1) Did you know what a sacrament was before the video? Did you know how many there were? Did you know what our two sacraments were?
2) What is the event or person that comes to mind when you think about where your faith has grown the most? If you can't come with an example, what questions do you have for God?
3) How were the promises your parents and others madeto you at your baptism a part of your faith growing?
4) Have you ever felt your faith growing or moving when you take communion? What was tha feeling like? If you haven't felt that, why do you think that is?
As we continue to adjust to our new reality, I am reminded of a story that takes place in 2 Samuel. David has just recently become King of Israel and had been victorious in his first two battles as king. After these victories he wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem where he lived. He does this and after all of this work early in his kingship it says “the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him,” (2 Samuel 7:1). He had done a lot in his first few months as king and now he rested at home.
David realizes that God has provided him rest in his home, but yet the ark (the place where God dwelled) stayed in a tent. David realizes this and wants to build the ark (and God) a home, so that it’s not in a tent anymore. God appears to the prophet Nathan to deliver this message to David. 2 Samuel 7:5-7:
“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’’”
It seems like God is angry here with David for trying to build him a house. David had his best intentions in mind, but God is trying to teach him a lesson here. What God is saying to David is that he is not confined to a house or one certain spot. God has been moving ‘place to place’ and his presence cannot be contained in one spot. David’s offer to build God a house came from a good place but God is reminding David that his presence is more than just one physical place, it is all around us.
As we continue to adjust to our new normal reality, this lesson should ring true for us. Just because we can’t go to church right now does not mean that God is not with us. God does not dwell in one place. He moves from ‘place to place’. He doesn’t just exist at church but in your home as well. He is not confined to a physical space.
What is encouraging about this is that God moves with us wherever we go. When you return to school he will be with you. When you’re at home, he is with you. When you travel, he is with you. God’s presence is not contained to certain physical locations like our church, his presence is all over our world. Remember that God moves from ‘place to place’ and that he is with you right now.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation
The end of the Gospel of John ends with a story of Jesus reinstating Peter. Peter, remember, had been near Jesus after he was arrested. He was asked three times if he was one of Jesus’ disciples and each time he denied it. Peter realizes his denial and is crushed by it. What is even a bigger blow to Peter is that he doesn’t get the chance to speak with Jesus again before he is crucified. He’s left with this tremendous amount of guilt, he didn’t have the chance to apologize.
The story we're looking at today occurs after Jesus has risen from the dead and it’s the only conversation between Jesus and Peter that we have after Peter’s denial. It occurs after the miraculous catch of fish where the disciples realize that Jesus is alive. John 21:15-19:
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’”
What’s great about this story is that Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Remember, Peter had denied Jesus three times earlier in John. Jesus is reinstating Peter by giving him the chance to redeem himself. He’s not trying to make him feel bad but trying to remind Peter of his place as a disciple. Peter not only responds with love but he also stresses Jesus’ knowledge and grasp of the situation. He is saying ‘I love you and I know who you are’.
Another key point comes at the end of this passage. Jesus tells Peter that his love and discipleship will lead him ‘where you do not want to go’ (John 21:18). Previously, Peter had gone where he wanted to go. Now as a reinstated disciple, he is being told that Jesus will lead him to places he does not want to go. Believing in and relying on God can sometimes lead us to places that we do not want to go. This message should ring true for us right now.
Our lives have changed and we may be in a place that we do not like and wish to go. That could be a physical place, like our house, or it could be a spiritual place. Is God leading you down a path that brings him closer to you, even though you’re hesitant? Is he calling you to a deeper relationship with himself even though you feel like you’re not ready for that? At some point in our lives, God is going to call us to go where we may not wish to go. That could be a physical location or it could be relationally with God or someone else. What we need to remember is that even though we don’t want to go there, God is calling us down those uncertain paths. When we choose to follow him we will no longer be going where we want to go, but rather, where he wants us to go. I’m not saying that God wants us all to be in our homes right now, but we all probably have that feeling of ‘I don’t want to be here’. That is the same feeling that Jesus is talking about. He may lead us to places that we get that same feeling. What we have to understand is that, that is part of our journey in relationship with him. It’s not always easy and we may not want to go down certain paths but Jesus is calling us to regardless. He calls us there because he loves us, just like he did with Peter.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
As we continue to look at stories from the Bible and ask God for wisdom in knowing what they might mean for our lives, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a story from the life of Solomon. Solomon was the son of David and the third king of Israel. After the death of his father David, Solomon “established himself firmly over his kingdom” (2 Chronicles 1:1). The temple had not yet been built and God’s tent of meeting that Moses had made was in a place called Gibeon. Solomon went to this place and offered a thousand burnt offerings. Here is where we pick up the story; 2 Chronicles 1:7-12.
“That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’
Solomon answered God, ‘You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?’
God said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possession, or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions, and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.’”
What I find interesting from this story is that it’s very relatable to all of us. Not so much God appearing to us and asking us for whatever we want, but the fact that we already do that. When you think about your prayer life and your conversations with God, a lot of them may tend to be ‘asks’. Whether it’s for healing for you or a loved one, help on a test or an athletic event; we’re constantly asking God for things. Sometimes those prayers are answered and sometimes they’re not in the way we had hoped.
Solomon gets the opportunity to ask and know that whatever he asks will be given to him. Imagine that next time you pray! His response is very unique and amazing in itself. By asking for wisdom and knowledge he is showing God that he is already wise, God is just going to increase that (and give him other things). Solomon was wise enough to know that he’s not wise enough to rule God’s people in the right way. He asks for something that not only will benefit himself but something that he will use to benefit others.
In our current reality, our prayers may be filled with a lot of ‘asks’ (I know mine are). ‘Please help this virus to go away.’ ‘Please let me go back to school or work.’ ‘Please be with those who are sick or are suffering because of this virus.’ I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with asking God for things, it is a necessary part of our prayer life. What I want you to take from this story is maybe a new outlook on prayer and conversation with God. Am I praying for things that only affect me, or am I praying for others? Do most of my prayers have to do with asking God for things, or am I thanking and praising him too? Solomon is very wise in the way he approaches his conversation with God. I think we can do likewise and be more thoughtful when we go to God in prayer, especially during a time like this.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
This week the ‘story’ I want to focus on is actually four stories that are all connected and happen right in a row in the book of Mark. If you were reading the book of Mark and had never read the Bible and knew nothing about Christianity, you probably wouldn’t realize that Jesus was the Son of God right away. In fact, many of his disciples didn’t really grasp that fact until later on in Jesus’ ministry. You see, Jesus does perform miracles, gives sermons, and talks in parables, but he doesn’t come right out of the gate and say ‘I am the Son of God’. He reveals that over time through his words and actions. Often times it is the latter (miracles) that really get people’s attention.
What I like about the book of Mark is that his gospel is somewhat of a simple yet vivid account of Jesus’ ministry. He often focuses on what Jesus did more than what he said. This is very clear in the story line I want to look at this week. It begins with Mark 4:35 and ends at 5:43. Here is a synopsis of the four stories:
It begins with Jesus and his disciples on one side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has just finished teaching and as a way to escape the crowds, he and his disciples get into a boat to cross to the other side. While Jesus slept in the boat, a furious storm arose. His disciples woke him up and he calmed the storm. Mark says “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.’” (Mark 4:41).
When they land on the other side of the lake, a man who is possessed by evil spirits comes out of the tombs to meet Jesus. You see no one was able to control this possessed man. They had tried to chain him, but he only broke the chains. They had tried to subdue him, but could not. So as a result, they had just left him to live in a cemetery basically, to keep him away from others. What’s more interesting is that he calls himself ‘Legion’ meaning that he was possessed by more than one spirit. Jesus casts the spirits out of the man and into a herd of pigs nearby.
Jesus and the disciples get back into the boat and cross back over to the other side. They are greeted again by large crowds. Jairus, a very well-known man, pleads for Jesus to come and heal his sick daughter. On their way to Jairus’ house, a woman who had been sick for twelve years reaches out and touches Jesus’ clock, she is instantly healed. Jesus then tells her that her faith has healed her. After arriving at Jairus’ house, it is revealed that his daughter has died. Jesus goes into their house anyways and raises her from the dead.
In all this time, this span of two or three days, Jesus does not give a sermon. He does not do any sort of teaching. He does not make any claims about who he is. He just does. We often think of Jesus as a teacher, someone who spoke a lot in parables. Mark’s gospel however is more concerned with what Jesus did.
When we look at our own lives right now, I think there is something we can learn. What if we did more with our faith rather than talked about it? What does doing something with our faith right now even look like? Right now may seem like a better time to talk about our faith rather than act on it because of our limitations of what we can do. However, there’s probably something that we can do. Maybe it’s our prayer life, maybe it’s how we treat our family members. What does God want you to do with your faith in this current season of life?
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
Holy Week is the week that starts with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter. Each day is significant and celebrated in its own unique way. When we think about Holy Week and the stories that go with it, we often think of Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, Jesus’ crucifixion, and resurrection on Easter. All of these are important and rightfully celebrated. There is one story that occurs during Holy Week (presumably Friday after Christ’s death) that often goes overlooked that I want to focus on today.
The story of Joseph of Arimathea is told in all four Gospels. This is the account from the book of Mark:
“It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of Council, who was himself waiting for the Kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bough some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.” (Mark 15:42-47).
Joseph of Arimathea was a member of Council, which was the Sanhedrin. This is the Jewish council that convicted Jesus and brought him for crucifixion before Pilate. So Joseph either disagreed with their decision or he was not present for Jesus’ trial. Can you imagine being a part of the group that was ultimately responsible for Christ’s death? However, this was not the end of Joseph’s story.
What I like about this version of the story from Mark, is his description of Joseph ‘boldly’ going to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. For this reason; it was extremely rare for the remains of an executed prisoner to be handed over by the Romans. Usually the bodies were left unburied or at best laid out in a field as a reminder to all why they had been executed. In the rare chance the body would be released, it was only to a close family member. Joseph of Arimathea was not family, in fact he was part of the group that called for Jesus to be executed, and now he is ‘boldly’ asking for Christ’s body so that he can properly bury it in a tomb.
As mentioned before, Joseph either disagreed with the other Jewish leaders or he was not present at the meeting. Either way, it’s obvious that he did not put up a big enough fight about it because Jesus was ultimately crucified. It is after Christ’s death that Joseph realizes the importance of all this and acts. Since he was such a prominent member of the Jewish council, it would have been known that he took the body and spent money on it for Christ’s burial. We don’t know for sure but this action probably jeopardized his position on the council. He is ‘boldly’ taking a step of faith and putting his reputation on the line for the sake of Jesus.
As we come to grips with our new reality while also remembering why Christ died for us this week, I want you to reflect on how you might be living into a bold new life. How are you going to celebrate Easter during this strange time in our lives? What might be a bold step for you to take that others might notice? This Easter will feel different than any other you have ever experienced. How can you go boldly into it and remember and celebrate what it’s all about?
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation:
As we continue to look at stories in the Bible that may have something to teach us during this trying time, we are going to look at the story of Samuel from the Old Testament. You may be familiar with some of Samuel’s story, his story follows the time of the Judges and he ultimately anoints Israel’s first king, Saul and King David.
However, I want to zero in on a specific story that happens when Samuel is very young, probably around the age of twelve or thirteen. Samuel’s mother had made a promise to God that if he were to give her a son, she would ‘return’ him to the Lord. Indeed, she did have a son (Samuel) and at a young age he was brought to work and learn from the priest Eli. When this story takes place, Samuel has probably been working for and learning from Eli for almost ten years.
Samuel 3:1 – 10
“The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, who eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’
But Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’
‘My son,’ Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’”
Samuel was probably around the age of a middle school student when this happens. He was young and it is obvious that he’s a little bit thrown off by the circumstances. Remember, this is not his home and he doesn’t know who is calling him. He’s a bit lost and confused by everything. It takes him three times and the guidance of Eli to figure out that it is the Lord that is calling him.
I think we all feel a bit lost and confused by everything we are experiencing right now; global pandemic, online home school, not being allowed to leave our house, etc. For lack of a better term our ‘normal’ lives have been thrown off course.
I wonder if God is trying to speak to us in a unique way during this time. In the passage above it mentions that ‘In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions’. That sentence resonates right now because it’s hard for some to see God at work right now, you could even use the word ‘rare’.
What if we, like Samuel, are just a bit lost and confused and it may take three times and some advice to see God during this time? However, I can assure you that he is here! Maybe we’re just not catching it. Maybe we are experiencing God and think that it is Eli. What I mean by that is, maybe we are experiencing God and we just don’t know it’s him.
This week I want you to take a moment and think of your unique, confusing life that’s been thrown off course a little bit. Where can you see God at work in your life? Where can you see God at work in the world? How has your new reality hindered or helped you experience God on a day to day basis? He is still there, calling out our name, maybe we’re just looking in the wrong places to find him.
Questions for discussion or contemplation:
When reading the Bible there are often sections or entire books that we skip over. For whatever reason we don’t read them or pay much attention to them. I think this is true for a lot of us with Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We know the stories of Genesis and the Exodus. Often, from here, we skip right to Joshua. It makes sense a little bit because we’ve convinced ourselves that those three books in between are just old laws and lists of people. However, there are some stories in those books, one in particular that I wanted to write about today.
The story is about a man named Balaam, and it happens in Numbers chapter 22. To give you a little context, this happens during the Israelites' forty years of wandering after leaving Egypt. They were constantly at war with different enemies because they were reclaiming the land that God had promised them.
They had just defeated the Amorites and were marching towards Moab. The king of Moab is terrified because he does not believe he can win a war against the Israelites. So what do you do if you’re the king of Moab and you’re about to fight a war you don’t think you can win? Well, the obvious answer is to summon a sorcerer to put a curse on your enemy. You may think I’m joking but that’s what the king does, he summons Balaam (who is a sorcerer, diviner, magician) to put a curse on the Israelites.
Balaam is no ordinary sorcerer. He is internationally known and famous. He is the best of the best when it comes to sorcery. He also doesn’t live in Moab so the King sends messengers to Balaam to have him curse the Israelites. After the messengers explain the situation to Balaam he tells them to spend the night and he will give them an answer in the morning. That night God comes to Balaam and tells him not to go with these men and curse Israel, which then Balaam tells the messengers in the morning.
You can imagine the King of Moab is not happy about this. So he sends more distinguished messengers (and probably more money) back to Balaam. This time God tells him to go but do only do what God tells him, meaning that he can go to Moab but don’t curse the Israelites.
The next morning Balaam gets on his donkey and begins the trip to Moab. God now becomes angry because Balaam has it in his mind that he now WILL curse the Israelites. He sends an angel to stand in the road to oppose him. At this point only the donkey can see the angel and it turns off the road into a field. Balaam beats the donkey to get it back on the road.
Then the angel stood in a narrow path of a vineyard with walls on both sides. The donkey again sees this and presses up against the wall which crushes Balaam’s foot. So naturally he beats it again to get it moving.
The angel finally moves ahead and stands in a narrow place where there is no room to turn. The donkey sees the angel again and lies down in the path because there is nowhere to go. Balaam is furious now and starts to beat the donkey.
Here’s where to fun starts. Numbers chapter 22:28 says “Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I don’t to you to make you beat me three time?’” That’s right everyone, there’s a talking donkey in the Bible. It’s at this point that Balaam’s eyes are open and he too see the Angel. He realizes that God knows what he is thinking and that he is wrong. He falls down and apologizes and promises to now only say what God tells him to say.
That is the story of Balaam. A fun story that often gets overlooked in the Bible, but what does it have to do with us? Is there anything we can learn from a story about a magician and a talking donkey? I would argue that there is. Plain and simple God is trying to tell Balaam ‘No’. He sends his angel three times and even opens the mouth of a donkey for Balaam to ‘get it’.
We often think in terms of ‘what is God trying to tell me here’, or ‘what does God want me to do’. Have you ever thought in these terms, ‘is God trying to tell me no about something?’ Maybe it’s 'no' to a temptation. Maybe it’s 'no' to an unhealthy relationship. Maybe it’s 'no' to something else.
We are all spending more time at home and in isolation these past few weeks. Chances are your ‘screen’ time is going up as well. Are you developing any unhealthy habits that God might be saying ‘no’ to? We all need phones, computers, and other devices to stay in touch and do school work right now and there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology. However, I wonder if during our new temporary reality, we develop new habits that God might be saying ‘no’ to.
Questions for discussion/contemplation:
What am I doing here? It's probably a question you're asking yourself lately. Why am I at home? Why can't I see my friends? You may even get to the point to ask 'When can I go back to school?'.
Reality and life seem to be ever changing right now, but your questions (although unique for our time) are not new over the course of history. You probably know the name and book Ezekiel from the Bible. He ministry and message was to people who were asking similar questions.
To give you an idea of when and where Ezekiel was written, here's a little backstory:
After the time of David and Solomon the kingdom of Israel split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In 722 BC the Assyrian empire conquered and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. So now there is only the southern kingdom of Judah left of David's old kingdom.
In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar (from Babylon) has overtaken the Assyrians and Egypt for control of the Middle East. He lays seize to Jerusalem (in the southern kingdom) in 597 BC and exiles about 10,000 Jews (including Ezekiel) to Babylon. After eleven more years of fighting, the city of Jerusalem was breached and plundered. On August 14, 586 BC, the city and the temple were burned.
As mentioned, Ezekiel is one of the 10,000 Jews that was taken from his home and exiled to Babylon. He was a member of a priestly family (so if he wasn’t exiled, and if there wasn’t a war) he probably would have been a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem. This is someone whose plans and future were drastically changed through no choice of his own. What he thought his future would be and what actually came to pass were two very different things. Sound familiar?
Just like your life right now. You didn't plan on being home from school in mid-March, you didn't plan on being isolated to your house, you didn't plan on being 'here' right now; but you are. Through no choice of your own, this is your reality right now.
Ezekiel is God's messenger to the Jews in exile in Babylon. His book has three main sections:
Chapters 1 - 24: Recall that Ezekiel was taken from his home in 597 BC but Jerusalem was not destroyed until 586 BC. So we have this eleven year period that the Jews in exile still have hope that Judah would win the war against Babylon, meaning they could return home. Ezekiel however has another message for them. Their only hope is that God is with them and that they should live at peace with themselves and God during their exile. Sound familiar? Exile and isolation are not the same thing but they can feel similar. My guess is a lot of Jews were asking those same questions; 'what am I doing here?', 'when can I go back?', that we all are right now. Ezekiel's message to them is to be at peace with God where you are right now.
Chapters 25 - 32: Jerusalem has now fallen and the Jews are in mourning. They no longer have a home to go back to. God tells Ezekiel that he must be an example for others not to mourn for Jerusalem. Just because their home was now gone did not mean their hope in God needed to be gone too. They wanted to return home, to 'normal'. That was not going to happen now. We don't know what kind of lives we will be returning to when this is all said and done. What Ezekiel is telling us is that even when our lives change, our hope in God does not need to too.
Chapters 33-48: Once news was received that Jerusalem had fallen, Ezekiel's message turns to the Lord's consoling word of hope for his people. They would experience revival, restoration, and a glorious future as the redeemed and perfect kingdom of God. We don't know what the future holds for us, but we do know that we are redeemed in God and that he does have a future for us.
The book of Ezekiel can seem kind of rough, but remember what Carly said in the video. She hoped that none of her students ever have to identify with the book. It is God’s promise and commitment to his people during times of trauma, upheaval, and disorder. Ezekiel was literally taken from his home; his future plans crushed, and had no future hope. In that space God comes in and offers hope. He reassures Ezekiel and the exiled Jews that he is still their God and will not abandon them.
I think this is the main message we can take from Ezekiel and apply to our lives. We all will experience times of trauma, upheaval, and disorder in our lives. During those times it is often hard to see God at work. We will probably not be ripped from our homes as Ezekiel was, in fact the opposite has come to pass. Most of us are stuck in our homes.
Whatever it is, the book of Ezekiel is there to remind us that in the midst of all of that, God continues to love us and offer us hope. It’s hard to see sometimes, in fact, that’s why God called Ezekiel in the first place.
Questions to discuss or contemplate: