger. Myrrh is said to be an herb with analgesic properties, perhaps offered to dull the pain Jesus was feeling from his earlier beatings, but Jesus refused to drink it.

Hamilton continues by saying, "There is one more word we should hear in Jesus' suffering and death, and that concerns the nature of sacrificial love. He has set an example for us of a kind of love that alone has the power to save humanity from its self-destructive ways. Sacrificial love transforms enemies into friends, shames the guilty into repentance, and melts hearts of stone. The world is changed by true demonstrations of sacrificial love and by selfless acts of service."

The question for us becomes, how does this segment of Christ's story inspire you to greater service in His name? We must fight the human desires that mock Jesus and lead us to hurt our fellow human beings, and instead follow the way of the Cross.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Week 4 - Jesus, Barrabas and Pilate

Mark 15: 1-15 tells us of Jesus' trial in front of the Roman leader, Pilate. Jesus refused to answer any questions, even though Pilate was giving him an opportunity to refute the false claims against him.
As was a customary practice, Pilate agreed to free one criminal. This action could have been a way for the occupying government to appease the native people, and it certainly reminded the Jews of their freedom from bondage in Egypt. Perhaps Pilate was hoping the crowd would ask for Jesus to be released, thus absolving him from any part in the "kangaroo court" that had developed. Instead, they cried out to free Barabbas, and Pilate heard the well-know shouts from the crowd to crucify Jesus of Nazareth. "So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified." (v 15)

Can you imagine yourself in the crowd as Pilate asks which prisoner to release? Have you ever been in a large frenzied crowd? How did that feel?

Can you imagine yourself as Pilate? He was an outsider with no desire to become involved in the manipulations of rival religious leaders, he was trying to keep the peace. Pilate must have wondered why Jesus offered no defense. History tells us that Barabbas was jailed for inciting riots and rebellion against the Roman Empire...this is the man who was freed in place of Jesus, who called for his disciples to show love to their enemies above all else?

In what ways are we still presented with the opportunity to confront our culture by choosing the way of love (Jesus Christ) or the way of violence (Barabbas)?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Week 3 - Condemned by the Righteous

Refer to Mark 14: 53-72

After prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane and betrayal by Judas, Jesus is led away to stand trial in front of the Sanhedrin.
60: Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, "Well, aren't you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?" 61 But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 Jesus said, "I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God's right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Later in Mark's account, we see Peter denying that he knows Jesus, and the famous moment when the cock crows a second time and Peter remembers Jesus predicting every action.

On the website you can see many images from the Holy Land, including this statue of Peter:Imagine if you betrayed a friend, and it was immortalized in this way! But, if there is hope for Peter to be reconciled after falling away from his faith in Jesus Christ, then there is hope for all of us...a very comforting thought. As Adam Hamilton notes, "While we focus on Peter denying Christ during his appearance before the Sanhedrin, we should remember that Peter was the only disciple to come to the place Jesus was to be tried."

Some questions for discussion...
-- The Sanhedrin was a group of the most pious and religious people on earth. The God they preached about was right in front of them, and yet they did not recognize him. Why would they want to condemn him? In what ways would you say Jesus is still a threat to people's way of life today? To what extent do you think people's resistance to Jesus and his message is motivated by fear?
-- Peter's denial of Jesus is mentioned in all four Gospels, not to villify one of the disciples, but as an example of grace and redemption. When have you experienced the shame of realizing that you had denied Christ and have you felt the assurance of his forgiveness?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Week 2 - The Garden of Gethsemane

I have been thinking about this study every day, but I let my daily chores and routines take precedence. And isn't that the ultimate battle? "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things..." My prayer is that I become more Christ-like, putting God at the forefront.

An opening activity for this week is to look at the Psalms: 113 and 114 are sung before the Passover meal, and 115-118 afterwards. Imagine what Jesus might have been thinking as He sang during the Last Supper.

Now imagine the Garden of Gethsemane, filled with olive trees and rocks. Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples, trying to stay awake while sitting or kneeling on that rocky ground.

Scripture reference - Mark 14:26, 32-42
Key insight - in both the Gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, the crucial question was "God's will, or not?"

Questions for discussion...
1) When have you been unable to "stay awake," pay attention, or follow through when you felt Jesus most needed you?
2) What significance do you see in the fact that two of the Bible's most profound temptation stories take place in a garden?
3) When in your experience of faith have you heard the whispered temptation, "Just Run!" How did you respond?

Please add your comments. Thanks to Karen for her responses last week.