Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of September 17, 2017

Sermon: “What Does This Mean?”

“What does this mean?” was the question that Luther asked 23 times in his Small Catechism.  So it is quite naturally a good question for Lutherans themselves to ask. This past Sunday many worshippers might have asked, “What does this mean?” as they entered the sanctuary to find the altar adorned with new red paraments, the pastors wearing new red stoles and a gorgeous new set of red Reformation banners hanging up front. “What does this mean?” might have popped into people’s minds as they wondered, “It’s Pentecost don’t you know?”  “Where did the green go?”  “Is it October 29th already?”  “What does this mean?”  

(A quick side note here might be helpful. Our million dollar word from last week as you’ll recall was Adiaphora; the definition of which is things neither commanded nor forbidden. The church season is neither commanded nor forbidden. The same is true for the seasons corresponding colors. They are a matter of Christian freedom; that we here at Bethany find quite helpful. Perhaps it would be equally helpful to remember that the Lord would say of them what He said of the Sabbath, the colors of the church season are made for us not the other way around.) 

Yet, the question still remains, “What does this mean?” We are now preparing to celebrate the quencentenial anniversary of the Reformation. Yet, this is not merely a celebration of something that took place a long time ago and is simply remembered in fondness today. The Reformation is a celebration of something that took place in the past, but is still (OR OUGHT TO BE) occurring today in, and to, by and through those who celebrate its anniversary. 

Think about that for a minute: The Reformation is a celebration of something in the past that is to be still occurring today in those who celebrate its anniversary. Thus as those who celebrate the Reformation we ought to be an ever Re-forming people; and to be an ever Re-Forming people we must be ever in the Word.  What does this mean? Over the next several weeks we will be looking at the core teachings of the Word, the very same teaching we have bound ourselves to as the core of our church, that we are saved by Grace Alone through Faith Alone and we trust in the Scriptures Alone as the source of what we shall believe and how we shall behave as the people of God.

-Pastor Kevin Kritzer

Monday, September 18, 2017

The One Year Bible- September 18th

There is an art to discipline. Being a classroom teacher for many years always reminded me that for every student there is a way of dealing with his or her behavior. Sometimes they need to be yelled at, other times they need to feel loved. But there is always that one child where nothing seems to work. No matter what you say, they still make poor decisions; they still put their foot in their mouth. While reading through Isaiah, I get the feeling that he tried everything to get the people to listen. He used harsh words, he used loving words, and nothing seemed to work. His message was very important for their well being. If they would listen, they would be saved. At times it seems like Isaiah (and the other prophets as well) is just repeating himself. What else could he do? He was called by God to be His mouthpiece. Sometimes it comes down to being faithful to the calling you have received and not worrying about how the message is received. That’s my two cents for the day. On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts
The Old Testament
The major theme of Isaiah is the proclamation of what will happen to those who do not put their trust in Yahweh. Isaiah has a simple message for all the countries: you will be destroyed. This same message is for Israel as well, with one caveat; there will be a remnant. This faithful remnant will return to the Promised Land ready for the coming of the Messiah. One neat thing I read this week revolved around the idea of applying the book of Isaiah to our lives in the 21st century. The book was not initially written to us, but it is preserved for us. The question is why? Many things come to light when answering this question. First of all, Isaiah’s warnings should ring true for us today. The same warnings he gave to Israel, we should heed today. We must put God first, and look to him for wisdom and strength. Second, Isaiah is preserved because of its wonderful Messianic prophecy. Can you imagine Christmas or Easter without quotes from Isaiah? A third thing I read, and I am still digesting, is the idea that just as Israel needed to watch its alliances with other countries, because of the problems that can develop (think about Isaiah’s warnings about Egypt), we also need to watch what things we ally ourselves with. We need to watch who we hang out with and spend time with. We must be careful of those close to us and their influence upon us. Chapter 36 begins a narrative section that gives some insights on the events from the reign of King Hezekiah. This is a neat section that shows how even when all seemed doomed, God rescued his people. Even after this, a few years later Jerusalem is destroyed and the people are taken into captivity.

The New Testament
I love Paul’s letter to the Galatians!! Many Bible scholars see the wonderful theology of Romans in an infant form in this smaller letter. Galatians shares many of the same themes and analogies as the longer letter to the Romans. Remember that Paul was not writing to one church. This letter went to all the churches in the area that Paul founded on his first missionary journey. I am sure Paul had fond memories of his very first mission trip and the people he saw and taught. These were memories he would cherish his whole life. I will never forget my very first class of students as a teacher. Some of the other years are a bit fuzzy at times but that first class will always be with me. Paul has some strong emotions for what he has heard from the believers in Galatia. Right from the get-go Paul tries to snap them out of the influence of a group known as the Judaizers. This group of people demanded that to become a Christian, one first had to convert to Judaism. The person must fulfill all the requirements of the law before being allowed to become a part of the community of believers. Paul was strongly opposed to any such group. He believed that these people were taking the free gift of God and turning it into a work. This was quite contrary to the message of Jesus Christ. The argument was settled by the church at the first Jerusalem council where it was agreed that one did not have to first become Jewish before believing in Jesus as the Messiah. The balance of the letter addressed this same issue. In Chapter one Paul lays it down, But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!(Gal. 1:8-9 NIV). Strong words from a passionate man. Paul goes on with saying that faith in the Law is worthless. Trying to gain salvation by the Law is hopeless for sinful people. Paul reminds the people of Abraham, the father of the promise. The Jews considered Abraham to be one of the big guys and we now live according to that same promise because of Jesus. In one of the best passages in all of Paul’s letters we find this, But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal 4:4-7 NIV). I could probably write a dissertation on these verses!!! To me they spell out the clear message of salvation. We were slaves, but Jesus adopted us as sons and we now enjoy all the blessing of being his own. I can’t imagine better news!!! Most of the rest of the letter spells out the difference between following the law and the ideas of the Judaizers in contrast to living in the Grace of Jesus Christ. One quick note on the fruit of the spirit; notice it does not say fruits (plural), it says fruit (singular). The Holy Spirit produces all of these things in our lives!!

Bits and Pieces
The Old Testament
We will be finishing up the first part of Isaiah and start the second (remember the divisions from last week). The second part, which starts at chapter 40 is more focused on future events. Isaiah will be writing about things that will happen beyond his own lifetime. There will be a lot said of Israel’s salvation and savior. The return from exile will be a major theme with an emphasis on redemption. Isaiah will still give warnings but his audience has changed and so has his message.

The New Testament
We will finish up Galatians this week and jump right into Ephesians. Here are the vital stats for the book of Ephesians:
PURPOSE: To Strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The church at Ephesus, and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 60, from Rome, during Paul’s imprisonment
SETTING: The letter was sent with Tychicus to strengthen and encourage the churches in the area. Paul had spent over three years with the Ephesian church. Paul met with the elders of the Ephesian church at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38)—a meeting that was filled with great sadness because he was leaving them for what he thought would be the last time. Because there are not specific references to people or problems in the Ephesian church and because the words “at Ephesus” (1:1) are not present in some early manuscripts, Paul may have intended this to be a circular letter to be read by all the churches in the area.
KEY VERSES: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6 NIV).
LAW THEMES:  Rivalry between believers; grieving the Spirit through unfaithfulness; marital unfaithfulness; spiritual warfare.
GOSPEL THEMES: Baptism; election by God’s grace; justification by grace alone; the mystery of Christ revealed; unity in Christ’s body.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Several pictures of the church are presented: body, temple, mystery, new man, bride, and soldier. This letter was probably distributed to many of the early churches.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of September 10, 2017

Sermon: “Does it Matter?”

"Don't pass judgment on disputable matters."  (Romans 14:1). It's indisputable; according to the apostle, some matters are disputable.  It stands to reason that therefore, some matters are indisputable too.  Which ones?  Those he has previously laid out. 

A sampling would include:
V  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  Including you, and me!  It's indisputable!

V  "No one will be saved by observing the law."  Not even you, or me!  It's indisputable!

V  "The righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus, thus we are justified freely by God's grace in Jesus” Jesus whom, "God presented as a sacrifice of atonement."  For you and me and even for those who frustrate or infuriate us; it's indisputable! 

Even as nature rages as of late, the odds of global conflict some believe great; and opposing forces of opposing viewpoints confront one another at an ever increasing rate, the greatest storm brewing, battle raging and confrontation happening is the one inside us daily.  It's indisputable!

"The good I would I don't, the evil I wouldn't I do."  Yet, nevertheless, "Nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ Jesus...for we belong to Him." Indisputably true!

Yet, also indisputable is the fact that some things are disputable.  In other words, there are some things that we are free to partake in or refrain from; that which God has neither commanded nor forbidden.  Quite often we are inclined to create a law where God has chosen not to.  Quite often we are inclined to invent a prohibition where God has chosen not to.  Samples would exhaust space, Paul uses menus and holidays as his example and they ought to suffice for ours.

Here is the bottom line: Where God's Word is silent we should be as well.  And where this leads to differing opinions charity and love must prevail.
-Pastor Kevin Kritzer

*Please click HERE to check out the trailer for “Martin Luther: The Idea the Changed the World” an upcoming PBS special presentation. If unable to open link, copy/paste this into your browser:


Monday, September 11, 2017

The One Year Bible- September 11th

This is my 13th year in a row reading through The One Year Bible.  Each time I do it I see new things and my routine of reading is a bit different.   Most days I have been pretty good about reading in the mornings right when I get to the office.  As soon as I get in I close my door, and vow not to turn on the computer or listen to voicemail until I have done my reading.  This has worked pretty well.  I hope you are finding a time and a routine that is working for you.  It is amazing how God continues to speak to us through his word every day.  I hope you are finding that being in the word has been a blessing to you and your life with Christ.  On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
The book of Song of Songs is unique to scripture. It my mind it is like a Broadway Musical (but rated at least PG-13). We have the lovely song of the young woman, with a response from her true love. The chorus comes in on occasion to fill out the story. I love the point, counterpoint of the verses and the overarching theme of love. On the surface this book is all about young love. Going a bit deeper, there is another story at work. A frequent image in the Old Testament of the relationship between God and Israel is that of husband and wife. God loves his chosen bride, Israel and would do anything to keep that relationship in tact. God continues to care for Israel no matter what. But Israel is unfaithful. She goes off and does he own thing. She gets into trouble and turns her back on God. But God’s love is amazing. It continues to love in all circumstances. This theme will be played out in the book of Hosea as well. This relationship is also seen in how Jesus relates to his bride the church. When all is going well, love abounds and beautiful music is made. But often times we, as the church, mess things up. We fall away and become unfaithful. The moral of all the stories is God is faithful no matter what. His love endures to the ends of the earth and conquers time and space.

The book of the prophet Isaiah is considered by many Biblical scholars to be the theological textbook of the Old Testament. Many key doctrines and themes that form the foundation of faith and relationship to God are found within its pages. Martin Luther says that the, “chief and leading theme of all the prophets is their aim to keep the people in eager anticipation of the coming Christ.” Isaiah is an amazing book. Let me give you a few of my personal insights and some key themes this week. We will have plenty of time to talk about this most wonderful book. First of all Isaiah did not sit down and write the book in one sitting. This is more like a journal of the prophet and his dealings with God and the kingdom of Judah. The events take place over the entire life of the prophet. It is important to have this perspective when reading. There is a marked division in the book. Chapters 1-39 are directed to the time of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66 are a vision of the future captivity in Babylon. The second part is filled with figurative language as Isaiah struggled to relate his visions to his contemporaries. I find it interesting to note that there are 39 chapters in the first part and 27 chapters in the second part of Isaiah. Remember there are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Pretty cool, huh?? Some have even called Isaiah “The Bible in Miniature”. Now I would not press the analogy too far but it does make one stop and think. One other thing of note is the mention of “The Holy One of Israel”. Most theologians agree that this term makes reference to the Messiah. This is the one who will deliver the people from oppression and bring about an eternal kingdom. When you come across this term, spend some time looking at the context and see if you can see Jesus there. I will have a lot more to say in the next few weeks.

The New Testament
We will finish up 2 Corinthians this week, and what a finish. Paul gives some great instruction right at the end. One thing we have heard here at Bethany is the idea of “my stuff is not my stuff”. Paul tells the Corinthians just this same thing in Chapter 9. Giving to God comes from the heart. In chapter 10 Paul spends some time on boasting. He says that boasting about what has happened within the boundaries of the work of God is a good thing. We must rejoice in what God is doing, and we can boast in Him at all times. In Chapter 11 Paul gives his defense for being an apostle. Paul lays it all out on the line and asserts that his message is valid and useful. Paul’s over all theme here at the end is about being proud and arrogant. He gives us a glimpse into his personal life when he admits to some sort of “thorn in the flesh”. We are not sure what this was. Speculation ranges from an ulcer, to a mental disability, to a physical deformity. What is was is beside the point, the fact is it has kept him humble and focused in service to his Lord. Paul wraps it all up in Chapter 13. I love his closing words, Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”  (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV). In just a few sentences, Paul summarizes what it means to live the Christian life.

Bits and Pieces
The Old Testament
Remember to read Isaiah like you just picked up the journal of the prophet. This week we will read entries that contain prophecies against Moab, Damascus, Cush, Egypt, Babylon, Edom, Arabia, Jerusalem, and Tyre. Isaiah will enter some songs of praise to God and deliverance of Israel. There will be woes to Ephraim, David’s city, the obstinate Nation, and to those who rely on Egypt. Chapter 36 begins a section of prose and gives some of the historical context for the prophecy. Keep looking for “The Holy One of Israel” as you read.

The New Testament
We move on to the book of Galatians this week. Here are the vital stats for the book:

PURPOSE: To refute the Judaizers (who taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish Law in order to be saved), and to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The churches in southern Galatia founded on Paul’s first missionary journey (including Iconium, Lystra, Derbe), and Christians everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 49 from Antioch, prior to the Jerusalem council (A.D. 50)
SETTING: The most pressing controversy in the early church was the relationship of new believers, particularly Gentiles, to the Jewish laws. This was especially a problem for the converts and for the young churches that Paul had founded on his first missionary journey. Paul wrote to correct this problem. Later, at the council in Jerusalem, the church leaders officially resolved the conflict.
KEY VERSE: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1)
LAW THEMES: The threat of subtle false teaching; hypocrisy; works cannot justify; the Law’s curse; works of the flesh; the Law of Christ.
GOSPEL THEMES: One saving Gospel; God’s gracious call; justified through faith in Christ; the gift of the Spirit; adoption as God’s own sons; freedom in Christ.
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Peter, Barnabus, Titus, Abraham, false teachers
KEY PLACES: Galatia, Jerusalem
SPECIAL FEATURES: This letter is not addressed to any specific body of believers and was probably circulated to several churches in Galatia.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of September 3, 2017

Sermon: “- I O U”

A little boy wanted $100 badly and prayed to God for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to the Lord requesting the $100.

When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to the Lord, USA, they decided to send it to the White House. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill, as this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy.

The little boy was delighted with the $5.00, and sat down to write a thank-you note to the Lord. It said:

Dear Lord,
Thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, DC and as usual, those jerks deducted $95.

This morning we turn our attention to Romans 13 which reminds us to pay our taxes and all that we owe to others.  But while lots of ink has been spilled over these verses, I don’t really think that is the main point that Paul was trying to make. 

Before we jump in, let’s get some perspective.  One of the keys to studying God’s Word is to look at the overall context of the passage and that is of vital importance as we look at our text this morning. 

Earlier in the letter to the Romans, Paul laid out the case that each and every member of the human race is filled with sin.  It is an insidious problem that we cannot solve.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The punishment for sin is death and we are miserable people because of it.

But God didn’t leave us alone to figure it all out.  While we were sinners He sent Jesus to die for us to forgive us and buy us back from sin, death and the devil.  When He rose again, death’s sting was rendered harmless and we have been grafted into the family of God.

When we started this series Pastor Kevin spent time shedding light on the word, therefore’.  He asked, “What is therefore there for?”  When you see that word, you need to follow where Paul is going. 
The “therefore” that is in play as we begin chapter 13 can be found at the beginning of chapter 12.  The New International Version renders the beginning of chapter 12 this way, “Therefore, I urge you…in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices…” (Romans 12:1)

That was our text last week.  If you missed it you can listen to it on the podcast or through the app.
This is the biggest “therefore” in the letter to the Romans.  Everything that comes after this point comes “in view of God’s mercy,” meaning that what Paul is getting to is to be viewed through the lens of what Christ has already done.

You are forgiven!  Jesus Christ has taken your sin from you, washed you clean and redeemed and restored you to be His child forever.  Period! The End!  But Paul does not end his exhortations to the believers who hear the words of this letter, and that includes us.

The “therefore” is there for you to keep God’s mercy in view as you live each and every day.  So as we look to chapter 13 and beyond we keep our gaze on the cross of Christ, remembering what was accomplished upon it, and to the empty tomb which brings life. 

Paul begins chapter 13 with words of encouragement to obey the government and to pay what you owe.  Many sermons have been written about this section of Scripture and I’m not going to do the same today because I don’t really think this is the point of what Paul is getting to. 

Paul’s focus is a bit more nuanced.

Now, I’m not saying don’t pay your taxes or make sure to pay your taxes, I think Paul is reminding us that we have an IOU that needs to be paid, not just to the government, but to our neighbor.

As the Psalmist reminds us, “Oh Lord if you were to keep a record of Sins, who could stand?”  (Psalm 130:3)

You see, there is a spiritual IOU that is greater than anything in this world, and it’s impossible to pay back. 

The Psalmist continues, “But with you Lord there is forgiveness.” (Psalm 130:4)

Try asking for forgiveness from the IRS.  It was Will Rogers who once said, “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.” 

And so has sin.  Sin has put us in a spiritual hole that we cannot escape. 

I think the words of the 19th century hymn by Elvina Hall express it better than I could,
“Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”

Here is the point, we have a debt that we cannot pay back, but that IOU that won’t ever come due. 

Here is how Paul says it in verse 8 of our text, “Pay your debts as they come due.  However, one debt you can never finish paying is the debt of love that you owe each other.  The one who loves another has fulfilled Moses’ teachings.” (Romans 13:8)

At first glance this may seem like another command for the Christian life, but upon further inspection it is filled with Gospel message of what Jesus has done. 

Paul sets the readers of his letter up by talking about paying our debts, and reminding us that we are all indebted to something.  Then he uses a play on words to underscore a reality that is hard to comprehend. 

Now follow me here…By our constant loving, the debt of love is never paid off and yet by our constant loving it is always paid off.

It is theological tension that portrays the truth of how our God works. 

The debt of love was paid by Jesus.  It has been deposited in our hearts free of charge, no strings attached and we have the privilege and honor to pass that love along to others, not as a way to pay off the debt, but simply to show love for our neighbors. 

There was another time that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day tried to trap Him.  They asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the greatest in Moses’ teachings?”  Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all of you heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  (Matthew 22:36, 37-40)

Paul follows this line of thinking up when he quotes the same teaching from Moses and continues it when he writes in verse 10 of Romans 13, “Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor.” (Romans 13:10)

This love is never only a feeling or a mere disposition, but is personified, first in the person and work of Jesus, and continues today in the work of His children, in you and in me. 

This is an active love - it is not passive or complacent.

Last summer our youth attending the LCMS National Youth Gathering were stuck in the Southwest Airlines computer glitch.  They were able to get out of New Orleans to Houston with the promise of a flight home later that day.  Unfortunately that didn’t happen and they were stuck in Houston. 

I contacted some of my friends in the Houston area to see if they could help.  I called Chris Singer, the senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Kline, Texas that is just outside of Houston and told him our travel dilemma.  I also called Pastor David Kim the executive director of Glocal Missions in Houston.  Within hours Pastor Singer had coordinated a bus to come pick up a portion of our youth to transport them to the airport and Pastor Kim arrived the next morning with snacks, clothes and gave the adults a needed break and he talked and prayed with the group.

In our moment of distress, both Pastor Singer and Pastor Kim showed us love. 

This week they are both continuing to do so in the midst of the flooding in Houston.  Pastor Singer’s house had five feet of water inside and most of the churches that Pastor Kim works with were underwater yet they continue to share the love of Christ with others.

We have seen this first hand as the stories of love that poured out of Texas this past week.  The action of others without regard for themselves served others.

Stories of people driving hours with their boats, with cars and trucks filled with water and supplies, people cooking meals, and opening their home for the displaced and the hurting, a group of police officers singing happy birthday to a young boy displaced by the storm, and many unreported acts of love and mercy shown to neighbors in need. 

In the middle of the storm, God’s people became the vehicles of love for those in need.

As the storm raged on Saturday night three bakers from El Bolillo bakery in Houston were trapped by the rising waters.  They spent the night sleeping on sacks of flour hoping for a miracle.  Soon they grew restless and realized that help would not come soon.  The waters never made it to the bakery and amazingly, the electricity stayed on, so they did what they do best.  They baked. 

Over the next two days the three bakers used over 4,000 pounds of flour to make over 5,000 loaves of bolillo bread and sheets upon sheets of pan dulce. 

By Monday, when rescuers got to their location they were amazed to see the display cases filled along with just about every counter with bread. 

By Monday afternoon all the bread had been given away to those in nearby shelters and to tired rescue workers which sustained them in their time of need.

This is what love does. 

We too have bread given to us with no strings attached.  It was His body, given that would pay the price for salvation.  It is broken for us here this morning along with His blood, in, with and under the wine that pays what we owe. 

We gather here this morning, in this place, at this table and once again find that our IOU is erased as love does it all for us.  Therefore (there is that word again) we can love our neighbors.

I know that many have the desire to do something for those in Texas.  We can share the love of God with those in Texas today by sending a donation to Bethany and we will send it to Pastor Singer and Pastor Kim in Houston so that they can continue to share the love of Jesus with those in need.  You can give online to Trinity Lutheran at this link www.trinityklein.org and to Glocal Missions at this link www.glocalmission.org. 

If you like you can send a donation to LCMS disaster relief by texting the word LCMSHARVEY to 41444 right now to make a donation. 

Let me leave you with this.  Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, in the sure and certain fact that your IOU for sin has been erased, go bake some bread for those in need, literally or figuratively, and show God’s love for others in all you do.

-Pastor Seth Moorman

Monday, September 04, 2017

The One Year Bible- September 4th

A few years ago I wrote the following introduction to this week’s study:

I came into the office today and I was greeted with ants!! Tons of them just walking around my desk. There was no point to it. I had no food for them to get, they were not organized in a line going to or from some sweets, but they were just there. It seemed to be meaningless. It reminded me of the book of Ecclesiastes that we read in its entirety this week. Those ants lead meaningless lives at times, but God created them for a purpose. There are people who live meaningless lives in our world today. Many do not know the joy of Jesus or the wonderful grace that comes through him. As we study this book today, don’t forget that this topic is just as relevant today as it was when Solomon wrote it.

On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

Let’s start with a few last comments on Job before we jump into Ecclesiastes. . I will be honest with you, I never read the whole book of Job until my first journey through the One Year Bible. I had heard the stories and knew the basics, but I never actually read the book straight through. Job is a hard book to wrap your head around. Does God really want us to suffer? Is it OK for us to be mad at God? These are rough questions. In my final analysis, God is a loving God who does not give us anything we can’t handle. I am reminded of what it says it the book of James, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV). If that is what it takes, then I guess I am ready.

The book of Ecclesiastes is another book that is hard to understand. Solomon wrote this book at the end of his life, after he followed God for a while and then spent a good deal of time away from God. He brings a neat perspective on the idea of life. A casual reading of the book may bring up more questions than answers and that is O.K. Once again, to help us understand this book I am bowing to a higher source.

Roland Cap Ehlke in his commentary on Ecclesiastes says the following:

The entire Bible is a unified whole. It all points to Jesus Christ. It all presents the law of God and the gospel of his love in Christ. Nevertheless, within this unity there is room for diversity. Some books are historical, others doctrinal. Some books emphasize one theme, while others stress something else. In other words, each book of the Bible has its own special emphasis. With this in mind we shall consider the outlook and purpose of Ecclesiastes.

Throughout the book two important concepts occur over and over. Together they make up the combination which unlocks Solomon’s outlook on life.

The first thought is summed up in the terms “meaningless” and “under the sun.” Again and again Solomon returns to the initial refrain of Ecclesiastes: “Meaningless! Meaningless!...Everything is Meaningless” (1:2). This is how he describes life “under the sun,” that is, in this world. According to Solomon, life on earth is full of trouble; and even when we find pleasure, it is fleeting and soon disappears like one’s breath on a winter day.

This is the first key thought of Ecclesiastes: everything under the sun is, and of itself, meaningless.  Solomon’s repeated use of this concept implies that there is something “beyond the sun.” Somewhere out there is something or someone not subject to this meaningless world. That someone, or course, is God. The role of God in our life is the second main thought in Ecclesiastes. Solomon describes God as a stern Judge, but also as a gracious God who blesses us with countless gifts. The greatest of these gifts is life after death: “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (12:7)

When one puts these two main thoughts together, it becomes evident what Solomon has done in Ecclesiastes. He has presented life from two perspectives. First he views the world without God. This view leads to the conclusion, “Everything is meaningless.” But he also looks at life with God in control. Here we find many gifts and blessings. We can picture Solomon’s twofold presentation thus:

spiritual world
material world

The unbeliever sees nothing beyond the material world, or at best catches an occasional glimpse that there might be something beyond. His sights are focused on what is under the sun. The believer on the other hand, views life through the eyes of faith.

From his perspective the unbeliever can only conclude that all is meaningless. For him it would be better never to have been born (4:2,3). The believer, however, sees God’s hand in everything and so finds peace, contentment and stability in a changing world. And this brings us from Solomon’s outlook to his purpose in writing. He directs us to God and his love for the purpose of strengthening our faith and courage as we carry on “under the sun.”

From- The People’s Bible Commentary- Ecclesiastes / Song of Songs by Roland Cap Ehlke, Concordia Publishing House, p.p.4-5.

It is important to remember Solomon’s point when reading this book. We have hope because we know what is beyond this world. Our hope is beyond the sun as we look to the Son—Jesus Christ himself.

The New Testament
I don’t know about you, but I have really enjoyed reading through 2 Corinthians the past couple of weeks. This letter of Paul’s does not get the top billing like Romans, Ephesians, or even 1 Corinthians, but it has been quite an enjoyable read. I have found some connections between what we read in Job and the encouragement Paul gives to the Corinthians. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NIV).

Paul really spoke to me in Chapter five this week. At times I think I am nuts for doing what I do. Every week I look at my schedule and think, “What am I doing???” I have so much to do as my ministry at Bethany expands, I have multiple Bible studies to write, help plan worship, visit those in the hospital, meet with various boards, not to mention spend time with my wife and kids, try to keep up with the Angels, and the list goes on. But Paul, writing through the Holy Spirit speaks directly to me,If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:13-15 NIV).

One big theological thing that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians is The Ministry of Reconciliation. The fact is that we, as sinful people, are enemies of God. We do not do what he wants, and we continually fall short. But we are new creatures in Christ, “the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17b NIV) We have been reconciled to God. The American Heritage dictionary defines reconciled as: “To reestablish a close relationship between” or “To settle or resolve”. What has been reestablished is our place in God’s kingdom. What has been settled is the problem of sin. This is a gift from God, but this is not the only gift. We are also given us the task of reconciling people to God (see 2 Cor. 5:18 ff.). We have been given the task to share the good news of reconciliation with everyone!! What an honor!! More on 2 Corinthians next week.

Bits and Pieces

We will get into the book of Song of Songs this week.   Here are the vital stats for the book:

PURPOSE: To tell of the love between a bridegroom (King Solomon) and his bride, to affirm the sanctity of marriage, and to picture God’s love for his people (and a foreshadowing of our life with Christ)
AUTHOR: Solomon
DATE WRITTEN: Probably early in Solomon’s reign
SETTING: Israel—the Shulammite woman’s garden and the king’s palace
LAW THEMES: Religious promiscuity and unfaithfulness (idolatry), like sexual promiscuity and unfaithfulness, are destructive.
GOSPEL THEMES: In faithful love, God sent Christ to save the world; He grants to believers the priceless blessings of love for Him and marital love for spouses.
KEY VERSE: “I am my lover’s and my lover is mine; he browses among the lilies” (6:3)
KEY PEOPLE: King Solomon, the Shulammite woman, and friends

We will also start the book of Isaiah this week. It will take us a while to get through this book. It is deep and theological. Here are the vital stats for Isaiah:

PURPOSE: To call the nation of Judah back to God and to tell of God’s salvation through the Messiah.
AUTHOR: The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz
DATE WRITTEN: The events of chapters 1-39 occurred during Isaiah’s ministry, so they were probably written about 700 B.C. Chapters 40-66, however may have been written near the end of his life, about 681 B.C.
SETTING: Isaiah is speaking and writing mainly in Jerusalem
LAW THEMES: Judgment on false worship; Judgment day; selfishness; woes against Israel and the nations; defeat by Assyria and Babylon; idolatry condemned.
GOSPEL THEMES: The remnant preserved; Immanuel; the Messiah’s just reign; salvation promised to Etheopia, Assyria, and the nations; the feast; mercy for Hezekiah; God’s comfort for Zion; the Lord’s Servant; Zion’s deliverance; new heavens and new earth.
KEY VERSE: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (53:5)
KEY PEOPLE: Isaiah, his two sons Shear-Jashub and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz
SPECIAL FEATURES: The book of Isaiah contains both prose and poetry and uses personification. Also, many of the prophecies in Isaiah contain predictions that foretell a soon-to-occur event and a distant future event at the same time.

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