Monday, April 24, 2023

"Donut Miss It" - Dan Bender

Everybody says they can remember where they were or what they were doing when major events happened in the past. I am no different. When I was in college, we decided it was a good idea in the first week or so into the school year to try to stay out all night long and get in line to be the first people who were in line when the Cranberry Krispy Kreme was opened. I can't say that ultimately it was the best decision, as staying up all night usually isn't. But we did have a lot of fun playing ultimate Frisbee in the adjacent Kmart parking lot.

As the morning drew nigh, the line started to grow, and we did in fact get pretty close to being the first ones. We were only beat out by this one lady who brought a tent; and, apparently, this is what she does. She travels to the openings whenever they happen. So, on the one hand we didn't get to be first, but we did get on the news.

There is likely a video clip out there in the ether of the group of us with a megaphone leading different cheers to the people who were behind us in line. Making a pure spectacle of ourselves all for some donuts.

So, after it was all said and done, we got the donuts and headed back to campus; and I went back to bed. I slept until the afternoon. When I woke up, it was like everyone on campus had left. I couldn't find anyone on my floor. I lived on the 3rd floor. As I descended the steps, I came across some people in the lounge, and I asked them where everyone was. They said everyone had made their way to pray in the gym. They asked, “How could you not know what is going on right now”?? I told them about where I was. That is when I sat down and started watching the only TV around. This was the morning that 9/11 happened.

This week we are going to be looking at another moment. Perhaps the most important moment in history and how people interacted with it. We are going to walk a little bit down the Holiday Road and catch up with Jesus and the two bewildered men.

Read Luke 24:13-35 (this week’s text) and interact with the following questions:

1. Who were the two men who were walking down the road?
2. What do you find interesting about the interaction between these two and Jesus?
3. Why do you think that this interaction is important to the overall story?
4. At what point did they really understand that it was indeed, in fact, Jesus among them?
5. Have you ever been walking through life and been unknowingly in Jesus’ presence?
6. If you were able to realize His presence, what allowed you to do that?

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

"Can you see it?" - Henry Knapp

I spent much of my time in college trying to imagine what something looked like that was far too small to see. When I was studying chemistry and physics at school, one of the challenges for me was that I couldn’t SEE what I was trying to learn. Electrons, atoms and molecules are simply way too small to be able to look at (though electron-microscopes were beginning to provide some pictures). Without actually seeing what you are studying, it was hard to imagine it.

The capacity to visualize something is an incredibly helpful ability. So much is beyond our immediate senses. We can’t smell at a distance, touch history, hear ultrasonic pitches, or see microscopic elements. In order to process descriptions of such things, our minds “visualize” it—imagine what it might look like. Since so much of our faith is grounded in history anchored in the Middle East where most will never physically go, it is often helpful to “visualize” things.

In our study of the Kingdom of God, appearing with the King, Jesus, so much of the action has happened in and around the Sea of Galilee. Once again this week, the sea is the setting for the presence of the Kingdom. Visualizing the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding countryside is helpful in grasping the events Mark narrates.

  •  Galilee was both the surrounding country and the sea which dominates the area.
  • There were about 2-3 million people, mostly Jewish, living in the region of Galilee during Jesus’ time.
  • The whole region of Galilee was about the size of Rhode Island.
  • The Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long by 8 miles wide, about twice the size of the city of Pittsburgh, about a quarter of Allegheny County as a whole.
  • The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake and is the second-lowest lake in the world, about 700 feet below sea level, and is over 140 feet deep in spots. (At its deepest spot, Lake Erie is about 200 feet deep).
  • The hilly part of Galilee has mountains that near 4,000 feet high, taller than the highest peak in PA.
  • The mountains and valleys surrounding the Sea of Galilee form a funnel where the wind can suddenly whip through, subjecting the sea to sudden squalls, brief storms, and strong winds.
  • Galilee can experience up to 50 inches of rainfall a year, more than twice that of Jerusalem and surrounding areas. Note: Pittsburgh averages around 40 inches per year.

All these geographic facts can help us visualize what Jesus and His followers experienced in and around the Sea of Galilee. Imagining the situation, even putting yourself in the shoes of the disciples, is an incredibly helpful tool in understanding the Gospel messages. This follows a general principle of biblical interpretation: Remember that God intends the Bible to impact human lives.  We need to read it as though it was experienced and lived by real human beings. Putting ourselves “in the picture” as we are reading the text helps explore the depths of God’s Word for us each and every day.

In preparation for worship on Sunday, please read Mark 4:35-41.

1. What relevance might there be in noting that it was the evening (verse 35)? What questions might you ask to understand this more? What background information would help clarify if “the evening” is important here or not?

2. Note that they left without the crowd (verse 36). Given the role of the crowd in Mark’s gospel up until this point, what might this imply?

3. What indications are there about the severity of the storm? What does the passage say to indicate how bad the storm was?

4. What are all the reasons Jesus might have been asleep in the boat? What “physical” reasons are present? What “spiritual” reasons?

5. Why would the disciples imply that Jesus does not care if they drown (verse 38)?

6. The command that Jesus gives—“peace, be still”—is a good summary of God’s work of redemption in our lives. How so?

7. There is a great piece of irony between verses 40 and 41. Can you identify it? How might this irony summarize the point of the passage as a whole?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Building a Model Airplane - Henry Knapp

When my son, Jason, was young, we built a model airplane together. Not one of the plastic, snap-the-pieces-together kind but the balsa wood/glue/fabric kind. It was the first of a kind for us to attempt this; and as you can imagine, it was a learning experience. One of the first lessons I learned was that I way overestimated Jason’s interest at his very young age! Building the model was a long and involved process; and keeping his attention, day after day, was a challenge. Being so young, Jason wasn’t used to delaying the satisfaction of finishing something quickly for the deeper joy of finishing something challenging.

One of the other lessons we learned together was that things can get a lot messier before they come together. If you’ve ever built one of these planes, you know that you cut a lot of random looking balsa pieces, glue together planks into haphazard shapes and fashion various units that seem totally arbitrary. In no time, your desk is covered with odd-looking forms that seem completely jumbled.

Now, if you are intent enough to read the instructions well, and can keep in mind the overarching goal, most of what you are doing will make sense. However, if you are impatient, lack the plan’s vision, or are simply too focused on the wrong thing, then right up toward the end of the project, it looks like a heaping mess.

But then, miraculously, it all comes together! You glue this weird looking piece to that oddball joint, add another thingy, and…bam! Suddenly, you have a beautiful model airplane!

And so, it appears, is the coming of the Kingdom of God. Defying all expectations; appearing in ways we don’t expect; coming in pieces that don’t seem to fit together; messy, weird, odd. Yet, when it is fully manifest…beautiful beyond measure!

Jesus attempts to communicate this to the disciples and in the Gospel accounts over and over again. The Kingdom of God is marvelous beyond imagining, yet, oh, so not what we would think. All too frequently, there are not bells and whistles. No earth-shattering pronouncements. No dramatic transformations. So much so that we might miss or, worse, dismiss the reality of the Kingdom when it appears.

The Kingdom of God has come in Jesus Christ. Not at all the way most thought it would appear, but total and full in every way. The Kingdom is nothing at all as we would think, and exactly what we need. The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings the Kingdom into our hearts in surprising and majestic ways, perhaps not as we expect, but as we need. We are transformed by Christ, and that transformation occurs in unexpected ways.

So much of God’s work in our lives is not as we would expect. He does not often make us immune to temptation. He does not always keep us from trials. He does not make things easy. Messy, gluey, random…yet, from the haphazard events of our lives, God brings redemption. And what He does individually for us, He is accomplishing throughout His world.

The Kingdom of God is at hand! Come celebrate the King with me this Sunday.

Read Mark 4:21-32.

1. Why would anyone be tempted to put a lamp under a basket or under a bed? What would the point be? Where would Jesus have come up with this illustration?

2. Who or what does the lamp “stand for”? Not everything is a metaphor or analogy in a parable, but what does Jesus have in mind here? What are some options?

3. How do verses 24 and 25 sound in your ears? Does this appear harsh? Or, correct/just? How does this cohere with the rest of Jesus’ teaching?

4. In the parable of the seed growing (vs. 26-29), what part of the parable is like the Kingdom of God? What is Jesus’ main point here? What is He trying to communicate to His listeners?

5. The same question for the parable of the mustard seed…what is Jesus trying to say?

6. How do these parables, working together, encourage your Christian growth? What does Jesus hope to motivate within us?

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Random Historical Facts - Henry Knapp

*In March of 1843, John Quincy Adams became the first President to be photographed.

*England was the first country to popularize square dancing.

*More than 3,000 years ago, the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec peoples used the cocoa bean to produce a chocolate drink.

*The Colossal Squid, the largest known invertebrate weighing in at around 1,000 pounds, was first discovered in 1925.

*Following a three-year siege, the city of Carthage was destroyed by the Roman Empire in 146 BC.

*While filming The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland’s (Dorothy’s) best friend on the set was the actress who played the Wicked Witch of the West.

*Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead.

 Of course, for many, the resurrection of Jesus is a challenge to embrace. Some want to spiritualize it (“still alive in the hearts of His followers”). Some want to turn it into a conspiracy (“He wasn’t really dead”). Some just deny it outright (“Oh, come on! No one can do that!”). But to Christians, Jesus’ resurrection is the bedrock of our faith, as historically accurate, as factually true, as anything in the world. Failure to embrace the truth of the historic bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead places you outside the Christian faith.

 Having said that, for many believers, the resurrection is often treated as no more than a quirky historical fact. The fact that Rome destroyed Carthage, or that J.Q. Adams was the first photographed President, makes very little difference in our daily lives. It appears that Jesus’ resurrection often strikes believers similarly—an interesting, true, historical fact that seems to have little impact on our daily lives. Of course, stating it like that, we quickly see the enormity of our error—How could anything be more important to us? Yet, how often do we dwell upon, or even consider, the resurrection?

 The centrality of the resurrection for our faith is not simply theoretical, not simply something to keep in mind; the resurrection of Jesus is to shape our everyday living. So says the Scripture.

 One of the great promises of the Bible—our eternal presence with the Lord—is built upon Jesus’ resurrection: “because He lives, we will live with Him.” It is hard to imagine a more powerful assurance; because He rose from the dead, we know that we will as well (1 Corinthians 15; Romans 6). Confident of this, a secure eternal life, we live every day with that promise near at hand.

 However, it is not simply for the future that the resurrection of Jesus dominates our experience as Christians. Paul writes that, “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead… will also give life to your mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11). That life the Spirit gives is not simply a life in the future, but a life now in the present. The Spirit of Christ empowers us to a life that basks in the power of the resurrection now. Every day the believer is to live in the resurrection by the power of the work of the Spirit, and that changes everything.

 I hope you will join me this Easter in our celebration of this pivotal event of our faith.

In preparation for Sunday, read Paul’s marvelous chapter 8 in Romans, focusing on verse 11.

 1. How does Paul’s argument lead up to verse 11? What is his overall point? What is the thinking that leads to a discussion of the Spirit?

 2. The Spirit is said to “dwell” within the believer. What do we make of that? How is that possible?

 3. Verse 11 is an “if/then” statement. What is the “if”? How can you know if the requirements have been met or not?

 4. What is the “then” part of the statement? What does that entail?

 5. Notice that the life which we have is connected to the Spirit. At the end of the verse, how does Paul connect the two? Can you have the one without the other? Where does the resurrection fit in?