He possessed no splendid form for us to see, no desirable appearance. He was despised and avoided by others; a man who suffered, who knew sickness well. Like someone from whom people hid their faces, he was despised, and we didn’t think about him. (Isaiah 53.2b-3 CEB)
Change & habits: How to Form a Habit, a Scientific Approach
“… habits are reinforced by a three-part loop: trigger, behavior, and reward. The trigger tells you—consciously or unconsciously—to start the behavior, the behavior is the habit or action, and the reward is the benefit that you get from that action. You can see the loop: That coveted reward teaches us to continue the behavior, over and over again, until it turns into a habit.”
Christ, Ephesians 4, Psalm 68 & nonviolence: A Christological Reading of Psalm 68 [required reading]
“… what is startling about this imagery is how Jesus wins his victory over his enemies non-violently. On the cross Jesus is disarming and defeating his enemies–sin, death and the Devil–and taking them as captives in war.”
Churches of Christ, humility, leadership & the Spirit of God: Fix Me, Jesus: Jesus’ Plans for the Churches of Christ
“If God answered the prayer, ‘Fix me, Jesus,’ at the congregational level, what would a congregation under repair look like? what stories might we be able to tell?”
History, Middle East, politics, President Obama & Vietnam: Will Syria Be Obama’s Vietnam?
“War has a forward motion of its own. Most of Johnson’s major steps in the escalation in Vietnam were in response to unforeseen obstacles, setbacks and shortcomings. There’s no reason the same dynamic couldn’t repeat itself in 2014.”
Learning & study: Better Ways to Learn
“‘Most of us study and hope we are doing it right,’ Mr. Carey says. ‘But we tend to have a static and narrow notion of how learning should happen.’ … The first step toward better learning is to simply change your study environment from time to time. … “
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—because it is written, Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed. He redeemed us so that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, and that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3.13-14 CEB)
NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (April 13) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.
Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.
To help us sense and appreciate the full spectrum of meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ.
These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon.
• The message of the cross is … the power of God for those of us who are being saved. (1 Cor. 1.18)
• Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—because it is written, “Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.” (Gal. 3.13)
• God forbid that I should boast about anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through him, and I have been crucified to the world. (Gal. 6.14)
• He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross … (Eph. 2.16)
• He brought peace through the blood of his cross. (Col. 1.20)
• … he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2.8)
• He carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed … (1 Pet. 2.24)
Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.
1. Do you have a favorite color? If so, what is it? Why is it your favorite?
2. Overall, are you more of a visual learner or an auditory learner?
3. Think of someone you love. What color are their eyes? “Their eyes often seem to ___.”
These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.
1. Chew on Galatians 6.14 (especially vs.14b). What is the apostle Paul saying to us here?
2. Consider Eph. 2.16 and Col. 1.20. How did (does) Christ’s cross bring people together?
These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.
1. What one color dominates your sense of what Christ accomplished on his cross? Why?
2. Just as we need Four Gospels, we need multiple colors to truly see the cross. How so?
3. With #1 in view, has your dominant color of his cross changed with age? Experience?
4. Picture Christ’s crucifixion. Does his resurrection and ascension re-color things?
5. Visualize taking up your cross and following Jesus. What colors do you see? Explain.
These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.
1. Assign the color you “see” in each paragraph of Mk. 15.16-40. Let such prompt prayer.
2. As you pray through each day, allow colors of whatever stands out to you or strikes you to prompt your mindfulness of, and reflection on, Christ’s cross, and yours.
NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church tomorrow (Sept. 8). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning from Luke 9.23-25 (and related texts). This sermon is entitled “Deny Yourself” and is another installment in the Jesus: Master & Commander series.
To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.
All Scripture texts reproduced below, unless otherwise noted, are from the CEB.
To call our attention, and our conscience, to some of our Lord’s direct charges to us.
Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them. (Matthew 10.37-39)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? (Matthew 16.24-26)
After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? (Mark 8.34-37)
Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them. What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives? (Luke 9.23-25)
Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. Whoever serves me must follow me. (John 12.25-26a)
Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.
1. What food or drink do you find to be virtually irresistible?
2. What do you think of the death penalty, capital punishment? Why?
These questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.
1. Compare Matt. 16.24, Mk. 8.34, and Lk. 9.23. How do they differ from each other?
2. From these texts, make the case that self-denial is needed to come to Christ initially.
3. What does it mean to “take up” your “cross” and “follow?” What does it not mean?
4. What role does love play in self-denial, cross-bearing, and following Christ?
These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.
1. What does Jesus’ command to deny self say about us as human beings? About God?
2. Why is it so difficult to deny ourselves?
3. What are some remarks you often hear among Christians that, whether wittingly or unwittingly, water down true Christ-following self-denial and cross-bearing?
4. Compare and contrast how self-denial, cross-bearing, and following Christ might have different, daily implications for Christians in the U.S. and say, North Korea.
5. Specifically, where do we as Christ’s disciples find the attitude and strength required to daily deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus?
6. Name some practical steps a disciple can take to grow in execution of self-denial.
Australia & gun control: I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too. by John Howard
“… nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife.”
Children, culture, guns, heroes, power & violence: Giving Up Chuck and the Daisy Red Ryder [required reading]
“My heroes have always been powerful. Heroes are and should be powerful, but how you define power… that makes all the difference. … The American definition of “power that solves problems” is intertwined with the cultural mystique of guns and violence. Once my definition of power changed, a few years ago, my heroes did as well …”
Christ’s cross, discipleship & violence: A Meditation on the Cross by Paul Smith [required reading]
“I’ll say it again. If you are nailed to a cross you cannot hold a gun. If your hand is wrapped around an instrument of death you cannot grasp the hand that was pierced with an instrument of death.”
Deception, fake quotations, & lies: Did Jefferson Really Say That? Why Bogus Quotations Matter in Gun Debate
* “‘The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.’ … staff ‘have not found any evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote’ those words.”
Drone strikes: The Guilty Conscience of a Drone Pilot Who Killed a Child
“The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported last August that in Pakistan’s tribal areas alone, there are at least 168 credible reports of children being killed in drone strikes.”
Faith & guns: If I Can’t Take My Gun, I’m Not Going by Neal Whitlow
“Modern weapons and an individual’s right to possess them are not dealt with in scripture. All the texts dealing with warfare don’t seem to apply. However, there a few principles from the New Testament that inform my thinking on the subject.
“It is not the responsibility of God’s people to overwhelm the darkness by force of arms. We use other tools to fulfill our mission. Our weapons are truth, faith, patience, love, forgiveness, and hope. … God’s people defend the defenseless. … Jesus calls us to abandon our compulsions of power and control. Let’s face it. A big part of the reason that Americans can’t let go of our guns is we are enamored with the feelings of power and invincibility they give us.”
Faith & nonviolence: Jesus’ Way Doesn’t Work by Tim Archer [required reading]
“The church heard Jesus’ message. They didn’t run away. They didn’t fight. They endured patiently. For more than two hundred years. They suffered. They died. They loved their enemies and prayed for them. They turned the other cheek. And they were killed for it.
“Because Jesus’ way doesn’t work. It doesn’t protect your from suffering. It doesn’t protect you from death. (well, not immediately) It doesn’t bring your enemies to their knees. It doesn’t protect the weak nor avenge the innocent. In the eyes of the world, Jesus’ way is a complete failure.
“If you’re looking for something that works, don’t look to Jesus’ teachings. But remember one thing: if you choose what makes sense to men, you’re choosing something that God despises.”
Gun control & President Obama’s plan: * The President’s Plan to Reduce Gun Violence [required reading; download the .pdf file]; * Joe Biden Addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Jan. 17 [55 min. video; skip to 10 min., 20 sec. to begin]
* “Download the full text of the President’s plan.”
* Scroll down to the Opening Plenary Luncheon to find this video.
Gun control & public opinion: In Gun Control Debate, Several Options Draw Majority Support
“Fully 85% of Americans favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, with comparable support from Republicans, Democrats and independents. Similarly, 80% support laws to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns, with broad support across party lines. But this bipartisan consensus breaks down when it comes to other proposals.”
* “… the majority of gun legislation in the US is enacted at the state level. That has brought broad variations across the country, with states taking different approaches to issues ranging from sales, permits, licensing, self-defence and carry laws.”
* “Inevitably, a bill like Wyoming’s has been filed in Texas.”
Guns & self-defense: * How Often Do We Use Guns in Self-Defense?
“We don’t know exactly how frequently defensive gun use occurs.”
Guns & the escalation of danger: Lessons From Guns and a Goose by Nicholas D. Kristof
“… that episode … underscores the role that guns too often play in our society: an instrument not of protection but of escalation. … One study, reported in Southern Medical Journal in 2010, found that a gun is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member or guest than in the death of an intruder. Another study in 1993 found that gun ownership creates nearly a threefold risk of a homicide in the owner’s household.”
Gun ownership: Why I Don’t Own a Gun by Brian Zahand
“I don’t own a gun because I don’t need one and I don’t want one. And that is perfectly acceptable. Please try to be at peace with this. As I said, I don’t own golf clubs either, and that’s bound to upset some people too.”
Gun violence & statistics:* Lack Of Up-To-Date Research Complicates Gun Debate by Carrie Johnson; * How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown? [interactive map]
* “Public health research dried up more than a decade ago after Congress restricted the use of some federal money to pay for those studies.”
* “The answer to the simple question in that headline is surprisingly hard to come by. So Slate and the Twitter feed @GunDeaths are collecting data for our crowdsourced interactive. This data is necessarily incomplete. But the more people who are paying attention, the better the data will be. You can help us draw a more complete picture of gun violence in America. If you know about a gun death in your community that isn’t represented here, please tweet @GunDeaths with a citation. (If you’re not on Twitter, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.)”
Military & prayer: How Do We Pray for the Troops? by Craig M. Watts [required reading]
“The language of public prayer should express a reality shaped by the creative and redemptive activity of God, not simply one that can be read from the pages of the newspapers or heard from the mouths of either marketers or politicians. …
“So when I stand to pray in worship I never pray that God protect our troops for the simple fact that we don’t have any troops. We do not gather as Americans who plead on behalf of national interests or partisan favor before either God or the world. We are the church. Who we are has been determined by whose we are. We are people of God. We gather as the body of Christ united with Christ’s body throughout the world. Yet I do pray for the protection of soldiers and civilians alike. I pray indiscriminately, without regard to borders because all people are creatures made by the hand of God and are so loved by God that God sent God’s only begotten Son on their behalf. May they be preserved from danger and be restored to circumstances where they can live without the threat of violence either to them or from them.”
Christ, Ephesians 5, marriage & the church: Is Marriage Really an Illustration of Christ & the Church? by Kristen Rosser [required reading]
“… the specific picture/illustration given them to imitate is not one of authority and leadership, but of giving and sacrifice. Husbands were told to love their wives the way Christ loved the church when He gave Himself up for her—gave up His power and position to come down to the level of a servant— so that He could raise the church up to His holiness. Husbands’ imitation of this picture of Christ would not involve holding onto their society-given rights and powers, but emptying themselves of them.”
Community, food & social class: Pay-as-You-Can Restaurants Dish Up Dignity in Denver [fascinating!]
“Going out for a meal tends to segregate age, race, and social class, based on one’s ability to pay. At Café 180, the serrated knife that separates wealthy and poor is laid down next to plate, fork, and spoon on the table of fellowship. Here is a radical culinary experiment in dignity and community. … as I pull out my wallet, the employee asks an odd question, one that stays with me all afternoon: ‘What would you like to donate today?'”
“After more than four decades of a failed experiment, the human cost has become too high. It is time to consider the decriminalization of drug use and the drug market.”
Les Miserables: The New Testament Parable that is Les Miserables by Marta Layton
“… the conflict between the two main characters – Jean Valjean and Javert – resembles a problem central to Christian morality: the tension between mercy and the law.”
Ministry: Jim Martin: An Interview about Life and Work [required reading]
“Who are the people who have influenced you in the way you both do and think about ministry? … How do you keep abreast of contemporary events, cultural shifts, etc.? … If you could visit with one of your favorite authors who is now deceased, who might that be? … How do you organize your life/ministry for the week? What seems to be beneficial? … What do you do intentionally to keep your soul alive? … What about your ministry brings you joy?”
Writing: On Writing by Joshua Graves
” … writing won’t change your life. … Writing is hard work … Your goal should not be to “publish” … Writing is an act of faith and discovery. … Writing is always merely an extension of your life. … Writing is a communal experience. … Writing is confession. Writing is about telling the truth as you see the truth.”