Advent 2017: Lamentations

Typically, the Christmas season is portrayed as a time of boundless celebration, wonder, and joy. There is a steady stream of parties, presents, and tables that overflow with the finest of food and seasonal drink. The lights are hung with precision. The presents are wrapped with sparkle and flair. And the desires of countless children are etched onto physical and digital wish lists. With so much singing and festivity, it is easy to overlook what lies beneath the thin veneer. Even during the Advent season, there is enormous brokenness and pain. Even at Christmas, our world hurts. More than another kitchen gadget or gift card, what we need most is a message that addresses our real stories and our real lives. Drawing from the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, what we need are “tidings of comfort and joy.”

For the Advent season this year, we are turning to an unconventional source of wisdom: the Old Testament book of Lamentations.  This short, five-chapter book tucked away in often unread places, is poetic lament. It is a creative yet devastating declaration of honesty about the destruction of Jerusalem during the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC. In its historic sense, it captures the essence of the Jewish condition before the coming of Jesus in a poem. They were a people of exile who were crying out in their pain for help. And their cries, like our own, are only fully answered by the coming of the baby born in Bethlehem. During this Advent season, we are looking to reclaim the lost art of lament that prepares us more deeply to see the comfort and joy of Jesus, the incarnated expression of God’s steadfast love. Honest, unbridled lament is a perfect backdrop to discover the true wonder of Christmas.

"A Matter of Life & Death" Mark 14:1-9

As the old year comes to a close and we pivot to 2018, we consider a story told in Mark’s Gospel of a woman anointing Jesus with precious oil worth a year’s wages.  While the disciples scold the woman for the waste, Jesus praises her, indicating that she is preparing Him for His burial.  What can we learn from this encounter?  What does it mean that the very author of life and creation was himself preparing to die?  How do we follow a teacher such as this?

"Happily Ever After?" Lamentations 4-5 (Advent 2017: Lamentations - Tidings of Comfort & Joy)

In our "fairy-tale" world, we absolutely love it when we and those around us live "happily ever after." We want happy endings, resolution, and tension relived. In terms of Lamentations, we would much prefer the book to end with Lamentations 3:22-24 with words of hope, covenant faithfulness and mercy. However, instead of ending there, the book goes on for 2 more chapters of lament over the brutal fall of Jerusalem. Although this may feel like a dreary ending as the book limps to a close, it is actually quite helpful to spotlight certain areas and themes that we tend to not handle very well. As we walk through the final 2 chapter of the book of Lamentations, we will hopefully recapture the value of repetition, repentance, and delay. Some things are too important to move past quickly.

"When Hope Dies" Lamentations 3:1-66 (Advent 2017: Lamentations-Tidings of Comfort & Joy)

Lamentations chapter 3 is not only the middle poem of this book of laments, it is also considered by scholars to be the climatic centerpiece. In theme and structure (it is 3 times longer than the other 22 verse chapters), all eyes are drawn to its message. Shifting from funeral dirge to personal lament, Chapter 3 involves the personified voice of the "suffering man" who finally hits rock bottom. In fact, by the end of verse 18, he declares that hope is dead and that he can no longer endure. But rather than ending in the bleak dark, the rest of Lamentations offers a glimmer of hope. And in a battle of memories, the Poet calls to mind God's covenant love and His personal touch. As we work through Lamentations 3, we discover the only path to hope's resurrection.

"Good News, Bad News" - Lamentations 2:1-22 (Advent 2017: Lamentations - Tidings of Comfort & Joy)

Moving into chapter 2 of Lamentations, we are once again confronted with the pain and agony of the author's lament. Due to the crushing fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, Lamentations 2 is filled with all sorts of news: painful news, bad news, and good news. In all of its poetic pain and beauty, there is one person that the author holds responsible for the unfolding chaos: God. How do you respond when you discover that God is your enemy? What do we have to hold on to? In judgment and in blessing, God is faithful to His covenant word.

"Finding Her Voice" - Lamentations 1:1-22 (Advent 2017: Lamentations - Tidings of Comfort & Joy)

This week we begin our Advent series for 2017 by beginning to venture into the opening chapter of the book. After a brief introduction about the what, why, and how of Lamentations, we will focus on the two features of chapter 1. It is (1) a funeral dirge with (2) a feminine voice that is lamenting the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Often times we either avoid lament or don't know how to do it well because we feel uncomfortable expressing our hurts, frustrations, and disappointments to God. Yet, to be a healthy church, we need to re-discover the balance of both praise and lament. This question that guides us this week is: "What painful events do we need to name and give voice to? Without our honest expression, we lose the true longing for God's Messiah Son and His healing.

Matthew: The Power of the King

After almost a full year in the Gospel of Matthew, our journey through this narrative is coming to an end. And as the story reaches its pinnacle, Matthew intentionally slows down the story to cover the last week of Jesus' life. Out of all 28 chapters, 1/3 of the book is devoted to Jesus' final days that include His betrayal, arrest, death, and resurrection. Matthew wants us to know Jesus, not just as Good Teacher, not just as Miracle Worker, not just as Master Storyteller… but Matthew is devoted to introducing us to Jesus as crucified Messiah and sacrificial Savior.

Without this part- without the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus… all the rest of the story falls flat. All of it loses its punch. Matthew wants you to know that Jesus came to die, and that Jesus rose again on the 3rd day. Without the “last days” of Jesus, you have no Jesus at all. In this last week of His earthly ministry, we will see like never before, the power of the King.

"Resurrection Life" Matthew 28:16-20 (Matthew: The Power of the King)

This is the last scene in the last passage in the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is alive and gathers his disciples for his parting words and instruction. Traditionally known as the Great Commission, Jesus prepares his disciples to step into the rest of their life and ministry with power and purpose. Without a doubt, they had no idea what was in store for this post-resurrection life. The tomb is empty. Death has been defeated. Jesus is alive… now what? What does it look like for disciples of Jesus to live in response to the resurrection of Jesus? As Matthew closes his gospel, he provides an open-ended finale that rings with massive implication for disciples in every age and era. Will we listen and obey?

"Jesus Christ and Him Crucified" Matthew 27:27-56 (Matthew: The Power of the King)

After nearly a year in the Gospel of Matthew, we have finally reached its climatic scene: Jesus go to the cross to die. While some in the church have grown bored with death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, we believe that this is earth-shattering reality is our only hope in life and death. This week we will walk through Matthew's portrayal of the crucifixion scene in all it's upside-down irony. While the surrounding characters all speak in mockery and condemnation, their words ring more true than they know. Come be reminded of God's foolish wisdom and His powerless power.

"The Rooster & the Silver: A Tale of Two Failures" Matthew 26:69-27:10 (Matthew: The Power of the King)

As Jesus is handed over to the arresting mob in the Garden, all of His disciples scatter and flee. However, as Matthew continues his account, he keeps the spotlight on two particular figures: Peter and Judas. Peter follows Jesus into the council courtyard where he eventually denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows. Judas, meanwhile, is filled with remorse and returns the 30 pieces of silver that he earned for his betrayal. Both men face moments of soul-crushing failure, but both end up in vastly different places. Judas ends up hanging himself. And, in time, Peter ends up restored. As we see these two men in contrast, Matthew reminds us that spiritual success is not somehow to be failure free. Rather, spiritual success hinges on how you respond to your failure. The rooster and the silver call us to engage our failure with Jesus for the Kingdom of God. 

"Three Ways to Be Human" Matthew 26:47-56 (Matthew: The Power of the King)

In the midst of their late night prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus and his disciples are interrupted by Judas and a great crowd armed with swords and clubs. This scene is the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. Judas sells out with a kiss. Peter swings his sword. And Jesus lets it happen. As we watch these 3 men in the garden, we see a mirror into own broken souls and the ways we live out our humanity. Misplaced desires and misplaced confidence expose our need for a Savior.

"Gut Wrench in the Garden" Matthew 26:36-46 (Matthew: The Power of the King)

Following their celebration of the Passover meal, Jesus takes His disciples to the garden known as Gethsemane. It is here, in these moments before His betrayal and arrest that Jesus spends several agonizing hours in prayer. It is gut wrenching in every sense of the word. And yet, it is in His gut-wrenching agony that we find help for our gut-wrenched world. This week, we are invited to step closer into what Jesus felt, what Jesus faced, and how He fought for the salvation of His people.

"The Church" Ephesians 3-4 (Guest Speaker)

Cole Brown joined us as a guest speaker on Sunday, October 1st. Cole is the founding pastor of a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and most recently served as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. He is a Humble Beast author and speaker, and has authored several books including, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers and The Gospel Is: Defining the Most Important Message in the World. Cole, his wife ReShawn, and his kids are longtime friends of the Jones family and have ministered to many.

"Church Planting" Luke 10:1-9 (Guest Speaker)

On Sunday, September 24th, we had the privilege to hear and learn from CJ Bergmen, pastor and church planter of Citizens Church in San Francisco. CJ and his wife, Renee, have ministered in San Francisco for the past 5 years, beginning with Redemption San Francisco, and now with Citizens. Citizens is one of the church plants that Reality regularly supports and we are excited to have CJ and Renee join us for the weekend to stir our hearts for God’s ongoing mission in other parts of our country. The Bergmens have a burden to be a part of a diverse, multigenerational, multiethnic church that serves the least of these, pursues health, and is a safe place for those who are hurting.

"The Meal" Matthew 26:14-35 (Matthew: The Power of the King)

As Jesus' last week commences, we will pick up with the meal commonly known as "The Last Supper." With betrayal and denial in the air, Jesus pulls together his disciples for one last celebration of the traditional Passover meal. As we look at the various facets of this night, we will discover a meal that is rich in history, meaning, and purpose. For in the meal, we see Jesus' power to retell God's salvation story in new covenant ways.

Matthew: The Parables of the King

Author Klyne Snodgrass once noted, “Stories are inherently interesting. Discourse we tolerate; to story we attend. Story entertains, informs, involves, motivates, authenticates, and mirrors existence.” Therefore it should come as no surprise that when the Son of God came in human flesh to reveal God to humanity, He came sharing stories. He came telling tales. But not just any stories… So much of the ministry of Jesus is marked by His infamous use of parables.

Following an intentional collection of healing ministry stories, Matthew's gospel account moves on to include several chapters of Jesus' parables. With great diversity in length, formatting, characters, and imagery, Jesus uses the familiar to explain the unfamiliar ways of God. Weaving together different tales, these stories all share a common theme: insight into the Kingdom of God. Over the next few summer months, we will dive into these stories of Jesus with an ear to hear. Parables are Kingdom stories with the intent: to puzzle, provoke, and make plain a person’s response to Jesus.

"The Talents" Matthew 25:14-30 (Matthew: The Parables of the King)

In many ways, the Parable of the Talents is "Part 2" and further elaboration on the Parable of the 10 Virgins that precedes it. As Jesus ends the first parable with the words- "Watch therefore, for you neither know the day nor the hour" - the next section helps elaborate the agenda of our watching and waiting. What is required to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant?" In this captivating story of stewards being given 1, 2 and 5 talents, Jesus reveals the most important dimensions of our life in between His comings.

"Waiting" Matthew 25:1-13 (Matthew: The Parables of the King)

Jesus again returns to the wedding analogy to describe what the Kingdom will be like in that day.  Similar to previous wedding parables in which some are welcome in and others are not is the need to dispel any idea of a capricious or demanding God.  Instead, we see the opportunity to wait in submission to the Bridegroom's timeline or to impose our own limits on what we're willing to put up with and by virtue submit to ourselves instead of to Him. The big idea is that He invites us to wait in submission, within the context of community for something that is worth waiting for.