Thursday, September 30, 2010

Which Gospel?

Which Gospel?

This video, The Gospel Message, posted at and referred to by several people I know, has some glaring errors in it.

As I began viewing the video, my first impression was that it did not mention the Gospel, at least not at first. It confronted people with Law, sin, death, but seemed devoid of Gospel at least until after it made some other errors. I'll comment on them as they show up in the video.

This video it suggests that the soul is the "real" you and lives on for eternity. It thus denies the bodily resurrection and the importance of the bodily life. This is warmed-over Gnosticism and does not represent any sort of orthodox Christian faith.

The illustration of the judge convicting someone of murder could be positive. But it seems to bind God to our opinion of what justice would be. It convicts all of us in our guilt. Still, by about two and a half minutes in, there is absolutely no Gospel message.

Finally, there's mention of good news at 3:49. What's the good news? Jesus is perfect. Yet the good news is mediated in a made-up discussion suggesting first that God the Son is not omniscient and second that he would like to save people from sin based on what they might believe. We are no longer Gnostics, but we are definitely Pelagian here. Maybe it isn't hard-core Pelagian, because at least Jesus does something for salvation. Yet it remains dependent on our asking Jesus to exchange our imperfect record for his perfect record. This is not good news. It requires people to do something the Bible says they cannot do in order to somehow earn God's forgiveness. So the mention of good news turns back into bad news.

At 5:09 the video asserts we must do something more to be forgiven. What we must do is ask Jesus to forgive us. It denies the power of Word and Sacraments. All of salvation is ultimately based on our willing repentance. This is stated to be clear in the Bible, but the video does not say where or how this is stated in Scripture. We are also required to surrender to Jesus. This also has no clear Scriptural documentation in the video.

The video continues with bad news, talking about what we have done which earns shame. But then we earn merit by surrendering to Jesus. He only saves us because we ask him in a sufficiently heartfelt manner. Though we are forgiven forever, we need to be refined daily and forgiven daily so we can remain in the faith and continue to earn our salvation.

At 8:50 we see that the good news is that Jesus made it possible for us to ask for forgiveness. I'm sorry. This is not good news. This is terrible bad news. It leaves Jesus' death on our behalf as ineffective unless our actions and attitudes are added to it. It leaves God's revelation through Word and all creation as ineffective. We are the mediators of our salvation. Salvation is based ultimately on what we do, not on what Jesus has done. Salvation is based on our decision, not on God's word applied to us.

In summary, the video continues to say that we must do two things – repent and surrender entirely – in order to be saved. This is no Gospel at all.

It grieves me deeply to see the kind of pseiudo-Christian teaching that passes for the Gospel. If we substitute something else, like our decision or the quality of our repentance for God's powerful, living and active Word, placed upon us from outside of ourselves, we create a false gospel, not good news at all, but bad news. Rather than the Gospel being the power of God to salvation, we end up teaching a gospel of self-help.

Let us flee from that foolishness and trust the pure Gospel, unadulterated, which is indeed the power of God to salvation.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Lectionary Posts on Sabbatical

For about three years, on one forum or another, I've been making more or less daily posts on the lectionary readings. I'm finding with a full-time school teaching schedule as well as participation in a seminary course and work as a vacancy pastor I need to remove something from my time budget. So the lectionary posts that have been fairly regular are going to become nonexistent, or virtually so. That will ease my schedule a little bit, and every bit is helping right now.

I've enjoyed reading Pastor Leistico's posts, which, though not daily, seem to capture much the same kind of devotional Law/Gospel thoughts I've shot for. His blog is at

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Deuteronomy 1.37-2.15, Matthew 6.1-15 - Lectionary for 9/30/10

Today's readings are Deuteronomy 1.37-2.15 and Matthew 6.1-15.

Today Moses points out to the people of Israel how their efforts without God's blessing are utterly fruitless, while their efforts with God's blessing are sure and certain to produce God's results.

How often do we despair of the sufficiency of God's revealed will? Is there not enough illustration in Scripture that our Lord does really say what he means to say, then does what he says he will do?

This seems to be a pretty clear evidence of the fallen nature of humanity. We are wired by God to trust someone or something. Yet we seem utterly unlikely to look to our creator in trust. We will trust anyone but the true God. Sadly, this fallen nature seems to persist in believers as well. When is the last time we did something in complete love and trust of our Lord? It was right before we decided to feel proud of our goodness and our great choice to trust God so very well because we're just good that way. Yep, we messed up again.

May the Lord work a change in us, giving us a heart to trust him in all things.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Deuteronomy 1.19-36, Matthew 5.21-48 - Lectionary for 9/29/10

Today's readings are Deuteronomy 1.19-36 and Matthew 5.21-48.

We read today of Moses' reminder to the people of Israel that they had just spent forty years in the wilderness due to their unbelief. It seems that whatever God did to show his presence and care for the people they still mistrusted him. It didn't matter that they had walked through the sea on dry land. It didn't matter that they had seen the scary army drowned behind them. It didn't matter that they saw God's presence in the fire by night and the cloud by day. It didn't matter that they had the commandments of God. It didn't matter that they had food to eat and water to drink in a desert. None of this mattered.

I confess that I find myself doubting God's providence, despite all the signs to the contrary. Probably most of us do. It really doesn't matter what our Lord has revealed to us. It really doesn't matter that Jesus has made promises of resurrection to us. It really doesn't matter that Jesus has shown he has power over death by rising to life again. No, it doesn't matter. I stubbornly cling to my doubts, just like I expect my readers do.

Want the good news? God did bring his people into the promised land. He didn't leave them in the desert forever, despite their unbelief. And he's the very same God today. He will work in and through us, despite our unbelief.  "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief."

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Deuteronomy 1.1-18, Matthew 5.1-20 - Lectionary for 9/28/10

Today's readings are Deuteronomy 1.1-18 and Matthew 5.1-20.

What Moses lays out for us today in our reading from Deuteronomy is strikingly similar to the idea of elders laid out in the New Testament. In fact, if we look at the use of the term "elder" throughout the Bible, we find that there are leaders in every age, both in Judaism and in Christianity, called elders, detailed with the same kind of responsibilities. they are to guard the Scriptures, nurture people in God's Word, give wise counsel, and judge between people in conflict.

It strikes me that very often that role has been restricted to "professional clergy." Yet throughout history we see examples of godly men taking their responsibilities seriously, whether they are on the payroll of a religious organization or not. I can think of innumerable men I would trust implicitly to search the Scripture responsibly, to look at what others have said about it, to take matters seriously and fairly, and to judge in a dispute. Many of those men are pastors. Many are not. Yet all of them are biblically qualified to be elders in every sense of the word.

Yes, we want to raise up leaders in the Church. Yes, we value a trained clergy who have time to devote themselves fully to the Word of God, to prayer, and to visiting their flocks with Christ's care. But we also want to raise up other leaders who live out different callings for their economic life alongside the calling they have to serving as elders, shepherding the flock they are with. These people need even more of the time and effort that pastors can provide, as the pastor is the one providing his elders with the kind of discipleship and training he received through years of seminary study and which he cultivates in hours of study time each week, knowing that the lay elders don't have that luxury. It's a big job, but it's one our Lord has given us. Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Monday, September 27, 2010

Malachi 3.6-4.6, Matthew 4.12-25 - Lectionary for 9/27/10

Today's readings are Malachi 3.6-4.6 and Matthew 4.12-25.

Our Lord makes two things crystal clear in Malachi today. First, God doesn't change. He has always been the very same merciful and loving God who rejoices in the repentance of his people, pouring out his loving forgiveness on them. Second, fallen people don't change either. we are always turning aside from God, departing from the faithfulness we pledge, failing to love and trust him perfectly. In effect, the entire Bible is about those two concepts. God is faithful and is always quite himself. We are always unfaithful, in need of a Lord who is loving and gracious.

In the opening of chapter 4 of Malachi, God promises to send his prophet Elijah, who will turn people's hearts, with the ultimate result that they will be turned back to God in repentance.

Lord, you who never change, give us a heart to trust in your eternal lovingkindness. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray this through Jesus Christ, who ever reigns with You and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Luke 16.19-31 - Sermon for 9/26/10

Sometimes it seems if it weren't for bad luck we'd have no luck at all. Know anyone like that? Some years ago I had a couple of people working for me who were like that. One of them looked forward to his annual performance evaluation. He was a diligent employee. He received a cost of living pay raise and a merit pay raise. Together they boosted his income just enough to raise him to a different tax bracket and lower his monthly take-home pay. Another one had run into trouble with the law due to a violent temper outburst. He left his home with his electronic shackle on his ankle. His car wouldn't start so he got into a rattly old pickup truck he kept for snow plowing and farm use. On the way to work he got a flat tire. Yes, it was raining. Yes, the sheriff's deputy was waiting for him at work when he arrived. He had been out of range for too long. I hope these are extreme hard luck stories but I fear they aren't. It seems that no matter what we do, sometimes we just can't win.

What about Lazarus in our Gospel passage today? We don't know why he was poor. He just was. He had some health issues, probably related to malnutrition or the inability to groom himself, maybe both. He was a beggar who had nothing. The only solace he could get was the dogs, and their nursing care isn't really the best for people. He was hungry, he was cold in the winter, hot in the summer. This is a hard luck story, no doubt. Lazarus wasn't the kind of person most of us would choose to associate with. In fact, I dare say he was the kind of person that none of us would choose to associate with unless we were doing it from a desire to serve him. We probably wouldn't want to be too near him. If he came in to worship with us no doubt the up-wind seats would be at a premium and he would have a lot of people watching him closely. And if it weren't for bad luck, Lazarus would have no luck at all.

What do we know about the rich man? We don't know why he was rich. He just was. Maybe he had been left a lot of money. Maybe he was a successful businessman. Maybe he was a crook of some sort. People became rich two thousand years ago in the same kind of ways they become rich now. We do get an impression that the rich man doesn't seem too committed to charity. Then again, maybe he is a charitable man. We don't know that he denied beggars access to his trash can. In fact, it may be that Lazarus hung out at his gate because he was fairly liberal with his leftovers. It's altogether possible. We simply don't know. He was rich and Lazarus was poor.

Here's what we do know from our passage today. Lazarus died trusting in the Lord. The rich man died not trusting in the Lord.

Lots of rich people believe. Lots of rich people trust the Lord. Many of them go a lot of extra miles for people in need. Lots of rich people feed and clothe the poor. Many of them are involved in service projects, at least in funding service projects to bring the Gospel and physical relief to people around the world. Having a lot of money is no reason why you can't live out your faith in very positive and concrete ways. And I trust we'd all like to have more opportunities like that. Not one of us would be depressed and discouraged if our Lord brought more money into our lives. And I trust that we would all seriously think about the best way to use that money in Christ's service. Yes, lots of rich people believe and act in accordance with their faith in Christ. There's no reason to doubt it.

How about poor people? Like rich people, some poor people live lives of faith and some don't. I haven't had the opportunity to work much with very wealthy people. But I have had some opportunities to work with poor people. I can testify that nobody is too poor to be a villain. Nobody is too poor to be a liar, a thief, a cheat, and an opportunist. Poor people are, in fact, just like rich people. Some are faithful to the Lord. Some are not. Some will take whatever resources the Lord gives them with rejoicing and try to use them in a godly way. Some won't.

I think in our culture we have a tendency to say that rich people can barely be Christians and poor people are by definition faithful to Christ. But it isn't so. Yet the opposite is not true either. Being wealthy is not a sign of being godly, nor is being poor a sign of being ungodly. That is not what's happening with the rich man and Lazarus.

We need to look to the belief those people have. The rich man trusted in himself and his riches. Lazarus trusted in God. How does this affect their destinations? For those who trust in someone other than God, we see the destiny is eternal torment. there is no relief.

The rich man is in agony. he is surrounded with flames but he is not allowed to burn up. He is going to spend eternity in this fiery torment. He who had resources in abundance finds that he can no longer trust in himself, his bank account, his stock portfolio, his pantry, and his servants. He is in a position where nobody can or will help him. What's worse, he is being tantalized by the knowledge that Lazarus is in a place of comfort and bliss.

Meanwhile, we don't have much of a picture of Lazarus, but he seems perfectly comfortable and at ease. Maybe for the first time in his life he is not being gnawed by hunger and disease. He is at rest. Those who die trusting in the Lord receive comfort and blessing.

So, believe on the Lord and receive eternal bliss. Don't believe on the Lord and receive eternal torment. This seems like a serious no-brainer. Why is it so difficult then? Could it be that we desire to earn merit on our own? Could it be that we spend our time and effort trying to figure out whether we are believing well enough? Could it be that we are looking for signs of God's blessing, like adequate riches, to show us that we are really faithful? Could it be that we are busy counting how many opportunities we have had to share the Gospel in our workplace? Could it be that we are tied up with thinking about how we fall short in solving world hunger? Maybe we fall into doubt about whether we are doing enough for our Lord. And in our attempts to serve our Lord faithfully we end up trusting in ourselves.  Or maybe we fall off the horse in the other direction. Salvation is by grace through faith, so it doesn't matter if we give any food to those beggars. Salvation is by grace through faith and it is applied to me so it doesn't matter if I do any good works. After all, I'm safe. It doesn't really matter if my neighbor is suffering. Helping him won't earn me any merit, so I'll just stay to myself. Both directions are wrong.

Salvation is by grace through faith. Let us make no mistake of it. Jesus Christ, the savior of the world has come to seek and to save that which was lost. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.  This is public knowledge. It is all over the Bible. We don't need someone to come back from the dead to tell us. We don't need Lazarus to rise and tell our brothers. They have Moses and the prophets. For that matter, they have us as well. Many people will not be moved to believe, even though they are confronted with Jesus who rose from the dead. People seem more ready to accept some sort of secret knowledge and a false gospel that requires them to earn their own merit than they are to accept the true Gospel that Jesus has lived and died on our behalf, right out in front of everyone, and requires only that we believe he is who he said he is and he has done what he said he has done. But this is the liberation of the true Gospel. Salvation is accomplished in the finished work of Christ. And this is the critical message that our world needs to hear. It is a life and death matter.

Our Lord has given godly leaders, like the elders, the church council, pastors, and like you who believe Jesus. He has entrusted this precious Gospel to people like you and like me. Let us go forth, then, believing the Gospel, bearing the liberating news of God's grace to our world. Let us encourage one another in this faith. And let us do it all with the precious Word of God, given to proclaim the freedom of the Gospel of Christ.

Let us rise to pray.

Lord, create in us a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within us. Cast us not away from your presence. Do not take your Holy Spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of Your salvation. We pray that you would make us people who trust in you, whose lives are transformed to lives of hope in the promise of blessing and grace which you have given us. Use us also as servants of that precious Gospel, that we may bear it with us into every situation you place us in. May we see how to bring the good things that you provide as a blessing to our neighbor, showing forth the mercy and grace given to us by our Lord. This we pray in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Malachi 2.1-3.5, Matthew 4.1-11 - Lectionary for 9/26/10

Today's readings are Malachi 2.1-3.5 and Matthew 4.1-11.

When all is said and done we have done badly. what hope is there of making it all right? Look at the start of Malachi 3 again. Our Lord will send his messenger, foreshadowing his own coming. Then, expected but surprisingly the Lord himself will come to make all things right. This is no Jesus as our co-pilot or fishing buddy. He is not just another one of us. He comes in might, the king of all, the redeemer, the judge, the purifier. He will set all aright.  Who can stand before his presence?

Our Lord has granted that those who believe on him will stand before his presence in his coming. We will be cleansed, not destroyed. We will be purified, not washed away. We will see that we are partakers of the Lord's offering of himself for our sins. And we will be humbled at last. We will see that it is not because of our righteousness that we are saved, but because of his righteousness. It is not that we can stand before him. It is that he has stood before us. All we do is believe that he is who he says he is and that he does what he says he does. We receive no glory at all. It is all glory given to the Lord our righteousness.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Songs to be sung in church at my funeral

Does this look like a morbid post?  What have I been doing today? Among other things I've been reviewing hymnals. There are a couple of songs that come to mind as appropriate to be sung in church at my funeral. Why, you may ask? Because if I have anything to say about it they will be sung in church over my dead body.

Specifically I thought of "Love Lifted Me" and "In the Garden." Any other picks, anyone?

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Malachi 1.1-14, Matthew 3.1-17 - Lectionary for 9/25/10

Today's readings are Malachi 1.1-14 and Matthew 3.1-17.

The Lord is the great king to whom perfect offerings should be made. Yet the people of Israel make shameful defiled ones, as we see in Malachi today. Meanwhile, God's people wonder if God really loves them. How has the Lord shown favor to his people/ Despite our disobedience he has not treated us with the destruction we deserve. This is not at all the way he treats the pagans. They build their temples out of costly materials. They bring the best offerings they can muster. They seek to serve their gods in every way possible, even giving their children and other people in sacrifice. There is nothing too precious for their false gods. yet the true God treats those efforts with derision. He is displeased with their offerings. He scatters them and despise s them.

How has the Lord loved his own people? He has not treated them as their sins deserve. Instead, he has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become sin for them so they could receive his life in exchange for their death.  May the Lord move us to repentance for our unbelief. May he grant that we live in a way that is fitting for people who are true worshipers of the Lord of all. May he show his great mercy and favor on us.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Friday, September 24, 2010

Nehemiah 9.22-38, 1 Timothy 6.3-21 - Lectionary for 9/24/10

Today's readings are Nehemiah 9.22-38 and 1 Timothy 6.3-21.

In our passage today Nehemiah points out that despite the faithlessness of Israel, God has always remained faithful. He continues to be the God of promise, who cares for Israel, the line of the Child of promise. Nothing could hinder God from bringing the birth of Christ, born according to the prophecy, at the right time in the right place and for the right purpose.

While we miss our appointments, fail to keep our promises, and think we can let some things slip because we spoke casually or don't really care about the situations all that much, our Lord is never that way. What God has promised, He will bring to pass. He is never slack in keeping his promises.

As we look at history, as we observe our culture, let us remember that the Lord is the same today, working in and through the things of this world, including us, to bring his promises to pass. May the Lord grant us grace to look forward to his kingdom coming and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nehemiah 9.1-21, 1 Timothy 5.17-6.2 - Lectionary for 9/23/10

Today's readings are Nehemiah 9.1-21 and 1 Timothy 5.17-6.2

I'd like to bring out just a few things from today's reading in Nehemiah 9, though the themes continue to the end of the chapter.

First we see the primacy of God's Words and acts in history. This can be instructive to us in our worship. It isn't about us. It is about God working and acting in us. It isn't about what we bring to worship. It is about what God brings to worship and what he does during that time.

Notice the confessions of sins and of God's character. When we confess God's character we are confessing that we are not like he is. We don't confess, "Lord, you are great and lifted up, just like me." Not at all. We confess God's glory which leads us to confess our sin.

Sometimes we assume that proclamation of God's word will be entirely in the hands of the priestly class. Here though we see that it is the Levites who are proclaiming God's Word. These people are not all priests. Only the descendants of Aaron are priests. They are included in the Levites, but there are many Levites who were charged with what we might consider diaconal care. Yet the godly men our Lord raised up to do so are proclaiming God's glory.

We see that Law and Gospel are clearly distinguished in this chapter, though, contrary to the teachings of C.F.W. Walther (an early LCMS luminary) the Bible doesn't always proclaim Law first then Gospel. Sometimes by proclaiming God's glory and grace we end up seeing our sin quite clearly. So while there is distinction and while it is clear whether we are proclaiming Law (what we are commanded to do) or Gospel (what God has done on our behalf), the natural rhythm does happen. It is not confused, nor is it confusing.

Let us look to our Lord for who he is . Let us respond in repentance and faith.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nehemiah 7.1-4, 8.1-18, 1 Timothy 5.1-16 - Lectionary for 9/22/10

Today's readings are Nehemiah 7.1-4, 8.1-18 and 1 Timothy 5.1-16.

When the public reading of Scripture is reinstated in Jerusalem the people are struck by the power and grace shown in God's word. They commit themselves joyfully to keeping that festival the Lord has commanded.

What is our attitude toward God's Word? Do we expect our Lord to speak to us when we open the Bible? Do we have gatherings for reading the Scripture and then settle for only a little Bible and a lot of us? Do we think the Bible is kind of irrelevant unless we do something to make it "more meaningful" or spend our time emphasizing how it applies to us personally as opposed to what the objective meaning of the text itself is? Do we go out of our way to subjectivize or allegorize the Scripture because we can't believe God would actually work in the Word as he says he does?

May the Lord give us the same spirit the hungry saints had in Jerusalem in our reading today. May he give us ears to listen attentively and eagerly to what he would tell us. May he give us faith to believe his promises and to trust that he actually works in the ways he has said he does. In short, may our Lord make us trust in what he has revealed to us. Yes, he will fill his word with his meaning. Because the Scripture comes from God himself it is eternally relevant. Because it is God's revelation of his working in history and in people we can trust that our Lord will continue to work in his people and be the same kind of God he has always shown himself to be.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Time for a research paper!

I thought if I put an exclamation point in the topic it might help me be more enthusiastic. Isn't it amazing that when we pay for a class we would really prefer someone just open our heads and pour the information in? But we often learn by writing. I'll remind myself of that many times prior to the paper deadline. I'll post some updates on this blog about the development of my current research paper, which will be written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of an AALC History and Polity course. I don't yet have the deadline, but the quarter ends on November 15, so my guess is I have somewhere around seven weeks to get this paper written. It isn't a long paper, just 15-20 pages. Footnotes, bibliography, topic and a very brief outline and bibliographic suggestions due next week.

So here it goes. From the list of suggested topics, here's what I'm coming up with.

Ecclesiastical Offices and Structure: What are the appropriate and necessary offices of the Church? Examine biblical (that's the period I chose, several were eligible) leadership titles, functions, and authority.

Since I know some of my students watch this blog, I'm going to post some of the development here. I haven't written many research papers since the time when most of my students learned to read, but I do have some experience with it. Maybe they can learn some of what to do or see some of what not to do as they watch it grow.

Why did I choose this topic? I'm a little pressed for time this school year. I thought I'd better pick one of the topics that I had a reasonable amount of background for. While there are several topics on the list which interest me at least as much, maybe more, I realize my time limitations, as well as the limitations of living in a place where I have no access to a decent seminary library. For that matter, there isn't a very good church library around and the local university isn't too well equipped. Many of my most useful books are also packed away in storage as I try to stay prepared for a sudden move. So I need to be very pragmatic in my choice of topics in light of the resources I have available. This fits.

How about a bibliography? I find Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament  an invaluable resource for work like this. I wonder if it's out of a box somewhere? No. There may be one at the library though. I'll take a look through the appropriate section on Thursday or Friday when I take Hannah to the library after work. Since I'll be working with the biblical text, of course, my United Bible Society Greek New Testament will be very useful, as will be Metzger's textual commentary. I wish I had the new edition of the BDAG lexicon, but I just have the second-newest. It will do. I may do a search to see if anyone like Eusebius has something useful to say about it. Probably a bit of fishing around will not be entirely wasted. I'm not as familiar with journals as I'd like to be but will fish around some. I'm also hoping that some of my classmates might offer some suggestions. That's a hint to Brigitte and the gentlemen!

I always harp on students about having an outline. I think many students think a paper outline has to be some sort of a big deal. It doesn't. It's just going to direct the flow of the paper so nothing becomes too confused. Here's a thumbnail outline that is rising to the surface.

I Introduction (you should always have one of these, but write it last)
II Body (yes, without a body it will go nowhere)
  A  biblical leadership titles identified
  B  biblical functions of leadership described
  C  analysis of any evident authority structure
  D  Aside from the fact that these are laid out in the Bible, why do they seem appropriate?
  E  What would seem to happen in the absence of such an authority structure?
III Conclusion (write this right before the introduction)

Based on this thumbnail outline I see that there are five basic points plus an introduction and conclusion. Since my target length is 15-20 pages including notes and bibliography I need to think about whether the length will work. We'll want one or two pages for the bibliography and notes. So we need roughly 13-18 pages. Figure on the introduction and conclusion adding up to about a page each or maybe a little less and we need roughly 12-17 pages. Each of the points can be expected to take up about two and a half pages. Considering that there will be some quotations from Scripture, which will consume probably a couple of pages, we really have about two to three and a half pages to discuss each of the points. This seems reasonable and appropriate. I don't think I'll need to find more things to talk about and I don't think I'll need to eliminate anything.

Let's see what happens with the paper! I welcome feedback and suggestions. Especially suggestions for credible research resources, such as books and articles which are available for online viewing, would be great. I certainly don't mind reading theological journals and erudite books in .pdf version or as images in library collections. Those of us who live in the boondocks can't be too picky.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Nehemiah 5.1-16, 6.1-9, 15-16, 1 Timothy 4.1-16 - Lectionary for 9/21/10

Today's readings are Nehemiah 5.1-16, 6.1-9, 15-16, and 1 Timothy 4.1-16.

There's a time and a place for the believer to enter into the political life. This is exactly what happens in our reading in Nehemiah today. We see that the faithful in Jerusalem were enduring heavy taxation and ill treatment at the hands of their political leaders. Because this was unjust and was causing hardship on the people, Nehemiah interceded on their behalf to the political leadership. What happened? God was interceding for His people through Nehemiah, who was able to gain assurances from his leaders that they would respect the people and care for them. The leaders agreed to the demands Nehemiah placed upon them. The promise made by the leaders was to be seen as a holy obligation, binding on their consciences and therefore on their behavior.

Unlike the idea of liberation theology, there was no armed uprising. There was simply a protest and a call to repentance. Nehemiah carried on the protest within the bounds of the prevailing law, using entirely legal and peaceful means.

Unlike much of what we see in modern political leaders, the leadership of Jerusalem was willing to be bound by the demands of their conscience. They knew they had made a promise which made a holy obligation before the holy God. They did not fear Nehemiah or the people. They feared God.

May the Lord change our society so we likewise will be bound by our conscience to do what is right in the eyes of our God. May he impress on our political leaders and on all the rest of us the importance of our promises. May he use us as individuals to boldy request that our political leaders should do what is right.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nehemiah 4.7-23, 1 Timothy 3.1-16 - Lectionary for 9/20/10

Today's readings are Nehemiah 4.7-23 and 1 Timothy 3.1-16.

As we read in Nehemiah today we find that the people of Jerusalem are increasingly troubled by their hostile neighbors. There doesn't seem to be any rest for them, literally. By the end of the chapter everyone is on guard, on edge, looking for trouble to come from any direction.

How were the people sustained in these labors? Nehemiah gave them a hope in the Lord, who would be fighting for them. He reminded them that their struggles were temporary but God's power and majesty are eternal. He reminded them that they and their enemies would pass away but the kingdom the Lord builds is forever.

How do we face our trials? Do we shrivel up, thinking that our trials are our undoing and that we are the people who are supposed to be adequate to face and overcome those trials? Or do we look to our Lord in hope, knowing that he is the one who not only is able to face our trials but who already has done so? Let us look to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has been tested in every way that we are yet without sin. Let us look to our Lord who has given his life for us. Let us look to our Lord who became sin for us so that we could be the righteousness of God in him. Indeed the battle is over, the victory is won, Christ has conquered death, hell and the grave. There is nothing left for him to overcome.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Sunday, September 19, 2010

1 Timothy 2.1-15 - Sermon for 9/19/10

Let us pray.

Our Lord, as we are gathered to look into Your Word, we pray one of the most daring things of all, that you would change our hearts. Make us people who pray, according to your will, according to your desires, trusting that you will bring to pass what you have decreed in your people and in this world you have created, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Pray! Pray without ceasing! Pray in faith! Pray according to God's will! This is the call our Lord makes through his apostle in our New Testament passage today.  This promises to be one of the shortest sermons I will ever prepare. Everyone say "amen, thanks be to God." Why is it so short? Because we don't preach about prayer, we practice praying.

Really, I've been in so-called prayer services, and I know some of you have too, where you have an hour of prayer. But we open the prayer service with a song or two, then spend forty minutes hearing and talking about prayer and prayer requests, ten minutes praying for them, then sing a couple of songs and go home. May the Lord deliver us from such feeble attempts at prayer. May the Lord forgive us for our slack attitude about prayer. Instead, may we be transformed in the practice of frequent, fervent, believing prayer.

What does our Lord say elsewhere in Scripture about prayer? If we ask anything according to his will it will be done for us. We can come boldly to the Father in the name of Jesus, knowing that he is also interceding for us. The wall of separation between God and man has been broken down, torn apart by the death of Jesus on our behalf. When we pray, we can pray with confidence, knowing that our Lord and Savior has made great promises and is able to keep all those promises for his glory by his grace. Is that all we see throughout the Bible? By no means, but it's enough to be getting on with for now. I'd encourage you, sometime read through the Bible with a notebook giving close attention to what the Lord says about praying, then maybe a second time noting all the prayers in the Scripture. Notice how God's people pray with confidence and authority.

When we pray, we are ushered in before the very throne of God almighty. We know that when we pray according to his will he hears and answers our prayer.

Now back to this passage. How do we pray? We could try to work with the words "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings."  People have tried to make a lot of these different words for prayer. As someone who happens to have a good understanding of Greek, I can tell you confidently that unpacking these words specifically will give us very little insight. In short, Paul is telling us to pray in every way we can come up with, begging God for his help, begging him to work in this world. Paul seems to be using these words to emphasize that we pray earnestly in every way we can. What's really important? It's the people we pray for, the situations we ask God to have mercy on. And who are those people? Everyone, including those who we don't like, including those who might bring harm upon us, even those authority figures we might fear and distrust. What do we want as an outcome? That our world may live in the peace Jesus has accomplished through his death on our behalf and his resurrection as the firstfruits of the resurrection from the dead. Why do we do it? Because our Lord desires that all people may come to know him as the Savior of the world. Through whom and in whose name do we pray? We pray in Jesus' name, knowing that he is the one who has given himself as a ransom for all, to move us from the kingdom of death into the kingdom of life. How do we pray? We lift up our hands, knowing that we have nothing in our hands, nothing to offer God. We put aside our wealth, our wisdom, our own strength, and we receive the riches, wisdom and power of God in Christ Jesus. We remember the order of creation, in which God has made us in his image and likeness, people to love trust and serve him in purity.

So we pray. We depend on the mercy of our Lord and Savior. We know that in all things, in those things we think we can control and in those things we know we can't control, our Lord is sovereign, wise and good, and that he hears and answers our prayer.

Our liturgy is rich in prayers. As we look through the layout of the divine services we see prayer for all situations, for all people. Is there something troubling us? Let us pray. Is there something for which we are glad? Let us pray prayers of thanksgiving.

So let us turn to the Lord in prayer. Lord, we repent of the many times we have thought or even said that all we can do is pray. We confess that we have failed. We have not been the people of prayer that You desire. We have failed to receive the blessing You would pour out on your people as  they pray. We have not trusted you as we should. We have prayed according to our own designs, so that when we receive anything we can use it for our own selfish desires. We have prayed prayers that leave us divisive people. We have prayed for things that we can use to bring us glory, not to bring You glory. Grant us forgiveness and life. Transform our lives, our church, our world through genuine heartfelt prayer that prays you will show your mercy and bring us and those we pray for to knowledge of your grace in this world.  This we pray, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Nehemiah 2.11-20, 4.1-6, 1 Timothy 2.1-15 - Lectionary for 9/19/10

Today's readings are Nehemiah 2.11-20, 4.1-6 and 1 Timothy 2.1-15.

When Nehemiah went to Jerusalem he found the city in considerable disorder. The destruction was as bad as he had feared. The walls were damaged, the gates were torn down, the city had been burned, and the surrounding people were hostile to the idea of rebuilding Jerusalem. What did Nehemiah do? He went ahead, scouted out the territory, and began the building project. He had a mandate from his king and from the God of the Universe.

Sometimes we see the tasks our Lord has given us. When we look at those tasks and the challenges they present, the challenges seem to big. We don't imagine we can accomplish what the Lord has said. Yet we have a mandate from God. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us, that he will be with us always, even to the end of the world. With confidence or without it, we remind ourselves of the truth of God's promise and we press on.

Is there a challenge you face today? Can you remember that the Lord understands all the details of that challenge and will enable you to be faithful to him in your work? It's what he has promised, and our Lord does not make promises lightly. Trust in the Lord.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nehemiah 1.1-2.10, 1 Timothy 1.1-20 - Lectionary for 9/18/10

Today's readings are Nehemiah 1.1-2.10 and 1 Timothy 1.1-20.

The Bible uses the idea of "hearing" in a different way than most of us do. Here's an example. I don't hear very well. In fact, if I am not on the first floor of my house, if the doorbell rings, I don't hear it. Everyone else does, but I don't. It isn't that I'm distracted, it's simply that I don't hear what happened. Likewise, when I need to converse with people, I prefer email or the telephone. I can see what we are saying by email and I can turn up the volume of the telephone. If I have a nice conversation with someone in a crowded and noisy environment, I usually try to repeat anything that seems especially important to be sure I caught it. Or better yet I try to arrange to have my wife present. She'll hear.

In the Bible when we talk about God hearing, it isn't just about receiving a message. It goes far beyond that. Nehemiah prays to the Lord and the Lord hears him. Well, of course the Lord hears him. God hears everything. That isn't what Nehemiah is talking about though. He is talking about the Lord paying attention to him and hearing him favorably in such a way that he answers and gives Nehemiah his favor. That's a lot different from my hearing the doorbell. I might hear the doorbell and not answer. God answers. Every time.

On this occasion God showed favor to Nehemiah. Nehemiah was praying for something that was God's desire. Likewise, when we pray according to our Lord's will we can know he will hear and answer us. So when we pray the Lord's prayer, when we repent and ask forgiveness, when we pray for wisdom, when we ask the Lord to show his glory, we know he will do it. Everything the Lord has promised we know he will do and that he delights in our prayers that he will carry out that will.

What has the Lord promised? Pray that it may be so!

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Friday, September 17, 2010

2 Chronicles 36.1-23, Colossians 4.1-18 - Lectionary for 9/17/10

Today's readings are 2 Chronicles 36.1-23 and Colossians 4.1-18.

Our Old Testament reading today brings us through a very difficult time in the life of the people of Judah. Their kings are unfaithful, they are being replaced at the whim of the tyrant invaders, the things of the temple are being taken away, and the people are being enslaved, starved, and killed. The city is finally sacked and rendered uninhabitable.

Notice that God's prophets continue to stand against these abuses throughout the entire time period? Jeremiah and some others are telling the truth, provoking the invaders to wrath.

When the going gets rough, God's prophets must stand up for their Lord, no matter the cost. And that's what they have a history of doing. How many people have chosen to serve God faithfully in pastoral ministry, proclaiming the truth of God, despite times of persecution? How many people have been willing to put their lives on the line so as to tell the truth of God's Law and Gospel to the people who so desperately need to hear it? This great cloud of witnesses who have borne the testimony to the death and resurrection of their Lord Jesus Christ has gone before us. Until the return of our Lord in glory, the cloud of witnesses will continue to grow.

It's quite a job description. Yet God's people need faithful witnesses to proclaim the truth and administer the means of grace. May the Lord ever provide us with his faithful prophets, pastors and teachers, serving him despite all dangers.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

2 Chronicles 35.1-7, 16-25, Colossians 3.1-25 - Lectionary for 9/16/10

Today's readings are 2 Chronicles 35.1-7, 16-25 and Colossians 3.1-25.

When Josiah re-instituted the Passover observance, I'm struck by the fact that he provided the sacrificial animals for all the people. We see the king providing everything the people need for worship.

Likewise, when Jesus gave his life as an atonement for sin, we see not only the prophet who predicted that his life would be a ransom for ours, but we also see the priest who is able to offer sacrifice for his people, the sacrificial lamb itself, and a  king who commands and it is done. The king has commanded the offering and then makes sure we can make the offering.

May God ever grant us grace to walk in the freedom he has promised through the death of Jesus, the perfect lamb of God, on our behalf.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2 Chronicles 34.1-4, 8-11, 14-33, Colossians 2.8-23 - Lectionary for 9/15/10

Today's readings are 2 Chronicles 34.1-4, 8-11, 14-33 and Colossians 2.8-23.

I witnessed an interesting conversation a while back. At a social engagement where some long-time friends, married couples with children, were gathered, one person observed to the parent of a thirteen year old that he was the father of yet another teenager. It seemed like only yesterday we were welcoming this young man into the world as a baby, but now he's remarkably grown up. Someone else at the party began trying to break down our cultural assumptions that having a teenager means having someone who is a handful of rebellion and poison. Yet neither of the people in the original conversation had intended those connotations. Both of the people have had teenagers before and have found them to be energetic and responsible people, starting to show their adult maturity, growing in wisdom and discretion.

What does this have to do with today's reading? The young king Josiah started realizing the implications of belonging to Israel, God's chosen people, when he was about sixteen years old. Over he next ten years or so he grew in grace and in understanding of what the king of God's people should be like. During those teen years he saw what it meant to be a man of God. And he was full of youthful energy and courage, so it was the ideal time to change how he went about the business of being a king, the calling God had given him.

What do we expect of ourselves? What do we expect of our young people? Do we marvel at the way we mature and grow, standing before the Lord, being conformed into his image? Or do we expect the worst? Let us expect the best, knowing that the Lord is full of mercy and grace. Let us look for great things, knowing that the Lord is using our hands, young and old alike, to reach out to this world, that all may know the reconciliation he has accomplished in the person and work of Jesus.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2 Chronicles 33.1-25, Colossians 1.24-2.7 - Lectionary for 9/14/10

Today's readings are 2 Chronicles 33.1-25 and Colossians 1.24-2.7.

After king Hezekiah we find his son, Manasseh, doing evil in the sight of the Lord. He surpassed all the kinds of evil which were done before. Manasseh was a really bad king. See, though, that when he was captured by the Assyrians he was moved to repentance, probably out of fear for his life. He turned to the Lord and was changed, eventually regaining his freedom and becoming one of the better kings of Israel.

We learn several things from this passage in 2 Chronicles. First, we see that sons are not always like their fathers. Manasseh did not follow the model he received from his father Hezekiah. Manasseh's son Amon did not follow the model he received either. Yet while Manasseh was moved to repentance, Amon was not. Manasseh became a good king by God's mercy. Amon was a bad king for both years of his reign.

Second, we see that it doesn't matter how bad our past is. God can redeem our lives for his service, to do good instead of evil. No matter what kind of a shipwreck we find our lives in, our Lord can pick us up and use those broken, disjointed pieces for his good. We are not defined by our past. We are defined by repentance and by what our Lord is like. And the Lord does not change. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. His mercy endures forever. He is the one who defines us, motivates us, enables us, and uses us to love and serve our neighbor as he has loved and served us.

Dave Spotts
blogging at