Archives For Synoptic Gospels


Great day I experienced with classes, super-sessions and keynote messages from some of the finest people in Christianity. I typed 10 pages of notes yesterday so I cannot include everything here but I want to give you some highlights that stood out to me.

Tuesday Morning, Mike Cope “Spiritual Intubation: How Community Keeps Us Alive” The Wizard of Oz: Revelation’s View of Community

  • “No church ever existed in a pure state. The church is made up of sinners. The fleas come with the dogs.” (Eugene Peterson)
  • Four characters who are known by their deficiencies. Much like Christians today.
  • Showing of who Oz really is. “The great Oz has spoken, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
  • Pergamum
    • It’s a great distance from Colorado Springs to Pergamum.
    • In Pergamum it was very, very different.
    • Everywhere people went they told two stories: the power of Rome and Greek gods and goddesses. Everywhere they went they are told that they are caught up in and how could they not believe it. It “has to be true.”  Every market, athletic event, silver item told them about temple worship.
    • Where is the Pergamum church of Christ?
      • A tiny…insignificant few.
      • Imagine holding on to the story of Jesus while walking among the temples and other places where the minority is huge.
      • Have you been the minority?
      • Power, honor, identity was wrapped up into gods and Rome not Christ.
    • Persecuted Christians get it
    • “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw he saw no creatures so wild as one of his own commentators.” G. K. Chesteron
  • Deep Community is anchored in Jesus
  • Deep community has to be eschatological in nature.
  • Deep community is at its best when it is part of a mission…a larger story.

Tuesday Morning Keynote Kurt Johnston @kurtjohnston “Deep, Redefined”

  • Have you ever stopped and thought about all the things in youth ministry that you don’t do very well? We are great at trying to control the perceptions of other people. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great at creating perception of us.
  • Four truths I have learned that have 1) pointed out my shallowness and 2) led him into a deeper experience in faith.
    • Life is a squiggle
    • I need a travel partner
    • Busyness will keep you in the shallow end.
    • When you begin to have a long view of youth ministry

Tuesday Super Session Frank Viola @FrankViola “The Missing Ingredient”

Observations about ministry to young people:

  • Catch30 Crisis – Human beings go through developmental stages as they get old. When they are 30 they reassess every decision they made in their 20s and they either abandon what hey believed or abandon them. You don’t know where someone is spiritually until they are thirty. You could not serve in the house of God until you were 30. Jesus did not begin his ministry until he was 30. Young people need to be prepared for this.
  • There is a difference between youthful enthusiasm and spirituality. Most of the big Christian movements are built on youthful enthusiasm. The problem is that many operates on youthful enthusiasm and the well runs dry
  • You can’t pass on to those whom you minister to what you have not experienced yourself.
  • I have to prepare them for the forgotten beatitude. Blessed is he who is not offended by me.

Other Notes from class…

  • If you cut the bible in any place it will bleed Jesus Christ.
  • Moses and Christ
  • Creation and Christ
  • Isaac and Christ
  • Jacob and Christ
  • Conclusion  – #1 – Find Christ in the bible. #2 – Do business with the Lord

Tuesday Afternoon Class 1 Josh Graves @JoshGraves “The Bible Jesus Read: Genesis 1-2”

2 Timothy 3:14-17; John 5

  • We need a more mystical understanding of Scripture. But also how it calls us to new spaces.
  • “All Scripture” does not exist yet and he has in mind Torah.
  • Inspired…he does not infallible, inerrant. They never show up in the bible. Sometimes the most important work we do is not learning new things but relearning old things.
  • 2 Timothy is not about proving Scripture over science but it is about inviting people into God’s world in order to see the world differently and “to do something about it.”
  • These stories carry the freight in any given culture.

Genesis 1

  • God can’t help but to create. He is in control. The things God creates would not be believable if we have not seen them.
  • Everything else that has creativity or imagination that somehow it is all linked back to the God who started.
  • One of the ways Genesis invites us to go deeper and that we live in a good creation. Does not deny the dark side of life but he made everything and called it good.
  • Most people who tell the story of God begin with Genesis 3 and not Genesis 1.
  • We have to introduce paradox to our students. Life is full of joy and pain. Paradox is one of the greatest contribution to the Western world.

Tuesday Afternoon Class 2 Sally Gary @centerpeaceinc “Reaching out to Teens Who Identify as Gay and Lesbians”

Many who struggle with same sex attraction but still love the Lord.  Struggles do not divide us.

Starved for Intimacy. Facebook and its struggles for intimacy. Question is: How can we meet this need? This desire for community. There is a great need for this connection.

What teens learn from the world: Glee, Modern Family.

What teens learn from the church: Nasty messages about homosexuals from the church

What they need is looking for a safe place.

How to be a safe place?

Deal with our own fears.

  • Change our thinking
  • Change our language
  • Listen
  • Be consistent
  • Model the Love and Acceptance of Christ

Tuesday Night Keynote Frank Viola @FrankViola “God so loved the world vs. Love not the world.”

The world in the New Testament is used in two ways…

  1. Speaks of the material universe. Jesus of Nazareth is this world’s true Lord.
  2. A system or network or order of things designed to draw us away from God.

Historically Christians have taken two postures: 1) Retreated from the world’s system (Isolationism) 2) Enmeshed by the world and married to it.

The most miserable person is a Christian who is living in a way where deep inside them they are told to give something up and they can’t. When we are in community with other Christians the Holy Spirit is clearest.

The Holy Spirit will reveal to you what is of the world.

2 Kind of legalists: 1) Salvation by works 2) I am going to take what the Holy Spirit has shown me personally and make it a law to you.

“The gospel spreads best not through force but through fascination” (Shane Claiborne)

Dinner in Colorado Springs: Uchenna Ethiopian Restaurant

This was ranked #2 in Colorado Springs by TripAdvisor and it was awesome. I had Yebeg Alecha which was tender pieces of lamb marinated with butter then sautèed with ginger, garlic, and 12 spices. There were no forks but you had this roll that you put the meat and the sauce in. It was excellent. The owner’s name is Maya and they cooked everything to order so it took a while but the food was worth it. They have mostly organic food and a substantial vegetarian menu. I have never tried authentic Ethiopian cuisine but this was a must! Went a left the owner looked at me and said, “Go in peace.” I love her already.

 

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1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

I saw a video[1] that said when Jesus quoted the beginning of Psalm 22 that he was using a rabbinic technique called “ramez” where the entire Psalm applies when Jesus mentions the first verse. I would like to believe that and it still may be true but the problem is that we do not have a shred of evidence to support this. It sounds more like something you would hear in a Rob Bell video (not slamming him but just sayin’) than you would in a commentary. Having said that, Psalm 22 is the most popular lament psalm in the entire psalter. Why? Jesus quoted this (already mentioned) in his prayer to God while dying on the cross (see Matthew 27:45-50). Yet this was first uttered by David hundreds of years before Christ died. It was a personal lament that placed him in perspective but also asked God the brutal question of “Why?”.

Why did he ask the brutal question? Certainly because of his enemies:

  • They mock him – v. 7
  • They are bulls surrounding him – v. 12
  • He experiences physical pain because of them – vv. 14-16
  • They divide his garments – v. 18

I am tempted to talk about Christ as Christ later exemplifies this in many aspects. Yet, David, in our context, is enduring much at the hands of many. He struggles with this not because the concept of impending pressure of enemies is uncommon but for David the struggle lies in the very nature of God himself. God, you are holy (v. 3), you answered our fathers when they cried (v. 5) and you protected and will protect your people but right now you have left me (v. 1), you are not answering me (v. 2) and because of this I find no rest.

Let’s stop for a minute and think about this. Have you ever felt like that before? I talk with teenagers all the time who experience in part what David experiences in whole. I hear comments like, “Robbie, it’s so hard to trust in God because it feels like he is not there and not listening.” If pressed they would probably admit that they feel like God has left them. Ever felt that way before? Ever experience that type of brokenness before?

What’s David’s solution?

Intense trust in God’s ETERNAL character (vv. 8-10), a request for his presence and deliverance (vv. 11, 19-21) and in all of this personal anguish he promises (fancy word is “vows”) to praise God (vv. 22-31).

You tracking with that?

David vows to praise God in the midst of impending destruction and intense physical, emotional and spiritual anguish. We think the world is going to end because a democrat got elected president but last time I check people don’t want our heads on a platter. Our issues are not even a blip on David’s radar. He would consider many of our issues as wastes of time. But even David said, “I will tell of your name…” (v. 22).

What would it look like for many of us who have cancer, terminal illnesses or many of us who have lost loved ones to proclaim in the midst of intense anguish, “I will tell of your name”?

“Yeah God, you have left us and I don’t fully understand it all but I trust in your divine purposes as one who created me (see vv. 9-10) and because of your infinite ways I will tell of your name.”

That is what you call BIG FAITH!

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does this psalm help in your ups and downs with God?
  2. Why praise God in the midst of intense suffering?
  3. In what ways does this entire psalm help inform you about Christ’s suffering and death?

From cmykmag.com

I need corrective lenses to see well but if I do not have them I can get by. I have pretty good vision but with my contacts I have perfect vision. This past week on vacation one of my lenses broke and I failed to bring an extra pair so I was left without perfect vision for two days. An important lesson came to mind: Almost perfect vision is still not perfect vision.

I find the story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) intriguing because it was a blind man who confessed Jesus was the son of David while the disciples struggled to do so. A man who has no vision seems to have more vision than those who have it. Ironic? I thought about not being able to see perfectly and it reminded me of a few lessons related to church and youth ministry:

  • After a while it becomes more and more difficult to function.
  • What is at stake is our ability (or inability) to focus on important issues.
  • I did not notice the details like I should have.
  • I never knew how much I could not see until I put my contact lenses on.

So what would you add to this?


Admittedly the first four lessons of this study is rich in theology but it is always important to have an exegetical framework before you make a biblical assertion.  One could say, “God is gracious” but if they do not understand why or how God is gracious then they are making a blind assertion.

Forgiveness in the New Testament might be a bit more familiar to us but it seems there is not much change in meaning from Old to New Testaments.  The Greek verb meaning to forgive is aphiēmi and has the general meaning of letting go or releasing (BDAG 156-57).  The imagery with the word is that there is a deep hold on to something (sin) or someone and the person holding on to this simply lets it go.  When our sins are forgiven we are released from moral obligation or consequence (ibid., 156).  In other words sin causes a separation of sorts and instead of God holding us in his hands it is our sin that is being held but forgiveness is the release of that sin and the grasping of our very souls.  Here is a brief (embarassingly so) summary of the New Testament and forgiveness…

  • Forgiveness comes from God but through the blood of the cross. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding” (Eph. 1:6-7; cf. Matt. 9:6 [Christ has the authority]; 26:28; Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 9:11-28).
  • Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable (Matt. 12:30-32).
  • Forgiveness is required (commanded) between our brothers and sisters to the point that we cannot be forgiven by God unless we forgive others. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15; cf. Matt. 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 7:47; 2 Cor. 2:5-7; Col. 3:13).
  • Like the Old Testament, there is totality in forgiveness. “Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’  And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary” (Heb. 10:17-18; 1 John 2:12).
  • Confession (public or private) is a precursor to forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  • Baptism and forgiveness seems to have a dependent relationship much like confession. ““Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for theforgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38; cf. Mark 1:4)
  • There is a release not only from the charge of guilty between man and God but there is an emotional release when our sins are forgiven. “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake,  in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:6-11; cf. Rom. 4:7).

Take a deep breath…whew!!!  That is a lot to sift through isn’t it?  But…and this is a big but (don’t laugh at the pun)…the point is that the cross restores/creates our relationship with God and declares us not-guilty so that late at night when we are counting the ceiling tiles or staring at the fan we do not have to worry about where we will go if we do not wake up.


I went into my room last night and saw a small cassette tape on the table.  We are long past the age of cassette tapes so I was curious about this and I picked up and noticed that it was a sermon I preached while I was an intern at Washington Avenue church of Christ in the summer of 2002.  I came to the church building this morning and searched for a cassette player and as I am typing this I am listening to my sermon entitled, “The Christian Soldier.”  It is a humbling task listening to the way I preached years ago because I thought I was a good preacher back then.  Some of the phrases I used and the theology I purported I think to myself, “How could I have been that naive?”  I even preached from the King James Version of Scripture!!!  I write this to you because it is not a bad thing to look at the skeletons in our closet. 

  • Looking at our past helps to shape us.
  • Looking at our past helps to comfort us and how far we have grown.
  • Looking at our past helps to center us if we have fallen. 

So what skeletons do you need to look at and get rid of in your closet?  What are those pet sins you have that keep you from a relationship with God?  So often we do not look at what’s deep in our hearts because we are scared at what we might find.  If we are scared to look at what’s inside then that should be a pause for concern.  A problem neglected is a spiritual life infected.  Think about that…I just made it up :).  A problem neglected is a spiritual life infected.  If I have a mold problem in my foundation neglecting it does not change it but actually the problem gets worse. 

So open your closet door, and get the skeletons out.  In honor of the KJV and my sermon…

“Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?  But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:  These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matt. 15:17-20). 


I close this series with joy filled in my heart anticipating Christmas day.  I long for the time with family, the meals, the happiness, the presents but also the knowledge of why we are there.  “Advent” is a word that comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming.”  It is the Latin translation for the Greek word parousia which is used in the New Testament most often to describe the Second Coming of Christ (see 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11).  Apparently advent was started in the 18th century to recognize not only the birth of Jesus but also the coming of the Lord.  We live in a tension right now that all Christians live in from the time Jesus ascended in Acts 1 until the time of Jesus returns.  The tension is entangled in mystery and wonder knowing that God has wrought a day in which the Lord will return and we shall be like him and dwell forever.  But not yet…not now…not here…not long.  The advent season is about recognizing and celebrating the birth of Jesus but paradoxically anticipating the return of Jesus.  The fact is…Jesus is here and there are implications for you and I.  To really celebrate Christmas is to subvert the consumerism that society puts out and to make it more than simply “HAPPY HOLIDAYS.”  I saw last night where the ACLU sent memos to Tennessee schools warning them of celebrating one religious holiday to the exclusion of others.  That’s fine but the celebrations typically seen are incorrect for the real point of advent is to show that everywhere and anywhere Christ is the Lord who was born of a virgin from the seed of David.  Caesar was not Lord nor is the president today.  Our idols of power, freedom, pride, consumerism and safe-living all miss the mark for the only true Lord in this world is and was Jesus Christ.

So celebrate appropriately.  Decorations are only a hint of the beauty of Christmas as we celebrate the coming of God himself.  We celrbrate that JEsus is Lord.  We anticipate that one day all wrongs will be right and that true peace will reign at the coming of our Lord.  We long for that day but know there is much work for us to do while injustice and evil still reign.  Jesus, we welcome you in our lives as Lord.  Thank you for coming down to this earth and relinquishing your God-abilities to be human.  We recognize the work of your Father as the work we adhere to.  Forgive us this season for our consumerism and allow us to celebrate what is most important beyond the toys, decorations and false narratives sent by society.  Allows us to celebrate you.  Thank you for coming.  I love you.  Reign in my life and let my breath breathe the air that comes from only you.  Amen.

Below is an advent poem by W.H. Smaw and then a couple of songs I thought were worthy of note.  Peace.

I am. I was. I will be.
I am not coming soon I am here.

I was born on a cold night in a cold place
Unnoticed, unheralded by cold people
Who turned my mother away.
On that night were you listening?
On that night the “least of your brothers” was me.
Now do you see, do you hear and do you care?
I am not coming soon I am here.
In your life do you see me
In the ragged men and women
Who search the cold street
Looking for my reflection in your heart?
Do you hear my voice in
Their muttered plea or in their tear?
I am not coming soon I am here.
Do you hear me when your friend turns to you
To ask forgiveness and trust?
Do I not forgive you always?
Do I not give you a merciful ear?
I am not coming soon I am here.
In this season I was born unto you
Fulfilling the promise of God’s care.
Look for me, listen to me…
I am not coming soon I am here.


The origin of Christmas is a topic worthy of discussion because it is one not typically addressed.  If you read the birth narratives in Scripture (Matt. 1-2:12; Luke 1-2:21) there is mention of gifts given by the magi but that seems to have been a custom common no matter what season it was.  The word “Christmas” comes from “the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. ‘Cristes’ is from Greek Christos and ‘mæsse’ is from Latin missa (the holy mass).”[1]

“The earliest known reference to the date of the nativity as December 25 is found in the Chronography of 354, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome.”[2] The prominence of Christmas developed in the Middle Ages and then the Reformation period where the focus came towards gift-giving and celebration.  The early Christians were unaware of the exact date of the birth of Jesus and so they, for the most part, did not have a celebration. “In 245, the theologian Origen of Alexandria stated that, ‘only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod)’ celebrated their birthdays.  In 303, Christian writer Arnobius ridiculed the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods, which suggests that Christmas was not yet a feast at this time.”[3]

What about the carols, the gift-giving, decorations and jolly ole’ Saint Nick?  If you read the article in Wikipedia they all were creations of man that do not have its origins in Scripture.[4] I do not want to bore you with all of the historical details but it may help you to note that Puritans from England banned Christmas celebration calling it a pagan ritual with no biblical justification.

I do not pretend to know everything about the origins of Christmas and it seems there is a mixture of good and bad.  The date of the birth of Christ remains a mystery for historians regardless of arguments given.  However, it still goes back to Scripture in that a huge portion of the biblical text either addresses the coming of the Messiah (i.e. anticipation) or the actual birth narratives themselves.  Matthew and Luke thought it was important for Christians to know the story of how Christ came to this earth.  This is a story that deserves to be told.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them [Joseph and Mary], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)


[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Christmas.”Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas (Accessed November 20, 2010).  I understand Wikipedia is not the most scholarly resource but it does cite their work and it seems to be somewhat credible.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Other helpful websites are http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm (a Jewish perspective on Christmas).  http://www.hope-of-israel.org/cmas1.htm.  For an example of taking verses out of context see http://www.goodnewsaboutgod.com/studies/holidays2.htm.  For a defense of Christmas against paganism please see http://www.orlutheran.com/html/chrmas_pagan1.html


As a youth minister I have encountered many different instances where a teenager was forced to attend an activity, a bible class or some sort of youth event because their parents wanted them to.  Sometimes it turned out to be good but more times than not it turned out to be bad…very bad.  Why?  He or she was not motivated to be there.  I have also seen people attend youth functions because they wanted to be with that cute girl or that handsome boy and that too never panned out because, well, they had wrong motivations.  We have seen athletes who could not perform on the field because they were not motivated.  People at their jobs under perform because the motivation, the drive, the necessary “umph” is absent.  This may be due to life circumstances, pretenses or just seasons where the ever-flowing well that fed the springs of purpose is now nothing more than a desiccated hole that yields nothing.

In a text that is typically handled in application towards marriage, divorce and remarriage the Pharisees came to Jesus with wrong motives (Mark 10:1-12).  Look at verse 2 below:

“And Pharisees came up and in order to test him…”

I am no Greek scholar but I do remember that sometimes a participle can be used to indicate purpose which is the case in this verse (see also Luke 10:25).  They came not to worship him, praise him or even magnify his holy name but they came with the purpose of testing him to prove he was wrong.  Even when Jesus spoke truth to them they did not repent.

  • In what ways do you (have you) approach Jesus?
  • Why were you baptized?
  • What motivates you to attend worship?
  • What motivates you to read your Bible?
  • What motivates you to be a deacon or an elder?
  • What motivates you to conduct bible studies?

If our motives are not pure then we come to Jesus for all the wrong reasons.  Jesus does not want us to approach him out of guilt, routine, arrogance, to impress someone or even because we think it is a good idea.  Jesus wants us because we want him.

Motives mean everything.