James tells us that there’s a way to approach our future plans that might be rightly described as “boastful,” “arrogant,” “sin,” and “evil.” Is this excessive? Is James exaggerating here? Someone might retort, “There are a lot of very real evils in this world, and how I talk about tomorrow is definitely not one of them!” How can you be so sure? Let’s see how James makes his case. Whether you’re a Christian or if you’re just investigating Christianity, take a look at the way you approach the future, the way you make plans. What does it tell you about who God is to you and who you are to yourself?
Study Guide: 01.03.10 Planning
We are starting a new congregation that will focus its resources, energy, relationships, money, and time upon one part of the city: Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, and Adams Morgan, three historic neighborhoods in the city. But what will it be like? One way to explain its purpose and vision is to say we want the new community to be like the early communities Jesus gathered around himself. Matthew 4 gives us a quick snapshots of Jesus’ ministry. Here are five characteristics of his community which we want to reflect in our new neighborhood community.
Study Guide: 11.22.09 A New Community for the Neighborhood
When Jesus addresses those who are persecuted, many questions may come to mind: Who is he referring to? We live in a country that tries to promote religious freedom, so is this even relevant to me? Is this a get-out-of-jail-free card for religious fanatics? What could persecution in Washington, DC look like? Am I doing something wrong if I’m a Christian and I never face any opposition for my faith? And how can Jesus dare to tell those who are suffering to “rejoice”? With this strange beatitude, Jesus answers these questions and prepares his followers for persecution.
Every person, culture, city, or family has their own set of Beatitudes—some understanding of the kind of person God especially smiles upon. Jesus challenges our assumptions and values as he describes the sort of person that is truly “blessed.” Where does he start? With the “poor in spirit.” Who does that refer to? Why is it so hard to be that way? What does Jesus promise such people? Jesus teaches us a lot with a few words, but in many ways his teaching boils down to a surprising but most freeing message: God loves the weak.
Study Guide: 07.12.09 Beatitudes: Poor In Spirit
What was wrong with building a great city and a massive tower? The answer if found in what they really built upon— not bricks and mortar but the motives of the human heart? What was its foundation? It was the spirit of self-promotion— the lust to make a name for ourselves. The story of Babel teaches us the nature of this attitude, as well as the way God changes our hearts.
Study Guide: 06.28.09 Foundations of Faith: The Architecture Of Self-promotion
The last week of Jesus’ life is a story of false impressions- misconceptions about who Jesus was and what he came to do. When we read Mark’s account of Jesus’ final week before being crucified, it’s clear that no one gets him. And then we see this rare account of someone finally “getting it”: a quiet, nameless woman who somehow understood that Jesus was everything ultimate to her. What did she get? How do you know you’re beginning to understand the death and resurrection of Jesus? This passage gives us a few clues.
Sermon Guide: 04.05.09 Easter 2009: Wasted
We know that the endings of stories matter. They’re the final contact an author has with his readers, the last chance to make an impression with the audience. It’s also where the plot reaches its climax or the tension of the plot is finally resolved. So is it significant that the ending of the book of Acts is a little unexpected and anti-climactic? Luke closes this grand narrative with an unlikely arrival, messenger, closing dialogue, and closing words. These reflect some of the unique (and unlikely?) features of the Christian gospel.
Study Guide: 03.22.09 Good News On the Move: Unlikely Ending
At the end of the year, we typically plan for the upcoming year and reflect upon the past one. Naturally, it’s not unusual to experience regret at this time—to feel sorrow or disappointment over a sin, an honest mistake, or a missed opportunity. How does the gospel enable us to handle regret differently? How does it provide true healing of our regrets? The grace of God gives us a unique ability to embrace our flawed pasts and to be people with “a past.” Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church gives us a model of how this is so.
We live in a world of broken promises. As a result, it’s hard for us to imagine, let alone hope for, a relationship of unbroken promises—a true relationship. It’s not surprising that we therefore have a hard time believing that even God would keep his word. However, right in the middle of one of the bleakest chapters in the whole Bible, we find God unexpectedly making—and many years later in a manger and on a Roman cross, keeping—his grand promise to redeem the world. The God of Advent is a promising God. Have you encountered this God?
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