Chosen During Lent

During this past week’s spring break vacation, I’ve been reading a new book and re-watching episodes of the amazing TV series “The Chosen” with Shelly which have had a profound impact on my walk with Christ and our walk together through a season of tumultuous change and uncertainly. In this post I’ll share a little about these experiences.

Two weeks ago, I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, and interviewed for a new teaching position at Providence Day School starting in August 2022. Moving to North Carolina after our youngest child’s high school graduation in June has been our ardent prayer as a couple for many months, so this was and is both an exciting and emotionally-laden time. I shared more about this on Facebook March 13th.

I flew into Charlotte on Saturday afternoon, Thanks to the recommendation of Sarah-Emily Steinhardt, the Member Engagement Coordinator at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church in northwest OKC, I went to church Sunday morning in Charlotte at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church downtown. According to the “History” page on St. Peter’s website:

Considered by many to be the “mother church” of the region, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was the first Episcopal Church in Charlotte, organized in 1834 and recognized as a parish in the Diocese of North Carolina in 1844. Area churches including St. Martin’s, Holy Comforter, St. Mark’s, St. Michaels, St. Paul’s in Monroe, and Christ Church all trace their roots to St. Peter’s.

History. (2012, January 30). St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. st-peters.org/history

I went to the mid-morning workshop service at 9 am at St. Peters, and then attended the “Adult Forum” / “Adult Formation” class offered at 10:30 am, led by the Father Jacob E. Pierce and Mother Amanda C. Stephenson. During Lent, they are reading and discussing “The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem” by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan.”

https://twitter.com/PocketShare/status/1502792050856583175

I am about halfway through the book now, and am REALLY enjoying the “deep dive” which authors Borg and Crossan provide into the Gospel of Mark. I’ve focused most of my own Gospel-specific study and Sunday School class lessons (back when we attended Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lubbock, Texas) on the Gospel of John, and to a lesser extent the Gospel of Matthew. Last fall when I was teaching our adult Sunday School class at FPC Edmond, “Finding Jesus in Media,” we used videos from “The Bible Project” as well as multiple Bible translations and interpretations to dive deeper into Matthew’s Gospel. But until the last couple weeks, I haven’t spent as much time studying the Gospel of Mark.

One of many things which the book’s authors are encouraging me to reflect on more deeply is the theological construct of “Substitutionary atonement.” This is a very familiar theological idea to me, having grown up in the Presbyterian church and “Reformed tradition” of churches and pastors strongly influenced by Martin Luther and The Protestant Reformation. It’s interesting to read Mark’s Gospel with greater attention and see its emphasis on Jesus’ invitation to all his disciples to join him on “the way” which leads to Jeruselum.

This is the journey we’re invited to take during the season of Lent, which culminates in Holy Week and Easter. I’m not sure I’d thought as much about how Jesus invites his disciples to not merely WITNESS his confrontations with the Roman and Jewish church authorities during Passover in Jerusalem, but ultimately JOIN HIM in participating in this confrontational series of events that culminates in his arrest, crucifixion, resurrection, and ultimately ascension into heaven.

Jesus does not call us to merely be PASSIVE OBSERVERS. Jesus calls us to be active participants with him in our faith, our journey of faith together to the cross and ultimately to God Himself. This is a journey of sacrifices, faith, and persistence despite frustrations and many reasons to both be seized by fears and turn aside.

In addition to reading “The Last Week,” I’ve also enjoyed re-watching the first two episodes of “The Chosen” this week (Season 2) with Shelly. We watched the entire series together last year, but it’s amazing how many details as well as “broad strokes” of the television series I either missed or am just seeing again now “with fresh eyes.”

I LOVE how the series writers are providing such a “deep dive” into the personalities and individual characteristics of the disciples, as well as Jesus himself. Based on the Gospels and the other books of The New Testament, the script writers, actors, and others involved in the creation of these films have created a RICH media tapestry that is both insightful and challenging to us as followers of Jesus and students of his life. I have particularly enjoyed the relational dynamics between Peter and Matthew, as well as Phillip and Matthew. Seeing the series a second time has encouraged me to “see” and think more deeply about the past experiences and perspectives of different disciples, considering how each one had been uniquely prepared by God for the work they eventually were called to do with Jesus and for Jesus after his resurrection.

The scene at the end of Season 2, Episode 2, when Nathaniel first encounters Jesus and is called by Jesus to follow him (thanks in part to the friendship with and guidance of Phillip) spoke to me particularly loudly today.

I can relate directly to Nathaniel’s story of being alone, at “the end of my rope,” calling out to God for aid, assistance, comfort and direction. That is a personal story I am not going to share here right now, but perhaps will some day. It can be both powerful and emotional to see threads of “our own stories” in the Bible narratives, and to understand a little deeper how God has and continues to work through our lives to bring us closer to Him and to places where we can choose to follow His commands. To respond to His invitations. To “join Him on THE WAY.”

Praise God for the access we have to Holy Scripture, for the opportunity to intersect with the people, events, and stories of the Bible through media interpretations like “The Chosen,” and for a break from school and work over Spring Break when I’ve been able to dive more deeply into the themes, traditions, and ideas of Lent.

I pray you will join me in seeking God this day and in the weeks to come. Check out the book “The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem” and consider reading it, and DEFINITELY watch (or re-watch) “The Chosen.”

God is at work all around us, and invites us to join Him in building His kingdom today on earth!

The Beatitudes: Jesus’ Teaching of The Sermon on the Mount

These are resources for our adult “Gospel Encounters” Sunday School lesson on September 16, 2018, at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma.

After Joys and Concerns, I’m sharing the free Life Church / YouVersion iPhone app, “Bible Lens.”

This app makes it super-easy to take your own smartphone photos and create Bible verse “infopics” with them.

Learn more about creating Bible verse infopics in that chapter of the “Pocket Share Jesus.”

Here are the slides for our lesson on The Beatitudes of Jesus, shared in Matthew 5:1-11.

Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

These are resources for our Sunday School class on April 22, 2018, focusing on lesson 3 of “The 7 Big Questions” series by ExploringGod.com.

We are using the website mentimeter.com for today’s interactive polling questions. A copy of our printed handout is available.

Video 1: Pulse of the World on Pain & Suffering

  1. Did you identify with anyone’s expressed views in the film? If so, who and what resonated with you?
  2. Was it surprising to learn that the top question people would ask God is, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” What would be some of the questions you’d ask God?

Video 2: The Curiosity Collective: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

  1. In what ways can you identify with any of the stories in The Curiosity Collective? What did you find intriguing or compelling?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult is it for you to reconcile the existence of both suffering and God (1 = easy; 10 = impossible)? Why?
  3. One of the Pulse speakers noted, “Some of the best lessons I’ve learned in life . . . came from very painful times.” In what ways might good come from bad? Do you have any experience with this?
  4. If there’s a God, why do you think he allows evil in the world?
  5. In the video, what did you think of James’s suggestion that God “understands our suffering . . . [and] is seeking to heal it”?

Recommended videos and resources related to our topic today include:

  1. Video: What Is the Reason for Suffering? (5 min)
  2. Video: What Is God’s Role in Pain and Suffering? (3 min)
  3. Book: The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
  4. Book: Evil and the Justice of God by N. T. Wright

A wealth of additional resources relating to the topics of pain and suffering are available on the ExploringGod.com website.

Zechariah Did Not Believe (initially) #sketchnote

I am flying tonight from Oklahoma City to Raleigh, North Carolina, to share three presentations at their statewide educational technology conference. I started re-reading the Gospel of Luke tonight, and was reminded of our church’s presentation of the musical “One Incredible Moment” as I read the story of Zechariah. I don’t think I remember the story of Anna, which also is shared by Luke in the second chapter:

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

I am practicing my sketchnoting skills (feeble as they are) with a new iPad stylus (the Paper53 “pencil”) and the iPad app Paper53. I don’t like it as well as ProCreate, but since it is free (ProCreate is not) and I’m sharing a presentation on visual notetaking this week, I decided to practice a bit. I can’t get the “undo” function of the app to work, so some of the unintended smudges I made on this drawing persist. I do like the watercolor brush though, and will likely use it more in some Sketchnotes I’ll make at the conference this week.

I pray God will give me faith to believe in the truth and goodness of his promises, and not doubt them as Zechariah did when the angel Gabriel foretold the birth of his son, John.

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:18-20 NIV)