Friday, March 30, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 13 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Joshua 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Joshua 1 - od reminds Joshua and the people of Israel that he is able to deliver on his promises. What has he promised in Jesus? Consider it done.

Joshua 2 - God preserves his chosen line, the line of the Messiah, through Rahab, the pagan and prostitute. What other unsavory characters does he use to accomplish his purposes?

Joshua 3 - I'm amazed at how the people of Israel will stop and receive instruction from God while crossing a river he has dried up miraculously. I can barely get a congregation to stop and listen when they smell coffee!

Joshua 4 - Yet another memorial is set up. What do we use to remember how our Lord has provided for us? Do we effectively look to God's provision or are we looking to ourseelves?

Joshua 5 - How did the people of Israel fail to circumcise their children while in the wilderness? Despite their failure God still gave them a time of repentance. As we say in Matins and Vespers services when we hear the Scripture, "Lord have mercy." "Thanks be to God."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 13 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Romans 11-16. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Romans 11 - All Christians are grafted in to Christ. Gentiles in part serve to call Jews to repentance and faith.

Romans 12 - Verse 21 sums up the chapter. “D not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (ESV). This is not our natural inclination but it is God’s nature.

Romans 13 - Orderly societies are governed. We may well object to some of the governance we face. We respond by striving to do good in our society and using the means available to us to live out chapter 12 verse 21.

14.1-15.13 - In all the freedom Jesus as given us, we act for the good of our neighbor. In all this Jesus shows himself to be the one who loved us enough to give his life for us.

15.14-16.27 - Paul tells the Romans of his plans and sends his greetings to them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 13 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Romans 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Romans 6 - Our response to God’s grace is to avoid sin, not to sin more. My observation is that where God’s grace is proclaimed people try to cast out sin. Where God’s Law is seen as our salvation people tend to minimize the seriousness of sin. It seems backwards, but it’s what happens.

Romans 7 - Sin grabs us by the power of the Law, showing us how badly we need repentance and forgiveness. The more aware we are of God’s demands the more we see how great his forgiveness is.

Romans 8 - Here we see that Jesus has removed our condemnation. We stop to wonder at how great this Gospel is.

Romans 9 - Some use Romans 9 to say God chooses some for salvation and some for condemnation. Yet it is speaking of God’s choice of the line of the Messiah. Salvation is always by grace through faith. God has always redeemed all who believe, even though they delayed through unbelief for a time.

Romans 10 - All are saved from sin in the same way - belief on Christ. This is why proclamation of the Gospel is so critical.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 13 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Romans 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Romans 1 - The Gospel is God’s power, revealing God’s righteousness (1:16-17). How often we try to depend on our own obedience rather than on Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by faith! May we rediscover this critical realization of Jesus for us day by day.

Romans 2 - God’s kindness is to lead us to repentance (v. 4). When we strive to live by the Law rather than in repentance and faith we deny all our Lord has done for us.

Romans 3 - God’s love shown in Jesus is siffucient to exclude all our boasting. We dare not trust in ourselves, no matter who we are. Salvation remains by grace through faith. Yet God’s Law has a purpose. How does God’s Law work?

Romans 4 - The Law shows us we need to look to God’s promises as Abraham did.

Romans 5 - Our peace with God is dependent on Jesus and his death for us while we were still sinners. Consider how Jesus is the second Adam, the one who did not fall, and who redeemed all mankind from the curse.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 13 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Deuteronomy 31-34. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Deuteronomy 31-32 - God knows the depth of our distrust and rebellion against him. He calls us to repentance and faith using means which are hard to forget. Will we hear his call?

Deuteronomy 33 - The different tribes of Israel receive their blessings from God. He blesses each in a special and different way. All of Christ’s people are different but there is one Holy Spirit working in all to bring his kingdom to bear. May we have grace so we never despise our Lord’s gifts or think we are inferior because we have different gifts from others.

Deuteronomy 34 - Though Moses died he appeared with Elijah speaking with Jesus at the Transfiguration. Certainly we see Jesus as the Lord of resurrection.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sermon for 3/25/12 "Jesus the New Prophet"

Sermon “Jesus the New Prophet” Deuteronomy 18

Lord, let us see you, the Master of all, Savior of the nations, the one who has come as the true revelation of God, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I'd like us to take just a moment to think about the scariest thing we can imagine. Most of our minds will turn to something we dislike or something we had a bad experience with. Maybe it's something we are irrationally afraid of. For instance, there are few animals which scare me, but there is one of which I'm intensely afraid, though it is one which probably doesn't scare most of you. I know some people who are afraid of clowns. Some people are especially afraid of certain diseases. Some are afraid of drowning or choking. There are real and imagined terrors all around us.

But how terrifying is the presence of God? Often we think of God's presence as a very comforting thing, and God in his love for us through Jesus is our fortress, our strength, our confidence and hope. There's no doubt about it. For that matter, whenever I give a funeral address if possible it focuses on the fact that the departed is not really departed, but rather comforted in the arms of the Savior. There's great comfort in God with us. But what of the power and glory of God? Who can stand before the Lord and live? His presence is terrifying enough to kill us all. Even when his less powerful little servants, angels, appear to people, they always say “Don't be afraid.” What does that say about those angels? As they are sent by the Lord they reflect just a little of his majesty and glory, and they are able to terrify us!

When we think about the presence of God we can come up with a lot of adjectives to describe him. We might consider him as the holy one, the one who is entirely righteous, the one who is pure. These are attributes of God. And as our Lord influences his surroundings, there's this holy, righteous, pure environment around him. Nothing that is impure can dare to approach. This is why when Moses was called to approach God on Mount Sinai he was told a certain way to prepare. This is why not just everyone was allowed to go onto the mountain, and why those who went with Moses were to prepare themselves in a certain way. If they approached God in his holiness they could well be consumed by him, destroyed on the spot. Nothing impure can approach our Lord.

So how is it we will speak with God? How do we hear from God? He's too terrifying to imagine. What will we do? The response to that problem in the time of the Exodus was simple. Just two little words. SEND MOSES! But what do we do when Moses, God's servant, is gone? We need a revelation from God. We need to hear what our Lord says to us. And in Deuteronomy chapter 18 God gave Moses a promise. He said that he would raise up a prophet like Moses, one who would see him face to face and be able to bring God's word to the people. In these last days, God has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus, the new prophet, the one who not only speaks from God but has fulfilled all the commands of God.

On this day of the Church year we celebrate the very real presence of Jesus, the new prophet. We see today, March 25, nine months before Christmas, that God's angel came to Mary and spoke to her of her future. He came and announced to her that she would bear a child, that new prophet, the one whom Israel had hoped for all those years. And this is the great good news which we get to proclaim. Jesus has come to redeem the world to God. Jesus has come to carry our sins away. Jesus has come to live a perfect life on our behalf, to die a perfect death on our behalf, and to show himself to be the God of resurrection. We celebrate the fact that even before he was born, Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, was living on our behalf. He was going through the same kind of trials that we face. He was living for us without sin. He was truly the child of promise we have heard about throughout the Scriptures.

Now there's a debate in Christianity that I'm afraid I have to bring up. And that's how we view the heart and center of the Christian life. It's one of those issues that separates Lutherans from much of the rest of Christianity, especially in this country. What is at the heart of the Christian faith? You know that I am a strong advocate for reading the Scripture. When I became a Christian that was literally the first thing I was taught. Because Christians believe in Jesus, the Son of God as revealed in the Bible, we need to learn what the Bible says. And there's no doubt about that. This is why Christians read the Bible, most of them trying to read several chapters daily, throughout their lives, learning more and more about what God has told them. The Scripture is very important. When we ignore what our Lord has told us through his servants who wrote his word we do so at our own peril. We need to know what God has said. And most of Protestantism would describe itself as “Bible-centered.” That's a good thing, at least as a start.

But let me ask you this. Can you know the Bible backwards and forwards and not know Jesus? Can you know what the Bible says and not see that Jesus is living his life for you? Can you learn all that the Bible says and still think it's just for other people? Yes, you can. And this is the failing of a “Bible-centered” Christianity. Don't get me wrong. We need to be reading the Bible. Yet Christianity is not about the Bible. It's about Jesus. This view of the Christian life being centered on the incarnation of Christ, God in the flesh, living, dying, and rising again for you and for me – that's where the Lutherans held firm when the more radical members of the Reformation went astray. We focus on the life and work of Jesus for you and for me, every day of our lives, forever and ever. The Bible isn't our master. Jesus is our master. The Bible points us to Jesus. The Bible informs us about Jesus. But the Bible will never save us. It will never deliver us from death. Only Jesus will do so. Jesus, the living word of God, the word “incarnate” - given to us in the flesh – he is the one by whose name we are saved. While much of American Christianity is diligent about being faithful to the Scripture, many groups never end up looking beyond what Jesus says to what Jesus is doing. Many of them never look beyond Jesus' promise to be with them to see that Jesus really is with them, bodily present in communion. Many of them look at baptism as a symbol of God's cleansing from sin but never see the reality that he is actually washing us when he baptizes us. Many in American Christianity just want to see the shadow of Jesus' work. We want to see Jesus, working in and through us. That's what we call “incarnational” ministry. We focus on Jesus, God with us, the one who came into the flesh when the Holy Spirit came to Mary.

We need that new prophet. We need him walking around with us. We need him talking with us. We need him to bring us to life. We need him to wash us from sin, to feed our faith with his real body and his real blood, we need him to die for us, to rise from the dead for us, and when we die to raise us to life from the dead. We need the new prophet. And thanks be to God, he has come.

Are you facing trials? Are you facing circumstances that may even be terrifying? We won't try to comfort you by throwing a book at you, telling you to read about how God is able to overcome those fears. No. Though it's all in there, we know that the time of trial is not the time to study God's providence. The time of trial is the time when we need that new prophet. The time of trial is when we look to Jesus. God has revealed himself in these last days in Jesus, and he is the one who is here to share our struggles, to hear our confession, to forgive us from sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, to make us walk in his paths, even the path he took through death into the resurrection. We may be in the time of Lent, a time of mourning. But the time of the resurrection is not far ahead of us. We will look to Jesus, the risen Lord, who is with us.

Now may the love of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, be perfected in you, casting out all fear, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 12 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Deuteronomy 26-30. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Deuteronomy 26 - The first of our increase is given by faith to the Lord who rpovides all we need. This is a testimony to God’s faithfulness.

Deuteronomy 27-28 - The people of Israel set up monuments to remember God’s faithfulness, not for their obedience. God proclaims his curse on our disobedience and his blessing on obedience. Yet it is Jesus who is obedient on our behalf. All God’s blessings are upon his people on account of Christ’s righteousness.

Deuteronomy 29-30 - God’s mercy calls his people to repentance and faith. He will never desert them. All our trials are for one purpose, to show our need to trust in the Lord.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 12 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Deuteronomy 21-25. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Deuteronomy 21 - God is concerned about death, justice, opportunities to mourn, inheritances, and families living as upright members of society. He cares more about all this than we who have hardened selfish hearts do.

Deuteronomy 22-25 - Is this not all summed up when we are told to love our neighbors as ourselves? We strive to help, not harm.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 12 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Deuteronomy 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Deuteronomy 16 - The yearly calendar of Israel has observances which remind God’s people of his provision in the past and which foreshadow his work in Christ. Do we keep the work of Christ before us regularly?

Deuteronomy 17 - Justice includes examination of the facts and understanding of God’s Word. How often we forget both! The righteous king is a man of God’s word. Observe that the kings of Israel were generally not that faithful.

Deuteronomy 18 - See the prophet raised up like Moses - see Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Scripture.

Deuteronomy 19 Think about all the ways a city of refuge is NOT a “get out of jail free” card.

Deuteronomy 20 - Sometimes people say “one man and God is a majority.” Is it not rather that God is all?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 12 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Deuteronomy 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Deuteronomy 11 - Sometimes I hear that Christian young people should be encouraged to go to a college where they will have the opportunity to take Bible and theology courses in addition to their course of study toward another vocation. Proponents of this view ask where else they will have opportunity to talk about theology and study the Scriptures. This chapter puts that in the context of the home and community. I for one would love to recapture that. Let’s talk about Scripture.

Deuteronomy 12 - Worship of God is distinctive from the worship of the nations. Why do we try to imitate the rest of the world in what we do?

Deuteronomy 13 - Purity in worship is a matter worth fighting for. What are the implications of this in the New Testament? Jesus does not present his people as waging war and killing others for the sake of pure worship.

Deuteronomy 14 - There are many distinctions here. God’s people are to eat a special diet and engage in planned giving. People have suggested many possible reasons for the particulars of the diet. The best reason to accept, though, is that God is making a difference between his people and those who are not his people. Recall the dietary laws have passed away in the New Testament revelation.

Deuteronomy 15 - The Sabbatical year is a sign of how we labor only temporarily. In the last day God gives a true day of rest. We are not to harden our hearts against others during the time of labor knowing the time of rest will come. Rather we all do what we can. In the New Testament Jesus is presented as our Sabbath rest. This law has been fulfilled in Christ, as we who believe enter into rest from our sin and strife.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 12 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Deuteronomy 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Deuteronomy 6 - Verse 2 tells us the reason for teaching God’s commands. It’s so we will be able to fear the Lord. So often we focus on the portion of the chapter that talks about how we pass God’s commands on to our family. But while that is important, we want to keep the goal in mind. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We learn God’s word so that we will know what God is like. This magnifies our understanding of our need for a savior.

Deuteronomy 7 - God commands his people to cast out the people he is displacing before them. This is for the protection of those who love and trust our Lord, as the customs of the other peoples will ensnare them to their destruction. Why do we tolerate the views of our world at large rather than looking to our Lord and his Word for safety and comfort?

Deuteronomy 8 - God reminds his people of the land he is bringing them into, a land of comfort and plenty. In the New Testament we see many promises about our heavenly home. Do we look forward to the way our Lord will provide for us and give us all we need?

Deuteronomy 9 - The Lord does not save people because they are good. We all deserve his condemnation. He saves people because he is good. This both gives us hope and leads us to repentance.

Deuteronomy 10 - God graciously made a covenant with his people and placed that covenant in their midst. He tells his people then to trust him and love him, following him with all their hearts. In these last days, Jesus has shed his blood, a new covenant, a covenant of forgiveness and life, at the expense of his own death on our behalf. Receiving the covenant blood of our Lord in communion is very serious. It is one of the ways he keeps his redeeming presence right in front of us.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sermon for 3/18/12 "Jesus, Savior and Leader"

Sermon “Jesus, Savior and Leader

Guide us by your Word. Your Word is truth. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

What do we do when the lights go off? Maybe there's a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder, and everything turns off. Sometimes it doesn't do that much, but our lives change for a moment. But sometimes we really count on those lights. I remember years ago driving an old church bus. It was quite old at the time. We were on a trip somewhere, with some of the college students, and we had all decided to pile into the little bus for the trip. We were returning after dark and a light came on – the generator light. Many of you know what this means. The bus can still drive perfectly well, but it is no longer recharging the battery. The lights will become dimmer and dimmer until it's all over. Eventually there won't be a spark to run the engine and we'll coast to a halt. This was, of course, before the days of cell phones. Calling for help was difficult. We gritted our teeth and drove on, making it into the church parking lot in time. But I'll tell you, the last half hour or so was pretty dark. We couldn't see much of where we were going on those curvy rural roads. We were almost groping our way. If we'd needed to read a road sign we would have been out of luck. With no light leading us, we can get lost, and it can happen fast.

What does this have to do with the Christian life? Jesus, the light of the world, has come. He has shone his light on us. He enlightens all of us and we can look to him for our salvation and our guidance in this life and into eternity. All we do is look to him in love, realizing that he has done exactly what he said he would. He himself is light, in him there is no darkness at all, and that light is the life of men. We confess that along with the apostle John, who wrote that for us in John 1. But are we looking to Jesus? Is he the one who guides our paths? Is he the one whose light we pursue? Or do we go some other direction?

Consider with me a for a moment the children of Israel, as we read in Numbers. They were in the wilderness on their way to God's promised land. They were being fed by God. He gave them what they needed to eat and to drink. Their clothing and equipment were not wearing out because God was supernaturally sustaining them. And they were haters of God, grumbling against the Lord who gave them bread in the wilderness. Even though they were his covenant children they were backbiters, slanderers, saying all sorts of evil against God and his servant Moses. With those serpents the people of Israel got exactly what they deserved. Actually, they got much better than they deserved, because it was possible to run, it was possible to try hiding, not everyone was bitten, though all deserved it. And what did the Lord do? In his mercy he raised up a bronze serpent on a pole. He raised up that which was deadly to them, and he told them to look at it in trust. Now we all know that looking at a bronze snake does not cure a snakebite. Looking at a picture of that which kills you does not stop you from dying. But in God's mercy he was showing them that they were saved by grace through faith. They could look at that which was raised up for them and they could live.They received what they needed. They had one they could look to and live. The light shone on the people of Israel that day. God rescued his covenant children who hated and despised him.

What about Ephesians 2? When we were rebellious, sinful, disobedient, Jesus made us alive in him by giving himself for us. And he saved us not only from the evil that we were capable of, but he saved us to appoint us to good works. Did you see that in verse 10? Sometimes we are intent on learning verses 8 and 9, and those are important, they are the foundation. We are not saved by what we do, but we are saved entirely by God's grace. But what are we saved for? What does God do with us, his people, his instruments? He does good works through us. He created us in Christ for good works, to show his blessing to our world. Even though we were haters of God, backbiters, people like the people of Israel who would grumble against God's providence, he has made us so that we can show his mercy and grace.

Now you might be saying that you're really glad those other people came to church today, right? Those people who don't seem to think much of God. They really need to get going, doing their good works, living actively for Jesus. I agree that there are people who need to be doing those works God created them for. But we all need to ask ourselves who the apostle Paul is talking to. Is he talking about the other people, those we think don't like God very much? Yes, he is. He's talking about all those people, just like us, who don't seem to want to obey our Lord. Ephesians is talking about other people, but it is talking about everyone. We're included, even when we are busy about our Christian life he is talking about us, exhorting us to be diligent for Jesus. Paul uses words like “we” and “you” and it is talking to people who are Christians. He's talking to us. When we were objects of God's anger Jesus came and took that anger upon himself, dying in our place so that we could be saved from sin. He gave his life for us so that we could do his will, bringing the grace of our Lord into every situation. He, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, shone his light on us and still shines his light in this world, so we can look to him, so we can follow him, so we can be his instruments.

Yet Jesus our Lord tells us in John chapter 3 verse 18 that our world is condemned. He has given himself as the light of the world, but it is condemned. And what is that condemnation? `The light of the world has come but we loved darkness. We fled from the light because it would expose our evil. We reject Jesus because we know he shows us to be sinners. We'd be more comfortable in the dark. The Bible has some difficult teaching, after all. We don't have to go far to find parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable. If you doubt me, walk through the ten commandments slowly sometime. See the ways you fail to love God entirely. See how you consider God's name and holiness. See how you value the time you get to rest from your labor and delight in the Lord who has provided for you. See how you feel toward your parents, your neighbors, your wife or husband, how you are enticed by things that belong to others or that you don't really have a right to have. One of the hot button issues in this day is adultery, people who don't take the sacred marriage vows seriously. There are a lot of people who want to have a sort of “trial marriage” by living together before getting married. They think they can use a trial period. I'll speak gently, there are children in the room. Studies have shown that a couple who acts married without being married is much more likely to break up later than a couple that doesn't do that. They also find that rates of child abuse and neglect are much much higher in familes where the adults are not married to one another or where the children are not the children of both parents. These are important issues of trust, commitment, and love. If you are involved with someone outside of the bonds of marriage then how are you going to trust that person to be faithful to you within the bonds of marriage? And what does it say about the promises we make when marrying? Last wedding I performed the bride and groom didn't say anything about pledging to each other until death or inclination would part them. No, it's until death. And I'm sorry, Mr. Robertson, dementia or any other sort of illness may be “a sort of living death” but it does not give any one of us reason to forsake the person we have pledged our life to. Those pledges are holy. We promise in the presence of God and witnesses how we will live a life to the glory of God. It's serious business.

Have I just hurt some people? Maybe you have left a marriage, maybe you have broken your marriage vows. Maybe you're involved in a relationship now which the Bible would speak against. We can end the sinful situation. We can end the relationship which brings shame to Christ. But our past, that's something we can't reverse. It's done and that's all there is to it. But it's also something that doesn't need to bind us. Jesus died for that as well. He has taken all our sin, all our shame, all our blame, upon himself. He has recreated us and we do not have to walk in the darkness of bondage any longer. We may still have to pay child support, we may still find that family gatherings are difficult because of past history, that may never go away. But we don't have to be bound by it. Jesus gives us repentance and he gives us forgiveness. He calls us into his light to follow him.

Do we start to see how big the Gospel is? The things I've messed up, and I've messed plenty of them up, all my life, all my past life, and today, tomorrow, and all the days I have left I'll sin against my Lord. I'll probably sin against you too. That's what we people who confess we are sinners do. But Jesus, the light of the world, has come to shine his light in the darkness, to dispel the darkness, to save us and to lead us out of this wilderness. We look to our Lord.

Today is our missions kickoff day. It's timely. If you're following the Bible reading challenge you may have wrapped up a reading of Acts recently. And you've seen how God leads his people to change the world. At the beginning of Acts there are a few disciples who are hiding out in Jerusalem. By the end of the book we see Christian believers all over the world. How did that happen? It happened because the first disciples looked to Jesus. They knew that his forgiving grace and love are greater than all their sin. They knew that Jesus died not only for their sins but also for the sins of the whole world. Is the gospel of Christ great enough for us? How about our families? Does Jesus love our relatives enough to save them? And our friends? Are any of those friends we have people who will be hurt by looking to Jesus? Not at all. What about our school, our classmates, our teachers, the administrators? Are they people Jesus died for? Yes, they are people who are to be recipients of God's grace in Jesus Christ. So are the people in our workplace. So are all the people we meet in the community. So are all the people in the world. Jesus gave himself for unjust people, just like we are, just like our whole world.

Missions, then, starts right here. It starts at home. It starts as we are partakers of the word of God. It starts as we look to Jesus who forgives all our sins and creates us for good works in Christ. And it spreads from here. It spreads through our words, our deeds, our offerings which support the words and deeds of others. The Gospel is too great to be hidden. It is too great to be overlooked. The heart of the Gospel is that Jesus died for the sins of the world, not just our sins. So we partakers of the Gospel can look to our Lord and follow his light. Unlike our old church bus, Jesus shines brightly, as long as this world lasts.

We stand to pray. Our Lord Jesus Christ, light of the world, who have given yourself to redeem us as your people, give us eyes to see you, a heart to believe you, and make us ready to follow you wherever you lead, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 11 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Deuteronomy 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Moses runs through a brief history of the time from the Exodus to present. He emphasizes God’s providential hand. Through thick and thin, God has provided for his people. We’ve seen that in our readings in the last few weeks. Even when the people are intent on complaining about God and rejecting him, his hand of mercy is on them. They have not perished in the wilderness from hunger and thirst. They have had their needs provided for. Why is this? It’s because of the Lord’s mercy and grace, not due to the goodness of God’s people.

The ten commandments are delivered here in Deuteronomy 5 as they were in Exodus 20. Notice they are not numbered, which has led to some dissension over the years, as protestants decided the Roman church had the numbering wrong.

How do we view God’s commands? How do we view his providence? Do they bring us before him in repentance?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 11 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Acts 25-28. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Acts 25-26 Paul uses the court system for his protection. He uses it legitimately within the bounds of the law and in keeping with its intent - the protection of the life of a Roman citizen against unlawful prosecution. How do Christians view the courts? Do we treat them as our friends or our enemies?

Acts 27-28 Paul’s journey and his imprisonment in Rome once he arrives there are examples to us of how to view God’s providence in difficult times. Even though they were in peril, Paul, as the one with an eternal hope, carried on in faith, trusting that the Lord could use him to minister to the needs of those around him. How do we act when in trouble?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 11 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Acts 21-24. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Acts 21 - See how widespread and fully-functioning the Church is - all sorts of believers in many places. yest the servants of the Gospel are under attack by those zealous for the Law.

Acts 22 - The crux of the problem was that the Gospel was for all nations, not just Israel. This is what brings persecution onto Paul by the Jews.

Acts 23 - Though by its typical policy the Roman government was not friendly to Jews and did not distinguish Jews and Christians, still they had constitutional protections for citizens. Paul is not afraid to use them. Are we?

Acts 24 - Paul makes his testimony of Christ clear and also points out that Christians are peaceable people. May we have the same testimony.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Chapter Summaries

I'm a little behind on writing book chapter summaries and will be interrupting myself by spending a few days in the near future blogging about a book that has been sent to a large number of people in my town. It seems the book tries to demonstrate that there is a conspiracy to take people away from God by forcing a change of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, imposing false religion on people. While people in my congregation are not taking the book as a serious theological discussion I think some are wanting to know how to answer people who may be confused by its teaching. Bottom line? I'll have to read it, even though in the few minutes I spent skimming it I'm convinced the arguments aren't worth the paper they are printed on. We'll get back to the books with actual theological importance in the near future as well.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 11 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Acts 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Acts 16 - See how when Paul drives a demon out of a girl and helps her he finds the city turning against him. That situation that looks very bad turns out for good. Not only is the girl healed, which is a good thing, Paul and Silas are released from jail and the jailer and his family are converted. See how quick Paul and Silas are to baptize the man and his household - in the middle of the night when he has first heard and believed on Christ.

Acts 17 - It’s the Jews from Thessalonica who cause Paul and Silas so many problems in Acts 17. I wonder what happened between that time and the time that Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians. Paul makes a very eloquent defense of the faith in Athens, but notice there are only a few who believe.

Acts 18 - Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that he determined to know only Christ crucified when he went to Corinth. A thriving church was established there, though not one that was without problems.

Acts 19 - In verses 1-7 some people see evidence for re-baptism. But many will see a difference between John’s baptism and Christian baptism. John’s baptism was as a result of repentance. It was a pledge that the believer made by receiving baptism. But Jesus’ baptism seems to be effectual, giving forgiveness, imparting the Holy Spirit. Christian baptism is not a mere symbol. This view is consistent with the supernatural character of God as we see in the remainder of the chapter. It’s this supernaturality of God which causes riots.

Acts 20 - As Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders he gives them commissions to continue to pass the Gospel on from generation to generation. Some churches consider elders as the equivalent of a board of directors rather than as people who engage in shepherding God’s flock. I wonder if we can recapture the idea of biblical eldership?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 11 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Acts 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Acts 11 - Peter, surprised by seeing God’s grace come to the Gentiles, defends his actions before others who don’t think the Gentiles can receive Christ. What people do we think can’t believe and be saved from sin? Do we pray for them?

Acts 12 - Even as the Word of God is increasing, Christians are enduring hardship. See the irony of the prayer meeting, begging the Lord to deliver Peter from prison. When Peter is released from prison by the angel he interrupts the praying people, who don’t believe their prayers were answered. Yet God’s works in our midst should remain startling to us. He is never commonplace.

Acts 13 - Sometimes we want to look for miraculous signs. Yet see how in this chapter the greatest miracle is shown as the Lord calls people to himself in faith. Occasionally God uses a person to do a striking miracle but usually he quietly works repentance and faith in their hearts, the most incredible miracle we ever see, as it undoes the sin of our father Adam.

Acts 14 - Often we think of persecutions in the church coming from the pagan government. Here we are reminded that it was the Jews who persecuted Christians. The pagans had a tendency to accept the claims of Jesus. See how Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the churches - the elders seem to have a pastoral role but we know very little about how they were prepared, only that they served by appointment.

Acts 15 - I’m struck by how many different people are involved in leadership at this point - many who are not among the Twelve. The message remains the same - salvation by grace through faith. It is not through circumcision or culturally becoming Jewish. See how Paul and Barnabas both seem to be considered apostles and how they receive and follow directives made by others, including possibly some who are not among the Twelve. The structure of the early Church was quite interesting.

“Jude” Carson & Moo pp. 688-696

In this brief letter, Jude, following a very carefully created structure, launches into an attack against false teaching and teachers. The letter arises from a report of false teachers. While many have compared this letter with 2 Peter we see that the emphasis Peter puts on the end times is lacking in Jude. This may indicate that Jude came first or that they simply have different interests.

Who is the author? There are several people known as “Jude” or “Judas” in the New Testament. This author identifies himself as the “brother of the Lord,” thus indicating he may well have been the brother mentioned in mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55. Carson and Moo find the arguments against this individual being the author to be weak, so conclude that Jude the brother of Jesus wrote the letter. This decision puts the date of Jude earlier than we would expect if the person were not a brother of Jesus, thus leaving us with a date no later than the late 60s. This is consistent with a relationship between this letter and 2 Peter.

Recent scholarship has focused on the rhetorical nature of Jude, identifying among other features a strong structure of an exordium, a narratio, a probatio, and a peroratio. Some have also observed the repeated patterns of threes in Jude’s arguments. In any case, this is a careful and sophisticated letter. Yet the letter has largely been neglected, perhaps because of its negative message. Jude spends more time discussing what is wrong than giving answers. Yet we all need to know what is wrong with our world, and Jude helps us in this.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sermon for 3/10/12 "Clear for Action"

Sermon “Clear for Action” (Exodus 20, John 2, 1 Cor. 1, Acts 1-10)

Lord, let us hear your word and respond with a whole heart, growing in grace and the knowledge of You, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today we heard God's commands, his holy commands. There we have the first principles of the Christian faith. I recall when my older daughter was in third grade one of the songs her class sang at a school program was about the ten commandments. The teacher wanted to be sure that her students would learn God's commands so they could live a life in accordance with God's high calling. We were blessed to have a Christian school where God's word was taken seriously and where the teachers would encourage students in the faith. And this is a great blessing. I don't think it's a secret to anyone here that I'm wholeheartedly committed to Christian schooling, and am a supporter of home schooling. This is one way parents can work to nurture their children, showing them how all of life is centered on God's word, and how the Lord has created and sustains all things by his gracious command. So we teach our children God's commands. The perfect ten! God's commandments which will never pass away reveal some of his character to us. They tell us how to live an upright life in our society. As Lutherans we may well be familiar with the terms “curb” “guide” and “mirror.” The Law of God hinders evil. It's a curb. It shows us what is pleasing to God. It's a guide. And it shows us our sin, as we look at ourselves in light of the Word. It's a mirror. So we uphold God's commands. We teach them to our catechism class. Our adult class ran into them earlier this year as well, as I've been encouraging people who are not in confirmation class to consider a portion of the catechism each week, just like the confirmands. If we all nourish ourselves on God's Word and wise Christian teaching together we will find that we are able to encourage one another in the faith. So we hear the commandments. We strive to do the commandments. Like Mrs. Jones taught her third grade class, and may still be teaching them today, as far as I know, God's commands are good. They will not pass away.

Yet I need to ask you a question. Is that all there is to life? Is that all there is to the Christian faith? Keep God's commands? Where's the love of God in all this? Of course we could argue, and argue well, that God's love is shown as he uses his commands to guard us from evil and to show us what is pleasing to him. But then there's that annoying fact of the mirror. You know how the mirror works, right? I wonder how many of you have ever walked into a dance studio? You really find out what a mirror does there, because usually at least three walls of the rehearsal space are covered with mirrors. I know what the mirror does for me. They say a mirror puts ten pounds onto you. I'd like to think then that having a dozen mirrors makes me look a hundred and twenty pounds overweight and that I'm really skinny. Afraid that's not so. But you know it and I know it. The mirror shows our flaws. It points out to us what others might miss. And we tend to be more concerned about ourselves than others are. Married men all know this feeling. Our wives ask us if their hair is all right. Then they want to know if we looked carefully enough. The fact is, most of you aren't nearly as conscious of my hair, face, or clothes as I am when I look in a mirror. And I'm not as aware of your appearance as you are when you check yourself in the mirror. God's Law acts as a mirror, and it shows us our flaws. If God's law is all there is to life, we are in deep deep trouble. He turns on the light of his word and shows up all our faults, at least all that we can stand to see. This is why people come to me and look ashamed, telling me about sin before I ask. God's word shows our sin. And if we end there, we are condemned. We are hopeless. We realize that we are sinners. And we confess – thought, word, deed, commission, omission – it's all there. We're condemned.

Ah, God's perfect law. When we have a sermon title like “Clear for Action” we probably think the sermon will be about casting out sin, getting it out of the way, clearing the decks so we can do righteous works. But now we've spent about half the sermon (I know you're watching your watches, some of you decided not to have breakfast before church) talking about God's Law but not seeing how it prepares us to live a victorious life. That's actually exactly the problem I had with the third grade class and their song about God's perfect ten commandments. What were they prepared to do? Go and live according to God's commandments? How? Either they would be end up lowering their view of the commands so as to convince themselves they were obeying them or they would be driven by despair to see that they could never live a life pleasing to God.

So how are we going to clear the decks for action? We've got this burden of sin. It's weighing us down. If we can't get rid of it we're bound to capsize. We saw in our Gospel reading that the solution our Lord provided was that of sacrifice. He gives offerings which can carry our sin, releasing us. And as you read in the Bible this week, wrapping up the book of Numbers, release from sin is a messy process. It's full of death, the death of many animals on your behalf, again and again. So the people of Israel were engaged in this life of offering, of sacrifice, with the priest taking an animal and killing it before God on behalf of the sinner who needed release from sin. Out of kindness people had begun selling sacrificial animals at the temple. After all, some people had to come a long distance. Would their animals be acceptable when they arrived? So it is a good thing for people to be able to exchange money for an acceptable animal. Money travels pretty well. Yet once again, God's law, the law of sacrifice, did its work as a mirror. What did the people who sold sacrificial animals do? They agreed with the banking industry to accept only certain types of money, which would often have to come from the bank branch which they set up in front of the temple. They also agreed with the priests that the priests would accept only certain sacrificial animals, those sold in the temple courts. So a famer could count on the livestock he raised being rejected. Instead, he would have to exchange it for money where he lived, take the money, possibly exchange it and pay an ATM fee, buy an offering at the temple, and then make his sacrifice. The result? An expensive offering which may have been a substandard animal, and a profit for the money changer and the person who sold animals for sacrifice. Sin once again weighs us down. We need to be cleared of this. Thanks be to God, Jesus comes into the courts and condemns the selfishness of those people. They aren't enabling worshipers to come before God. They are hindering them.

All our works, all our attempts at obedience – are they evil? No, not really, but the sin in our lives makes our attempts, even our most faithful attempts corrupt. We are not able to save ourselves by any of our obedience. We need something different. We need the renewal of the Holy Spirit. We need a sacrifice substituted for us. We need Christ crucified for sinners. We need just what Paul was talking about in our reading from 1 Corinthians 1. We need just what we read about in the Bible reading challenge as we read the beginning of the book of Acts. Because what we saw there, in Acts 1:8, was that God promised he would recreate his disciples. He said they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they would be his witnesses.

So now is the time I tell you to clear the decks for action. Sweep out your sin and shame by the power of the Holy Spirit. Go and be witnesses! But there's still something missing. Leaving you like that would be, well, wrong. It would leave you with a command to keep those commandments. You can't make the Holy Spirit clean you. You can't make yourself be a witness. And what's more, when Jesus tells his disciples they will be witnesses, he is not making a command. So when the pastor of the independent church I used to belong to told us to obey this verse by going, he was wrong. So was the Assembly of God pastor. So was the pastor of the Evangelical Free church. So was the Southern Baptist pastor. So was the Presbyterian pastor. I hate to say it, but so was the Lutheran pastor. In Acts 1:8 there are no verbs which make commands. The verbs are descriptive. In grammar we call them “indicative” verbs. They indicate something that is happening. They are not “imperative,” verbs, which make commands. Those have a different form. Here's what Jesus is saying. He is saying to his disciples that they will be people who have the power of the Holy Spirit and that they will be people who can be described as witnesses. That's who they are. It isn't what he commands them to do.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus takes the burden off of the disciples. He says they are going to live their lives, and because of his work in them, their lives will be lives that testify to him. What happens? They receive the power of the Holy Spirit. They live out their Christian life, talking about what comes naturally to those who have been changed by God – they talk about God's wonderful works, about what the Lord says in the Scripture. They live lives together, doing good. And their lives are testimonies to the Lord. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1, he determined to know nothing but Christ crucified when he went to Corinth. This was a different message. It was the message of a life recreated by Jesus' love.

Does this mean we ignore God's commands? No, we've still got that curb and guide. It delights our Lord when we take his commands seriously. But salvation is not, and has never been, by the works of the Law. It has always been by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us. He is the one who recreates us. He is the one who fills us with the Holy Spirit. He is the one who makes us his witnesses. And he is the one who goes on through the book of Acts to do all those mighty deeds, turning the world upside down, brringing people to himself in faith. He uses his witnesses, people just like you and me. But he is the one who does it all.

Stand with me, if you can, in prayer. Lord, you have created a people for yourself. You have made witnesses in this community, and you have made them right here. Grant that we may walk as your faithful witnesses in our community, rejoicing in your word, seeing, knowing, and showing that it is by your grace that we are saved from all our sin and shame. Grant us repentance and faith, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What's on my reading list just now?

I’ve been making comments on readings on my blog. But as people who like to read do, I have ended up with more books to read and comment on than I’m able to deal with at the moment. Ah, if only life were full of temperate days, a good hammock, and people who would bring us iced tea and do all our chores for us!

So you tell me, what's on your reading list? I may find something else to put on mine!

Here’s what I see on my Kindle waiting for me to read (one of them to re-read) and make comments on chapter by chapter.

Kinnaman, Scot A. & Laura L. Lane (eds.) Lutheranism 101. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010.

Sande, Ken & Kevin Johnson Resolving Everyday Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Schaff, Philip History of the Christian Church, Volume 1: Apostolic Christianity, A.D. 1-100. retrieved from Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Veith, Gene Edward Jr. & Mary J. Moerbe. Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

Gonzalez, Justo L. A History of Christian Thought, Volume II: From Augustine to the Eve of the Reformation (revised edition). Nashville: Abingdon, 1987.

Gonzalez, Justo L. Church History: an Essential Guide. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.

And these are print books that are waiting for me.

Davis, Leo Donald. The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1983.

Robinson, John A.T. Redating the New Testament. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1976.

Ehrman, Bart D. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Sasse, Hermann. This Is My Body: Luther’s Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar (revised edition). Adelaide: Australian Church Resources, 1977.

Wilken, Robert Louis. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (second edition). New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Russell, William R. Praying for Reform: Luther, Prayer, and the Christian Life. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2005.

Plueger, Aaron Luther. Things to Come for Planet Earth: What the Bible Says about the Last Times. St. Louis: Concordia, 1977.

Moots, Paul. Becoming Barnabas; The Ministry of Encouragement. Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2004.

Bayer, Oswald. Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation. (tr. Thomas H. Trapp). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 10 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Acts 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Acts 6 - Are these seven men deacons? They seem to do the work noted for deacons in the Epistles. See that their duty is to serve the needs of the saints and enable the apostles to be devoted to prayer and “ministry of the word.” The service of these seven men has an impact on the Christians which goes far beyond what they are actually doing themselves.

Acts 7 - Stephen, one of the seven from chapter six, acts in many ways like one of the apostles. He teaches boldly about Jesus, even though he is arrested and killed for his testimony. In his testimony notice that Stephen talks about God’s works, not about his own response to God’s mercy.

Acts 8 - Despite opposition the work of the Gospel continues. God is continuing to use those people according to his decree in Acts 1:8. They are his witnesses and he uses them wherever they go.

Acts 9 - Saul the Pharisee is confronted by Jesus. We’ll notice later he makes claims that he received revelation directly from Jesus and that he saw Jesus just as truly as the other apostles. God can take the most evil people and use them for his purposes.

Acts 10 - It was a huge surprise to Peter when Cornelius’ household received the Holy Spirit. Why was this? Because they were not certain you could believe on Jesus without becoming a Jew first. The Holy Spirit dwells in all who believe on Jesus.

“Hebrews” Carson & Moo pp. 596-618

Hebrews, though on the surface it might appear to be a rather general epistle, seems directed to specific readers dealing with specific problems. The absence of a typical salutation and writer’s name draws attention to the anonymity, yet the familiarity of address suggests that the specific audience who received the letter knew the author. The richness of rhetorical devices has led many to believe the letter is a homily which was adapted into a letter. The theme? Jesus, God’s Son, the supreme master of all. The earliest Christian tradition, particularly in the East, held to Pauline authorship, and the West generally embraced that tradition in the fourth century. However, Hebrews has many features which suggest an author other than Paul. In the time of the Reformation scholars started focusing on those factors and suggesting other authors. Carson and Moo weigh some of the suggestions and finally assert that we do not know who wrote the book.

In the absence of an author, the date, provenance, and destination are difficult to assess. The author does confirm not being an eyewitness of Jesus, which suggests a second generation. The author also writes as if the ceremonies around the temple in Jerusalem are perfectly operational, which suggests a date before about 66. We have no significant information about where the letter was written. While people have suggested numerous destinations, all we really know is that it was addressed to a place where there were many Jewish converts to Christ. Carson and Moo suggest Rome as a likely destination. Yet there are many unknowns.

The text of Hebrews is well established. It seems to be accepted as canonical earlier in the East than in the West, where it was not recognized as part of the canon until at least near the end of the second century.

Major topics of study in Hebrews recently have been the high Christology, the way the author uses the Old Testament, the treatment of the sabbath, and the nature of a covenant. Hebrews also sheds light on the way first century Christians interpreted Scripture. This all combines to make the letter a very fruitful ground for study.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 10 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Acts 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

In those first five chapters of Acts we see that the Lord is true to his word. He says that he will make the disciples witnesses. And that is exactly what he does. The believers go about their natural business, but they are transformed by the Holy Spirit so that they are witnesses to Christ. It is not a matter of them going and deciding to be witnesses. In fact, when Jesus tells the disciples in Acts 1:8 that they will be witnesses, he is not making a command. The verb is indicative. It describes what they are, rather than commanding them what to do.

How do we see ourselves, followers of Jesus, being made into witnesses? What do people see? Do they see Jesus in us? Or do we try to hide him? The disciples who were used by the Holy Spirit to turn their world upside down were simply being the people they were created to be. May the Lord use us the same way.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 10 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Numbers 33-36. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Numbers 33-34 - The movements of the people of Israel are detailed listing real places which can be located geographically. Yet many would suggest the Bible is full of legends. This passage doesn’t have the air of legend about it. It simply has a journey and a destination, all appointed by the supernatural God.

Numbers 35 - The cities of refuge are provided for people who have caused harm accidentally. Notice that the people involved in the case still stand trial and if guilty of a crime which is not an accident they do not have refuge. We can distinguish between accidental harm and purposeful harm.

Numbers 36 - Inheritance is important, especially in a society where property reverts to its original family at a later time. God seems to care more about inheritance than most of our modern societies, possibly because we are his inheritance and he is ours.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 10 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Numbers 28-32. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Numbers 28-30 - Offerings and vows serve in part to teach God’s people to trust in God. There is nothing that our Lord needs, but he does want us to learn that he is our supply. He gives us grace when we give up our resources to him. He gives us grace to complete the vows we make before him.

Numbers 31-32 - God’s people are to be orderly and to keep their promises. This involves serving the good of the community even when our own good may be compromised. Are we willing to love and serve our neighbor even when it is inconvenient or even painful to us?


"Philemon" Carson & Moo pp. 588-595
Philemon, the shortest book in the New Testament, is an extremely personal letter, discussing the status of a slave, Onesimus, and Paul's desire that he should be restored to his master's favor and accepted as a brother in Christ. The letter has uniformly been viewed as a genuine Pauline work. The setting raises some difficulties. Paul is writing from prison, but the actual location or time is unclear. Carson and Moo weigh the evidence and settle on Rome as the most likely location. Philemon gives us insight into the love and respect which is appropriate within the body of Christ. It also gives some insight into a biblical author's view of slavery. Those who are bond-slaves to Christ can live together as brothers and sisters, regardless of the master/slave relationship they may also have.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 10 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Numbers 23-27. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Numbers 23-24 - The work of Balaam here reminds me that God has created all nature to proclaim his glory. No matter where Balaam stands or whether they have made an offering to a pagan god, Balaam ends up blessing Israel.

Numbers 25 - Mixing God’s commands with the prostitution of Baal proves deadly to Israel. God demands holy relationships. He has called out a people to be pure to him, not to link themselves to false gods. it is consistently considered adultery in the Bible and is condemned. See how again and again God calls his people back to himself.

Numbers 26 - The census of Israel serves several purposes. Not only is it important to be aware of how many men of military age there are, but we also see in the start of chapter 27 that matters of inheritance are important to life in the community. Family and inheritance customs are important in a civil society of any sort.

Numbers 27 - The inheritance exception for daughters appears. Having women receive inheritances is very rare in antiquity. But God’s people care for women. They are accorded considerable dignity. In chapter 27 we also see that God reminds Moses of his sin and failure to please God. Moses passes on some of his authority to Joshua, who is to be the next leader of Israel under God.

1 and 2 Thessalonians

“1 and 2 Thessalonians” Carson & Moo pp. 532-553

At the time the letters to the Thessalonians were written this Macedonian church was newly founded. Paul visited Thessalonica probably in 48 or 49, staying briefly before being sent away after a riot and a brief imprisonment. The letters purport to come from Paul, Silas, and Timothy, but are traditionally ascribed only to Paul. Paul’s voice is clear in the letters. Even if Silas and Timothy were contributors, it seems Paul’s thoughts were predominant. Some scholars argue that there are various interpolations in 1 Thessalonians, particularly 2:13-16. However, we do not find any texts which do not include these verses so it is impossible to demonstrate such a view. 2 Thessalonians is more difficult, with some modern scholars suggesting that it is too similar to 1 Thessalonians to be Pauline and some suggesting that it is too different from 1 Thessalonians. Arguments of similarity and dissimilarity are tenuous at best. Carson and Moo then consider that both letters are genuinely Pauline, with contribution of Silas and Timothy.

The fact that Paul had founded the church at Thessalonica no earlier than 48 or 49 indicates that the letters would not be dated before at least 50, probably a bit later. Some have suggested that 2 Thessalonians would have been written before 1 Thessalonians, a situation which is possible. Yet Carson and Moo consider the order to be correct and think the letters were both written late in 50 or early in 51.

Paul’s purposes in writing seem to be to clarify his hasty departure, to remind the Thessalonians of the implications of faith in Christ, and to comfort them in the loss of some Christians. He brings the comfort of the knowledge of the resurrection to bear. Jesus who rose from the dead is able to raise the dead himself and will do so in the last day. Even as we look to this hope we are to be busy about the affairs of life, knowing that Jesus is working through us.

Recent scholarship has a heavy emphasis on the social and cultural setting of the letters, possibly trying to find modern parallels. Because of the early date of the Thessalonian letters some scholars also use them to consider developments in Paul’s theology during his years of missionary work. The letters to the Thessalonians push us to consider the implications of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of his return. They urge us to be busy about the work of the Gospel in our communities as we eagerly await our Lord’s return.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Delivered by Death

Sermon “Delivered by Death” Romans 5 informed by Numbers 1-22

Lord, open our hearts that we may live to you, receiving of you all your great and precious promises, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Have you ever been downcast? I have. There have been some time in my life when I’ve just wanted to pull the covers over my head and disappear. We’ve all been there. Sometimes we are pretty low. Life seems to be against us and we don’t know quite how to deal with it. Maybe it would help if people would just leave us alone. Or maybe it would help if they wouldn’t abandon us. We want help, but we also want everyone to go away and stop trying to help. After all, those other people don’t understand, do they? Not at all. We’ve been beaten down and we’re discouraged. Life has the upper hand. Most of the time we are able to shake our heads, clear out the cobwebs, and go on with life, realizing God’s gracious hand is there somewhere. But sometimes we can’t do that. And occasionally we’re honest enough to ask the question, the big question, what’s going on? Why are we still here? If this is life, do I really want it to go on forever?

How do we deal with it when the people around us are feeling beaten down? What’s a good response to it? Of course, it’s different for each person, at least a little bit different. Some of the particular details change, but the big picture remains the same. Job’s friends who comforted him actually did something very well. They came to him and sat with him. For a good while they showed that they cared enough to lay aside their own priorities, their own occupations, their own concerns and just be present for him. That’s something I’ve found to be useful many times in ministry. A lot of times the person sitting on the other side of the desk will start talking and end up explaining to himself just what’s troubling him. After a while I can help him look at some of the Scriptures that speak to the underlying issues and we’re done. Someone who has been living as a Christian for a while, reading the Scripture regularly, hearing the Gospel regularly, that person is going to have considerable resources and often just needs a little nudge in the right direction. But what is that right direction?

If you’ve been keeping on top of our Bible reading challenge you’ve read most of Numbers in the past week. And you’ve seen that it is about a lot more than a census of Israel. It’s about God equipping his people to dwell in the land of promise, the place he has given them. And it’s all centered around worship, which in turn is centered around God’s means of grace given for the forgiveness of his people. Our Lord provided the priests and Levites to bring the people face to face with himself. And so his chosen people could come before him he provided means of forgiveness. All who trusted that God would receive their sacrifices saw that the Lord gave them forgiveness and restoration. There’s the right direction, the way we try to guide people. When we are in distress we look to God, and we look to him through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. This is how we have peace with God. And that peace with God is exactly what we need.

So wait a minute. If I’m in distress, what I need is someone to point me to Jesus? Yes, that’s what I’m saying. I won’t say that looking to Jesus will change your immediate circumstances. I wish I could say that, but I can’t. Or if I did I’d be making claims which our Lord doesn’t make. But what did we see in Romans chapter 5? We don’t find ourselves rescued from suffering in that chapter. I know some of you would like that. I know I’d like it, as someone who has dealt with chronic pain for decades. No doubt I’d like Jesus to remove those sufferings. But that isn’t what he’s done. He is doing more than that. He has made peace with God and given us access to God’s mercy. He has reconciled us to God. He has delivered us, not from suffering, not from death, but through suffering, through death.

Jesus himself walks us through those times of suffering that we endure. Now here’s another of those tough biblical counseling situations. I have stopped counting the number of times someone has looked at me and told me that he knows exactly what God was accomplishing by his circumstances. Maybe you know what the Lord is doing in your life right now. I’ll admit it. I don’t know. I may know part of it, but I don’t know all of it, not at all. Just recently I’ve been using an illustration in counseling situations. We’re all familiar with an onion, aren’t we? It has lots of layers. And you can peel off one layer, then there’s another. Peel that one off and you find another layer. It keeps going on and on. And it’s all bundled up together. My understanding of God’s purpose and will in my situation is very limited. I may know some of what he’s doing in me, or maybe in a few people around me. But it will only be partial knowledge. There are other people who are watching. I may not know what they are seeing or what the Lord is doing in their lives. I might find out years from now that the Lord was equipping me for this or that way of ministering to somebody. Or I may never hear about it but someone else has a benefit from the experience I had years ago. It’s like an onion. Our Lord knows every layer. We know a little tiny piece of it.

But here’s what the apostle says God is doing through our suffering. In Romans 5:3 we see that suffering produces perseverance. It is through struggles that we grow. It is through difficulty that we learn to push on and keep working. If everything in life were easy what would we do? How many of us would stand up to a challenge? We’d simply become passive, lazy, and we would give up at the least challenge. But that’s not the kind of world we are in. When challenged we persevere. And our sufferings show us how we will persevere. What does perseverance do? In verse 4 we see that it produces character. We push on, we face our struggles, we don’t give in. And what happens when we make it? It feels pretty good, doesn’t it? I was talking with someone recently who faces a lot of challenges at work. His job involves a lot of deadlines and a lot of variables. The playing field he is on changes all the time, moment to moment, and a large part of his occupation involves adjusting to those changes so as to reach a goal on time. Other people depend on him at various times during the work day. It energizes him. What happens when we work hard and succeed? We develop character. What happens when we don’t have to work hard to succeed? We develop a very different type of character. Our struggles build us up. What does that character produce? Again in verse 4 we see that it produces hope. And our hope is in Christ Jesus, who has faced all the sufferings we will ever face. He has persevered through the life he lived on our behalf. And he has overcome all of the struggles, including the struggle against sin, on our behalf, living a perfect life for us.

This sounds like a nice motivational idea, doesn’t it? And some people would stop right then and there. Jesus lives a perfect life for us and we can folllow him by living our victorious life. But there’s something else, something we don’t dare forget, right there in Romans 5. How does Jesus give us this perfect life? He has a delivery to make. And this is where I start using the word “deliver” in two different ways. We all know what it means to receive a delivery. I find it an exciting time. The big brown truck (sorry, Roger) stops in front of the house, someone gets out, and brings me a box. There’s a delivery. I receive a package. Jesus delivers us his life, his perfection, his grace. And he does it in a package, known as Word and Sacraments. That’s why we rejoice to receive communion today. Jesus delivers forgiveness, life and salvation through his body broken for us and through his blood shed for us. He delivers forgiveness and hope through the spoken word in the Scripture readings, in the sermon, and in the other parts of the liturgy. This is a wonderful delivery. But the other way we can use the word “deliver” means “to rescue.” Jesus delivers us. He rescues us. And he rescues us from death. How does he do that? In Romans 5 verse 8 we read that he delivers us, rescues us, by dying for us. Does he do this because we prepare ourselves? No. Does he do it because we are good people? No. Does he do it because he somehow knew that we would believe so he wants to reward us? No. He died for us while we were still sinners. He delivered us. He rescued us. He gave his life so that his perfect life could be applied to us. And that life is applied to us by faith. By faith we receive God’s grace. By faith we look to our Lord and confess our sins. By faith we look to our Lord as the one who forgives our sins and cleanses us from unrighteousness. By faith we receive that deliverance which he purchased by his death. By faith we receive life and salvation, knowing that Jesus has reconciled us, made us one with God, through his death for us.

Have you been beaten down? Have you realized that what you were depending on was lost, and lost forever? Maybe you have been hurt. Maybe you have been the one hurting others, alienating them. Maybe you see your sin and how it separates you from God. Maybe you aren’t quite sure what you see because you’ve been so hurt and confused. Maybe you are despairing and then wondering how God can forgive you at all because you wonder if he can forgive you. Maybe you have tried to make yourself righteous before God and seen it fail. Or maybe you are realizing that you have depended on your own righteousness. It won’t work. And you know it, and I know it. What has worked? Jesus, who gave himself to reconcile us to God through his own death on our behalf, he is the one who has worked. His forgiveness is sufficient to bring us to life and salvation. Where do we find that life and salvation? We find it as we look to our Lord in faith, confessing that he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We find it as we receive the body and blood of our Lord, given and shed for us. We find it as we call upon our Lord, Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, who has poured out his love into our hearts. Let us call upon the Lord then in faith.

Rise with me to pray. Our Lord Jesus Christ, we confess that we are among the ungodly. We needed you to die for us. And before we were even born, you did just that. As you have delivered your death on our behalf, deliver us from death, through your death and resurrection. Let us see you as the risen Lord, the one in whom we also rise in the last day, to join with you in life everlasting. This we pray in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 9 Day 5 - Numbers 18-22

Our reading challenge for the day is Numbers 18-22. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Numbers 18 - God provides for the priests and Levites from the offerings of the people. His servants are to be taken care of. How do we do with our attitude toward caring for God’s servants?

Numbers 19 - The idea of death and impurity strikes me. Since death is foreign to God’s perfection it is considered unclean. Yet see the efficacy of the means of purification. How does the sprinkling with water, etc., purify the uncleanness? Only because God’s word ordains it to be so.

Numbers 20-21 - Sometimes our situations look bleak. Miriam is dead. Moses fails to uphold God’s holiness. Aaron dies. Edom refuses Israel passage. There is contention. The Lord sends serpents to kill Israelites. When everything looks grim has God departed? Not at all. He’s still there with his blessing and promise. He has the bronze serpent raised up on a pole, that which brings the curse, lifted up so that when people look upon it in faith they will be healed, a foreshadowing of the work of Jesus. The tide of events then turns and Israel starts seeing more success.

Numbers 22 - The Moabites and Midianites fear Israel. They hired a prophet, Balaam, to curse Israel. Though he is a pagan, he says he will not be able to curse them if God has blessed them. Does he see clearly? Not as clearly as his donkey. Yet the truth is that all creation ultimately bows down before the true God.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


“Colossians” Carson & Moo pp. 516-531

After a brief introduction to the contents of Colossians, Carson and Moo discuss authorship, concluding that Paul was considered the author until the nineteenth century. In the nineteenth and twentieth century a minority of scholars questioned this, with the tendency growing since 1945. Yet the objections to Pauline authorship have been based on use of unique vocabulary, the absence of some important theological concepts, the presence of some concepts which are not very common in Paul’s writing, and the similarity to Ephesians. Carson and Moo find the objections to be fairly weak.

The letter purports to come from Paul in prison. Though Paul was imprisoned on several occasions in several places, the most likely setting would be in Rome, probably about 61. Paul writes to correct false teaching which he has heard is present in Colosse, likely some form of syncretism which denied the supremacy of Christ.

The text of the letter is relatively clean, with no substantive difficulties caused by variants. The book was accepted as canonical by the middle of the second century. It is a text with a solid history of acceptance within Christianity.

Recent study has focused on the relationship between Christianity and paganism as well as on the possible evidence for the growth of gnosticism. Scholars have been unable to identify specific teachers who adopted all the problems which Paul addresses. This has given researchers a great deal to pursue.

Colossians emphasizes the unifying work of Jesus, who holds all the Church together as one. Though we have different roles, we are one body in Christ.

Bible Reading Challenge - Week 9 Day 4 - Numbers 13-17

Our reading challenge for the day is Numbers 13-17. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Numbers 13 - The spies who observe that they are not able to conquer the promised land and its inhabitants are absolutely correct. In ourselves we are not able to fulfill God’s promises. It is through our Lord that we accomplish anything. This is why we need God, not simply our training programs.

Numbers 14 - Unfortunately only Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb recognize that the God of promise is the one who will deliver his promise. Because the people have rejected God’s promise God says he will reject them. Notice the promise had come from God in the first place. He can reject those people who choose not to be partakers of his promise. However, rather than destroy them then and there he allows them to live out their natural lives in the wilderness, where he cares for them day after day, year after year.

Numbers 15-17 God continues to show his mercy on his people through providing for their forgiveness. Yet he also shows himself to be the God who will not have mercy on people who exalt themselves against him. Luther’s Small Catechism rightly uses “fear, love, and trust” in so many places to describe our relationship to God.