Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Great Expectations - Dan Bender

Have you ever known that an event, gathering, conversation, and or situation was going to be coming and you have built up in your mind what it would be like only for it to be completely different than what you have imagined?

I am sure that you have. I know that I have. In fact, this happens way more than we think that it does, and I am wondering why we can miscalculate what something might be like as often as it happens?

It is a natural thing to do, I think. To overestimate and underestimate. To create scenarios with bits of information and turn that into entire experiences…In a lot of ways, this is an incredible strength that we as humans possess. When this superpower is harnessed, it is capable of doing amazing things. But, when it is unchecked it can be a big problem.

How many things have you talked yourself out of before you ever even got there? How many relationships have you not started because of what you thought that person was like without actually meeting them? How many opportunities have been left on the table?

I am glad that Jesus didn’t get cold feet.

I am glad that even though He knew what was coming, He stayed the path.

Where we would have miscalculated, He counted the cost.

Where we would have walked away, He walked towards.

This Sunday we enter into Holy Week. Another time to remember the totally remarkable way that Jesus walked in the face of everything He knew was coming. You see, Jesus did what we could never do: Lived in perfect obedience, lived in perfect integrity, and lived on purpose.

This is why we celebrate.

We were lost, wanderers, unable to save ourselves.

Now we are found, rooted, and saved by Jesus.

May you find a deeper, richer, fuller knowledge of what Jesus has done for you this Holy Week.

Some Questions to center ourselves with this week:

 A. Think of a situation where things have not gone as you had anticipated:

1. What was the most upsetting part of that experience?

2. Were there any moments that were redemptive?

3. Did you take a posture that was open or closed to the change in plans?
B. Change is a difficult thing for us to deal with sometimes:

1. What is it about change that you don’t like – be very specific.

2. What is it about change that you do like – be very specific.

Read the following to get your heart and mind centered in our entrance to Holy Week this Palm Sunday, The Triumphal Entry in each Gospel, and text your questions to 262-287-1583!

Matthew 21:1-11
Mark 11:1-11
Luke 19:28-44
John 12:12-19

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

American Graffiti - Dan Bender

 You may or may not have known this, but memes have been around for a long time. It is not just something that we have coined in the last decade, but there is a long and illustrious history of memes. You may have seen this before, and you may know its history. This little guy here is named Kilroy, and he was here. 

  Borrowed from Wikipedia: Kilroy was here is a meme[1] that became popular during World War II, typically seen in graffiti. Its origin is debated, but the phrase and the distinctive accompanying doodle became associated with GIs in the 1940s: a bald-headed man (sometimes depicted as having a few hairs) with a prominent nose peeking over a wall with his fingers clutching the wall.  "Mr. Chad" or just "Chad" was the version that became popular in the United Kingdom. The character of Chad may have been derived from a British cartoonist in 1938, possibly pre-dating "Kilroy was here". According to Dave Wilton, "Sometime during the war, Chad and Kilroy met, and in the spirit of Allied unity merged, with the British drawing appearing over the American phrase."

 It was interesting where he turned up. It was interesting how often he turned up. One person who was interviewed said that it was a morale booster when a group or soldiers would come through an area and see this little guy peeking out at them. It was like a way point marker saying, this ground has been covered, proceed. 

 Fast forward 80 years. 

 There is a scene in Avengers End Game where Captain America is in armed conflict with Thanos and the battle is raging. Just as Captain America seems to be winning and is really taking it to Thanos, he is destabilized and knocked to the ground; and it is near curtains for him. It seems as though he has been beaten. Then he hears in his ear piece… “On your left.” This is Sam. You can tell there is a moment of disbelief, on everyone’s part. Sam shows up at the most unexpected time and brings the cavalry. The rest of it is cinematic history. It’s one of my favorite moments I have ever seen on the big screen. 

 There are moments and things that transcend time. This is largely because they capture the feeling or essence of a situation. Have you ever noticed that for something that is TRUE, it is not NEW? There is something long lasting, survival like and enduring about TRUTH. It captures moments, yet also transcends moments. This week as we prepare to talk a bit about some transcendent moments in the Word of Truth, I’d like you to interact with some of these questions:

1. What are some Biblical truths or Scriptures that you go back to time and time again for inspiration, comfort or a motivational kick? 

 2. Think back to a time in your life where you were “lost in the moment” – Get really into this question. What did it feel like? What did it smell like? What did taste like? If applicable…. What was it about that moment where it either stopped time or you can instantly transport back there in your mind/heart?

 3. Take some time and search out the Bible story, book, excerpt, etc. that has been an example of this in your walk of faith. Why do you think you connect with this? What Truth is embedded here that draws you to it? 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

"Oh yea, I had a dog like that too..." - Henry Knapp

Nothing helps drive a point home better than good illustration. Public speakers (and this certainly includes preachers) are well aware of the value of a good story or personal anecdote to help lock an idea into someone’s head. While the majority of my time sermon-prepping is taken up with biblical exegesis—making sure I understand correctly the scriptural text—a good part of my time is spent trying to find the best way to communicate the main points of a passage; and good communication frequently involves finding good examples to illustrate the text.

Of course, there are dangers, many dangers, in using an illustration to supplement a biblical text. All too often, people remember the cute story and forget the point. Or, they identify with the illustration so strongly that they reject the application. Or, they get lost in the story, forgetting that it ties to a biblical principle. It is not unusual for someone to come up to me following a sermon and identify with a minor illustration or example I used and clearly miss the point.

After all, a good illustration is one in which everyone can identify, hence, everyone brings their own background to the story. If I use my dog as an example to illustrate a biblical point, people can easily get distracted by the dog itself.  What kind of dog? Did you like the dog? How much is your dog like my dog?

Sometimes illustrations can be distractions.

But, used well, a good story not only emphasizes a previous point, but it can teach us as well. This seems to be the root of Jesus’ use of parables. In the Gospels, Jesus illustrates His teaching with 30-40 parables (depending on how you count them). Like a great illustrator, Jesus uses short, pithy stories to drive home His Gospel message; and, like a great communicator, His parables both illustrate and teach us about the Kingdom of God. The parables challenge us, teach us, and engage us.

However, the negative is possible as well. The parables are often misunderstood. Sometimes we can’t get past the “homey” nature of a parable.  Sometimes we wonder who people in the parable represent.  Sometimes we get the point but fail to extend it to the Kingdom teaching Jesus has in mind.

With some intentional care, these challenges can often be overcome. Remembering that the parables reflect Jesus’ own culture, that they are not analogies where everything parallels something else, that there is usually just one main point being illustrated, that Jesus’ interest is in the Gospel and the Kingdom of God… keeping these in mind will usually help us not miss the point of the parable, the goal of the illustration. This doesn’t demand hard work, but it does mean that we need to read the parables carefully, as we should all Scripture.

I encourage you to join us this week in worship as we explore “The Parable of the Soils” together!

Read Mark 4:1-20.

1. How does the setting of this parable by the sea, with Jesus on a boat, the crowd on the shore, give insight into Jesus’ teaching?

2. Who is the “sower” in Jesus’ illustration? What are the options, and how does the parable shift depending on who you think the sower might be?

3. In verse 14, the seed is identified with “the Word.” How does this describe Jesus’ ministry? If the seed was linked with Jesus’ healings or actions, how would that change the point of the parable?

4. All four types of “soils” or places where the seed falls can be pictured as the willingness of the heart of a hearer to respond to God’s Word. How might you “nick-name” the different soils? What adjectives might you apply to the word “heart” to describe them?

5. The section in the middle, verses 10-13, describes why Jesus teaches in parables. This is easily considered one of the “hard sayings” of Jesus. What questions do these verses evoke? How would you explain this to a young Christian?