Friday, February 29, 2008

The One Year Bible- February 29th

Happy Leap Day! This is the only day of the year where there is no assigned reading for the One Year Bible. If you are like me, I have been in the habit of reading most days so I read today knowing that I will miss a day here soon. Better to be ahead than behind. Before we get into the meat of the study I want to touch on one of the Psalms we read this week. Psalm 40 has had a special place in my heart for a long time. It wasn’t that it spoke to me in a time of trouble; it wasn’t that I heard a great sermon about it; it wasn’t even the fact that it was written by David. The reason this Psalm is one of my favorite is because the rock band U2 has a song called “40” that uses the same words. If you are not familiar with U2 you might have heard of their lead singer who goes by the name Bono. When they started out as young musicians in Ireland in the late 70’s, their music was influenced by their faith. You can still hear the message of faith in many of their songs today. The best way to share this song with you is for you to hear it. Thanks to good old YouTube here it is. Take a break and watch this great video from a U2 concert. You may want to read Psalm 40 again before you watch it. Just click the play button in the center of the video. You will need to have the Shockwave plugin to see the video.

On to the study for today...

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

I want to spend some time talking about one of the most important days in the life of the Jewish people. The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is the holiest of days in the worship life of God’s chosen people. This was the day that the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies (the inner part) in the Temple and offer a sacrifice for the forgiveness of the people. We read about its regulations this week. Let me put it into some easier terms for you. God had set up a system of blood sacrifice that was to be done for the forgiveness of si

ns. Originally it was to be the one who committed the offence, but God in his mercy and grace said that he would take a substitute in the place of the person. Most of the time this means a lamb or bull without anything wrong with it. The people were to come to the temple at least once a year to make a blood sacrifice for the atonement of their own sins, and then once a year a special sacrifice was to be made for all the people. On Yom Kippur, all the people were to fast and the High Priest was then to enter behind the curtain in the presence of the Ark and the other sacred objects including the mercy seat, which was the covering of the ark. This is where the blood was to be poured to cover the sins. This whole event is ripe with symbolism and New Testament parallels. A few interesting things about the actual event: the High Priest was the one who represented all the people. His sacrifice was sufficient for everyone in Israel. He was the only one allowed to enter the presence of God and as soon a

s he went in he had to make a sacrifice for himself first. Jewish tradition says that the High Priest would tie a rope around his midsection and another priest would hold the other end. The High Priest would also have bells tied to his robes. In the event that he did something wrong, or he angered God and was struck down, the other priests could pull him out without endangering themselves by going into the Holy of Holies. This act of sacrifice c

ould only be done at the temple and was the only way of forgiveness. Lets bring the forward to Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This was a physical symbol that the Day of Atonement was no longer necessary. Jesus, who called himself a temple, became the High Priest and offered a sacrifice for the forgiveness of all people for all time. The New Testament speaks of this as the fulfillment of the Old Testament requirements. Paul, in Ephesians speaks of Jesus dividing the barrier of hostility, a possible image of the temple. The book of Hebrews speaks of Jesus being the High Priest and that this sacrifice meets the requirements of the Law and that at the Temple (Jesus) atonement has been made. Theologians call this Vicarious Atonement, meaning that we are now at one with God because Jesus was our substitute sacrifice (vicar = substitute, like I can take the place of Pastor K in Church).

One last thing, we have seen a lot of blood in Leviticus and we have talked about this before but to a Jew blood = life. In fact the Hebrew word for blood can also mean life. That makes some neat comparisons to Jesus. We have life because of the blood (life) of Jesus. We drink his blood in communion and that gives us life. Once again, we see that understanding the Old Testament really brings the things in the New Testament to life (no pun intended). Here is a picture and map of the temple that may help you get a visual of its structure:

The New Testament

In our readings in Mark we see more miracles and stories of Jesus. In Mark 7, Jesus makes reference to some of the washings we have been reading about in Leviticus. Jesus makes some people angry when he says it’s not all about keeping the laws and traditions. In fact, there is much more to it. We need to not only be clean on the outside, we must be cleaned on the inside as well. It is not what comes from inside that makes us unclean, but what comes out of our heart. Just a small aside here; the heart was seen by a Jew as the center of not only the emotions but also the entire soul, including the intellect. When Jesus says these things come from our heart, he is saying that our entire being is full of wickedness. This is something we all need to hear. We are all sinful and unclean. There is not one who does good. And we all fall short of the glory of God. We are in need of a Savior. Jesus has some words for the disciples about being a servant. The disciples were fighting about who was the greatest and once again Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its ear. He tells them that they must be a servant of everyone else. They must put the needs of others before their own. This was a radical way of thinking. We sometimes forget how radical Jesus’ words were.

Bits and Pieces

We will finish up the book of Leviticus this week and start with the book of Numbers. The book of Numbers continues the story of the people from Mt. Sinai on to the Promised Land. Here are the vital stats for Numbers:

Purpose: To tell the story of how Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, how they sinned and were punished, and how they prepared to try again

Author: Moses

To Whom Written: The People of Israel

Date Written: 1450-1410 B.C.

Setting: The vast desert of the Sinai region, as well as the lands just south and east of Canaan

Key Verses: “Not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” Numbers 14:22-23

Key People: Moses, Aaron, Miraim, Joshua, Caleb, Eleazar, Korah, Balaam

Key Places: Mt. Sinai, the Promised Land (Canaan), Kadesh, Mt. Hor, plains of Moab

Numbers records the story of Israel’s unbelief and should serve as a dramatic lesson for all God’s people. God loves us and wants the very best for us. He can and should be trusted. Numbers also gives a clear portrayal of God’s patience. Again and again he withholds judgment and preserves the people. But his patience must not be taken for granted. His judgment will come.

One of the recurring themes in Numbers is that of complaining. It is complaining that gets the people into trouble. Complaining and grumbling become very destructive for the people. Many of them even wanted to go back to Egypt. They had already forgotten that in Egypt they were slaves!!

Have a great week and let me know if you have any questions.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Arrogance...It can blind us from seeing things for what they really are. It can give us a false sense of security. It has a way of creeping in without our knowledge. It may start out as confidence but at some point something changes.

I think we all have battled with arrogance. We all have become a little too overconfident. When arrogance and bickering creep into the body of Christ the first thing that goes is service. When we get so comfortable and wonder what we can get out of the church is exactly the place where bickering can begin and where service ends. I want to take a page from the corporate world and give you some simple truths to good service. These truths were developed with the idea of improving customer service but I think we can apply them to Christian service.

1. Great Service Inspires Stories…Whether it is positive or negative we let others know our experience. Jesus’ service on the cross has inspired generations of storytellers. Four stories of his life have been preserved for us in the Gospels. Does your service inspire stories?

2. Great Service Uses Outside-the-Box Thinking…Where would we be without the thinking that has produced things like the printing press, the personal computer? Jesus was an outside-of-the-box thinker. He took a rag-tag group and formed them to be servants to the world. Are you thinking out of the box?

3. Great Service is Active…The attendant that goes the extra mile, the server that attends to your needs during a meal, the employee that takes your bag without expecting anything in return; active service makes a lasting impression. Jesus was active in ministry, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and making the blind see. His service to others made a lasting impression. Is your service active?

4. Great Service Starts with a Clear Vision…Knowing what you want to do and how to do it gives service a great chance of success. Jesus took the vision of his Father when he took on flesh and came to serve not to be served. Do you have a clear vision for service?

5. Great Service Requires that Everyone Catch the Vision…When a company wants to improve its customer service everyone must be on board. After Jesus went back to heaven he sent the Holy Spirit who fanned the flames of service and the message was spread. In Acts we see the effects of the vision being caught. Have you caught the vision?

6. Great Service Surprises People…When have you been surprised by service? The ministry of Jesus was surprising. He came as a king yet did the work of a servant. He was God but came as a baby. He came to rule but he went to a cross. He was dead, but rose again. Is it time to surprise someone?

7. Great Service Begins with Anyone…Anyone can make a difference. No matter what you do or where you live, no matter what skills you have or what experiences you possess; you can make a difference. Jesus chose the downcast, the undesirable, the plain, and the unworthy to be his messengers. Where can you serve?

8. Great Service Goes the Extra Mile…Those who go the extra mile are remembered. Jesus went the extra mile for us. His service to us was above and beyond what we could imagine. Have you gone the extra mile?

9. Great Service Brings Customers Back…What brings you back to a business? Jesus’ service brought us all back from sin. Left in our sin and selfishness we would be lost, but Jesus finds us and brings us back to his loving arms. Does your service bring people back?

10. Great Service Comes from the Heart…Service cannot be coerced, or forced; it comes as an extension of who we are. God loved the world so much he sent his son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. How is your heart?

Because of the service of Jesus to us we can be in service to others. We get to be the hands of Jesus offering help to those who need it, bringing love and compassion. You know the service that Jesus’ hands brought to us was not simply a formula or a recipe but his service actually brought the comfort and peace that it promised. May our Lord’s passion motivate us to show compassion in service to others.

Having been called to faith in Christ, moved by the love of God the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the members of Bethany Lutheran Church are committed to Serving Passionately.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The One Year Bible- February 22nd

This has been quite a week for me. I just finished one seminary class but I still have a project to do for it. I started a new class that has a lot of reading. I am preaching this Sunday. I just found out that I will have to travel to St. Louis in a few weeks for my Theological Interview at the Seminary and have a ton of work to complete before I leave. I just hope I can get it all done. I know we have all had weeks like this. The one constant this week has been my daily readings. I have managed to read every day and it has been a source of strength and a blessing for me. When you have days, or, weeks, or months like this I hope you will lean on the strength that you will find in God’s Word. On to the study...

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

Not much to talk about from a theological perspective on this weeks readings from the Old Testament. The big thing is the rules and regulations regarding offerings and health. Last week I gave you some info on the different kinds of offerings. Please refer back to that if you need to as we continue to read. The other thing about this week is the copious use of blood. I think we have talked about this before, but remember that this was a different time and culture. In our day, blood is seen as bad and possibly containing diseases. For the people of Israel the spilling of blood gave them life. This all points to Jesus and we have talked about that time and again. I got an email this week from someone who is reading with us this year and I want to share the question and the answer with you:

Good Morning Seth,

In Leviticus 11:1-12:8 today the Bible states the following:

"And the pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you." What does it mean when God says it is unclean? Is it His law that we not eat pig or does it just make us unclean? This was interesting this morning as I did not know that God has commanded us to eat or not eat certain foods.

Any insight you could offer would be greatly appreciated.


My Reply:

I just finished that reading myself. The thing you need to remember about all these laws and regulations is that they are for the people of Israel in the wilderness as God is forming them to be his people. All these laws were not written for us in the US in 2008. The reason that God placed some dietary restrictions on the people was two-fold. First of all many of the animals that were considered unclean had problems with parasites and other things that could make the people sick if they were not cooked or handled properly. God needed the people to be healthy. Secondly, many of these animals were used by the pagan people they would encounter in the Promised Land in their worship of false Gods. God did not want them to associate with them so he set them apart.

Fast forward to today...some people still follow these dietary laws but they are no longer required. The ceremonial law was fulfilled in Jesus and we now have freedom. This does not mean that we can abuse our freedom, but we are not bound to all of the requirements of the Old Testament Law. If it were so we would have many more things to do every day (like ceremonial washing, staying outside of the city until sunset if we are unclean, men not shaving beards, etc.) Rest assured that eating pork, or lobster, or a cheeseburger (all would be unclean in the OT) is OK. I hope this helps.


You may have had the same question and I hope this helps you as well. Please feel free to email me your questions or better yet make a comment on the blog, I will answer it and others can benefit from the discussion. You can always comment as “anonymous” if you would like.

The New Testament
The book of Mark is filled with miracles and parables. It is no wonder many point new believers to this Gospel. Mark lays out the evidence that Jesus is the savior of the world and Jesus proves it by his miracles. Jesus also is a good teacher and as all good teachers he uses the power of stories. Stories teach in ways that other words cannot. Stories captivate our imaginations, they take us to places we have never been, they can help us understand complex ideas. Jesus knew the power of story and he used it. In our reading for the 20th we see that “He did not speak to them without a parable.” (Mark 4:34a ESV). What better way to teach to a bunch of uneducated people. I think at times we have lost the art of storytelling in our Churches. We do a good job of it in Sunday School but we often forget it with Adults. I feel that we all can benefit from a good story and what better story to start with than the story of Jesus Christ.

I also want to address one historical point today. In the reading for Feb. 22nd we are introduced to King Herod. We have not seen that name since Matthew’s Gospel. What you need to know is that the Herod in Mark 6 is not the same one as in Matthew 2. A bit of history here; in Matthew 2 we are talking about Herod the Great who was the king of Judea, Galilee and other areas at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was the one who ordered all the baby boys killed to try to take care of the new king that was born. When he dies his kingdom is split between his three sons, Herod Philip II, Archelaus, and Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee and is the one who puts John the Baptist to death and is mentioned in Mark 6 (And Matthew 14). This is also the same Herod we will see in Luke 23 when Pilate sends Jesus to see him just before the crucifixion. We will see two more Herods. In Acts 12:1-24 we will see Herod Agrippa I who is a grandson of Herod the Great. Herod Agrippa I is the one responsible for killing the apostle James, who put Peter into prison and was killed by an angel. In Acts 25 and 26 we will see Herod Agrippa II who is the son of Herod Agrippa I. This is the Herod who Paul has a trial with before he is sent to Rome. If you didn’t follow all of that don’t worry. Just remember that we are talking about one royal family with the same name.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fell. What an interesting word. Of course there are times when we can anticipate things falling: home prices, interest rates, the Dow, but it all seems out of our control. The word fell seems so accidental and random.

“The sower went out to sow. As he went some of the seed fell on the path…some fell on the rocky place…some fell among the thorns.” It sounds accidental and random doesn’t it. The sower spilled, dropped, and carelessly allowed some of his seed to do that which it was not intended to do: land in less than ideal conditions. That is why it is so incredible to me that Jesus continues the parable by saying, “…and some fell on good soil.”

Can you believe it? The seed that made it to the good soil arrived the same way the seed that landed in undesirable locations did. It fell. The method of distribution was the same. The seed went where it was cast and it was cast where it went. The sower is intentionally indiscriminant. He longs, hopes, and prays for a harvest. He scatters, tosses, and throws the seed wherever he goes.

The reason you have faith in Christ, the reason you listen to the parable, the reason you’re reading the Bethany Bullet is that you are the product of the Lord. You are the result of the lavish, extravagant, “careless” sowing of God. His Word and Spirit fell in the soil of your soul and as a result-faith in Christ and a life for Christ has bloomed.

Too often people want to ask the question, “What kind of soil are you?” following the reading of this parable. The answer is simple. You’re the kind of soil the sower sows in. The more appropriate question is, “What kind of God do you have?” That answer too is apparent. Your God is lavish, extravagant, and one might even say, “careless” in the sharing of His love.

The most incredible thing our God ever put into the ground was Himself. Three days later what bloomed was life for the world. Now, knowing what kind of a God He is and who you are in Him there is another question we might ask of ourselves. When are we most receptive to His Word? When do we need to recognize a lack of receptivity?

Don’t fall into the undesirable location of thinking there is no reason to grow in your understanding of Christ nor your likeness to Christ. If there are ‘plots’ of ground within the soil of your soul that are rather shallow and if the acreage of your heart is full of rocks or thorns ask the Sower to till and work and do what HE does best…lavishly, extravagantly, let His Word of grace, truth, promise, mercy, challenge, power, and change fall on you so that a harvest 30, 60, 100 fold might follow.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The One Year Bible- February 15th

As we started the book of Mark, a verse jumped out at me, “News about him [Jesus] spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mark 1:28 NIV). Just think of the power of Jesus. Mark tells us “At once” everyone around knew about him. It reminds me of living in the Internet age. We can get information “at once” as soon as events happen. It is amazing how fast news travels. But what has happened to the good news about Jesus? Why is his fame not being spread everywhere? Well one reason is because the Devil doesn’t want it to. Satan is waging war against the good news of Jesus Christ and at times he seems to be winning. Satan is not happy that you are reading the Bible this year and he will work on your soft spots to get you behind and tempt you to give up. Don’t let his tricks get you down. You have the most powerful weapon in the fight, the Word of God. Remember that the battle belongs to the Lord and even though we may loose a few skirmishes here and there the ultimate victory is the Lord’s. Keep up the good work and fight the hard fight as you pick up the sword of the Spirit daily. On to the study...

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
The end of Exodus is just a foretaste of what is to come in the book of Leviticus. We will be taking a break from the narrative story for a while and read about many of the nuts and bolts of religious life of the people of Israel. We usually do not read these sections of scripture in Church so they may be brand new for you. Exodus ends with the building of the tabernacle and all the furnishings. This place (and later the temple) is the physical representation of Yahweh on earth. It is literally Gods house. The building of this structure is important for many reasons. First of all it gave the people something tangible in their relationship with God. Secondly, it was a place where God could interact with his people bringing mercy and forgiveness. Third, it sets up the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus referred to himself as a temple that would be destroyed and build again in three days. Jesus himself came down to be a physical representation of Yahweh on earth. In John 1:14 we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The word we translate at “made his dwelling” literally means that Jesus “tabernacled” among us. When Jesus came to earth he becomes another tabernacle, this one wrapped in flesh and poised to be the ultimate sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. Now the tabernacle had its own purpose in the days of the Israelites, and the temple as well for that matter, but they both point to a greater tabernacle and temple in the person of Jesus Christ.

One other thing I want to do this week is give you an introduction on the many different offerings that are mentioned in Exodus and especially in Leviticus. I found this good summary on the internet. Click here to read the entire summary.

Burnt Offering:
Leviticus 1; 6: 8-13; 8: 18-21; 16: 24
The burnt offering was for unintentional sin.
This was a blanket sacrifice for wrongdoing in general. The price was a male bull, lamb or goat. It had to be a perfect animal, without defect. The poor could offer a pigeon or dove. The penitent would present the animal at the entrance to the tent, which housed the altar and the tabernacle.
After presenting the animal, the sinner would place his two hands on the animal and thus, it was accepted as an offering for sin. Probably this act transferred the sin from the human to the animal, which paid the penalty and was sacrificed. They would kill their own offering and then the priests took over.

The priests bled the animal and cut it up ceremonially. The priests sprinkled the blood on the altar. Some of the internal organs and legs were washed. They then burned it whole on the altar. The aroma was said to be pleasing to God. The fire had to be continually burning and was never extinguished.

Grain Offering:
Leviticus 2; 6: 14-23
Voluntary worship and thanks:
A grain offering is just what it says. The grain had to ground into flour and could be put into loaves or cakes. Olive oil and incense were added to make a pleasing aroma when it burned. Yeast was forbidden for this offering. The cakes had to be salted. The offering was presented to the priests who burned a small portion of it on the altar. The rest was food for them and the Levites.

Fellowship Offering:
Leviticus 3: 7: 11-34
A voluntary act of worship, thanks and fellowship:
This is called a fellowship offering because the sacrifice is eaten communally instead of burned. Any clean animal, male or female could be offered. Bread, both with and without yeast, was also part of the offering. These were presented at the gate of the tent. The priests would sprinkle the blood on the four corners of the altar. The internal organs, the fat on them and the best part of the liver were burned as a food offering. The rest had to be eaten within two days or else it was burned also.

Sin Offering:
Leviticus 4: 1-5: 13; 6: 24-30; 8: 14-17; 16: 3-22
Mandatory for specific sins:
All of these offerings for sins are for unintentional transgressions. If you were guilty of premeditated infraction, these offerings didn’t help you. Your stature in the community determined the kind of sacrifice that you were required to offer.
A young bull was required for the sin of a high priest or for a community sin. Leaders had to present a male goat. The common people could bring a female goat or a lamb. The poor were permitted to offer a dove or pigeon and the very poor could get away with a tenth of an ephah of fine flour.

The bull’s fat was burned inside the camp but the rest was burned outside. Leviticus 5 records the sins for which a sin offering was required. These include unintentionally touching an animal that is ritually unclean, touching something unclean of human origin or making a careless promise.

Guilt Offering: (Repayment Offering)
Leviticus 5:14 – 6:7; 7: 1-6
Mandatory for unintentional sin requiring restitution:
This is a repayment offering for a sin committed against God, like holding back your tithe. A ram or lamb was brought to the tent to be sacrificed. The debt would have to be paid plus an additional twenty percent. These were the offerings outlined in the first seven chapters of Leviticus. God could forgive mistakes but intentional sins were another matter.

The New Testament

At the beginning of last week we saw the familiar words of institution as Jesus gives his disciples communion for the first time. Remember that meals were very important for the Jews and the connection that this new meal of remembrance first occurred during Passover is by no means a coincidence. Remember that Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience and this new covenant made in blood would ring a bell with all his readers. This would cut to the heart of any Jew, hearing about this because blood equals life. It is not in our culture to think of that. In fact when people outside of the Christian faith hear about being washed in the blood of the lamb, they get turned off from Christianity. I guess my point here is we need to watch how we word some things. To a Jewish audience, Matthew does the culturally relevant thing; when we share the message of Jesus we need to be careful not to offend or even gross out someone when talking about blood.

I want to say a few words about the Great commission this week and I hope not to loose you when I start talking about Greek grammar. First of all every time we translate the Bible from its original languages we loose something. The phrase “Lost in translation” is really true. At times when we translate into English we then, without thinking place certain rules and meaning based on sentence structure and word order. Unfortunately many people, myself included, have misinterpreted portions of scripture because of our cultural bias toward English. In reading the Great Commission in English it seems to be that Jesus is giving us a command (called an imperative) in the word “go”, but in the Greek this word is an adverbial participle, not an imperative. What is an adverbial participle? The action described by an adverbial participle is primarily directed toward the verb. This kind of participle is usually translated with an adverbial phrase. “While studying for his Greek final...” or “While going through the world...”. So we see in Matthew 28 an interesting grammatical sentence that if translated properly is very poor English. A very literal interpretation would be, “As you are going, disciple all the nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things...” The only imperative in the Great Commission is to disciple others—literally to make them learners. How do we do it? Well Jesus tells us, we are to baptize and teach. Again these words are not imperatives but the natural flow of what will occur by discipling others. Don’t even get me started on the NIVs use of the word “obey”. What a poor translation that is. We are to observe the things of Jesus through his word and actions and they serve as a guide. They are descriptive on how we are to live not prescriptive. I could go on about this one but we don’t have time here.

One quick thing about the book of Mark. I hope you have seen the extensive use of the word “immediately” (or similar phrases such as “at once”, they are usually the same word in the Greek). This is a book of action. It hits the ground running and never stops. It is a good book to read as we slug through Leviticus. It will give us some balance to our readings for the next couple of weeks.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Being in attendance at worship is not the problem for most Christians; being attentive during worship, however…

We have all allowed our minds to wander during worship. For some of us it is a perpetual struggle to focus on that, which is given to us, proclaimed to us, presented before us—the mercy of God in Christ. We can pray the Lord’s Prayer, recite the Creed and sing the hymns all the while wondering why the gal in front of us is wearing that dress or why the guy next to us employs the “comb-over.” Our bodies can be fully engaged in worship standing, sitting, bowing, and folding on key, while our minds wander and think about napping, jogging or running around here and there following worship. Being in attendance is easy, being attentive, however—that is something else entirely.

When in the desert confronted by Satan’s temptation—Jesus displayed perfect attentiveness to His Father’s will and His own surroundings.

The Temptation of Jesus
(Matthew 4: 1-11)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written; ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Each time Satan made an offer and each time Jesus refused to focus on Himself. That is the key to attentiveness in worship.

We are self-absorbed & self-preoccupied and before long we give in to that which is about us. Jesus never did. He was always focused on His Father’s will and our need, to the bitter end. Jesus selflessly offered His life to grant us forgiveness of the core sin of human nature: being curved-in on ourselves. Even the sin of being self-absorbed in worship has been forgiven in Jesus.

Now as His forgiven children we are called to be in attendance and attentive at the same time, so that we might focus on what God is doing in His house and our homes.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The One Year Bible- February 8th

This weeks readings have been filled with many of the most theologically significant passages in all of scripture. I hope you have found that seeing some familiar passages in context helps in the understanding of them. We have a lot to get to so lets get on to the study...

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament:
This weeks readings begin with the most revered event in Jewish history—The Exodus. After the plagues, Pharaoh finally relents and lets the people leave. As the people are leaving, God blesses the people by having the Egyptians give the people of Israel gifts of gold, jewelry and other valuables. These “gifts” will come in handy a bit later in the story. We begin to see what will become a pattern for the people. They start complaining. We will read about their complaints over and over in the upcoming chapters. This pattern continues once they get into the Promised Land as well and eventually explodes into open rebellion from God. God continues to show the people mercy even though he does not have to. He would have every right to get rid of them all but in His love He doesn’t. While they are in the desert God gives the people instructions on how to live, how to worship, how to conduct business etc. This is really a time of learning for the people. God is preparing them to be a Nation. One of the most significant things that God gives them is found in Exodus 20. Here we have what many have called “The 10 Commandments”. In Jewish tradition they were never called “commandments”. They were always referred to as “The 10 Words” or “The 10 Sayings”. They are as follows:

1. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt.
2. You shall have no other Gods but me.
3. Do not misuse my name.
4. Remember the Sabbath day.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. Don’t murder.
7. Don’t commit adultery.
8. Don’t steal.
9. Don’t give false testimony.
10. Don’t covet.

Christians disagree about the numbering of the commandments because of a misunderstanding of what “The 10 Words” were all about. Many see the Ten Commandments as a list of laws and rules that the people had to obey. They are seen as only a message of the law. When we look at these from a Jewish point of view we see that all the “words” flow out of a message of the Gospel, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt”. Because of what God has done first then we are able to do the other 9 things. It is like saying; “Because God led us out of Egypt, is merciful to us, remembered us and loves us we would never think of having any other gods, or misusing his name etc.” The numbering of the commandments differs between Christians as well. Some make two commandments out of “You shall have no other Gods” and “You shall not make any idols”. In the Lutheran tradition, we have divided “Do not covet” into two commandments. So what is the point of all of this? Are we doing something wrong? Not really. The numbering of the commandments is a side matter. The big idea here is that the commandments are really our response to what God has done for us (this is a very Lutheran way of thinking anyway). Because God loves us our response is to follow his law. Some get it turned around and think that because I follow God’s law then God loves me. This was the thought of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

In our readings this past week God gave instructions for the tabernacle and all of the furnishing that will go into it. This was to be a forerunner of the Temple that would be built by Solomon in Jerusalem many years later. It was a visible sign of God’s presence with His people. It was a place for sacrifice and a reminder of God’s law as well as his promises. I hope this picture of the tabernacle helps:

Here is a depiction of Aaron in his priestly garments as well:

Another tidbit of foreshadowing comes in a warning that God delivers to Moses. God said not to have any interaction with the people who possess the land they will be inheriting. He said, “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you” (Exodus 23:32-33 NIV). Eventually as the people enter the Promised Land they will not heed this warning and their involvement with the local people will cause problems for them for their entire history. Remember this passage and see how this plays out in the weeks to come.

The New Testament
In our readings we see a few encounters that Jesus has with the Pharisees. As Jesus speaks the truth to them he only makes them more upset and fuels the fire to arrest and kill him. One of the more interesting things I have seen in our readings came on February 3rd & 4th. On the 3rd we see Jesus restating the Law of Moses. When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is he replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV). In a few short sentences, Jesus states the entire message of “The 10 words”. To love God with all your heart, soul, and mind is to have no other Gods, to not misuse the name of God, and to worship the LORD alone. To love your neighbor as yourself is to follow all the others. I find it fascinating that the very next day we see “The 10 words” in our Old Testament reading. I think the Spirit had something to do with this. Jesus also teaches quite a bit about signs of the end of the age. His main point is that we must be ready. Don’t worry about when it will happen or how it will happen, just know that it will happen and we must be ready. He makes his point clear with the story of the sheep and the goats.

We just started the story of the Passion this week and it will be good for us at the beginning of Lent to read the whole story this week. Take some time this week as you read the Passion account to ready your heart and mind for Lent this year.

Bits and Pieces

We will be starting two new books this week. First off we will move into the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament. A word of caution here, many people do well getting through Genesis and Exodus but Leviticus is a different story. The narrative story takes a break for God to give some needed instructions to the people. The book of Leviticus is not the easiest reading, but remember it is still God’s Word. Be patient and remember that this is all part of the old covenant that has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It may take you a bit longer to get through the readings but hang in there. We will run into this again in a few of the prophets. But for now, remember that we are not the primary audience of this book. Put yourself in the context of the hearers and it will make some more sense to you. Here are the vital stats for the book:

PURPOSE: A handbook for the priests and Levites outlining their duties in worship, and a guidebook of holy living for the Hebrews
SETTING: At the foot of Mt. Sinai. God is teaching the Israelites how to live as a holy people.
KEY VERSE: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God am holy” 19:2
KEY PEOPLE: Moses, Aaron, Eleazar (Aaron’s son)
KEY PLACE: Mt. Sinai
SPECIAL FEATURE: Holiness is mentioned more times (152) than in any other book of the Bible

We are also starting the Gospel of Mark this week. I love the book of Mark and I suggest that this is a good book to start reading with a new Christian. Marks favorite word is “immediately”. He uses it often. Mark has been called the action Gospel or the Gospel to the Gentiles. Mark is believed to be the writer of Peter’s story. Many scholars see the fingerprints of Peter throughout the book. Here are the vital stats:

PURPOSE: To present the person, work, and teachings of Jesus
AUTHOR: John Mark. He was not one of the 12 disciples but he accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:13)
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The Christians in Rome, where he wrote the Gospel
DATE WRITTEN: Between A.D. 55 & 65
SETTING: The Roman Empire under Tiberius Caesar. The empire with its common language and excellent transportation and communication system was ripe to hear Jesus’ message, which spread quickly from nation to nation.
KEY VERSE: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45)
KEY PEOPLE: Jesus, the 12 disciples, Pilate, the Jewish leaders
KEY PLACES: Capernaum, Nazareth, Caesarea Philippi, Jericho, Bethany, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Golgotha
SPECIAL FEATURES: Mark was probably the first Gospel written. The other Gospels quote all but 31 verses of Mark. Mark records more miracles that does any other Gospel.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The following thoughts come from hearing Dr. Lamb’s sermon at Bethany on Transfiguration Sunday.

“In his hand is the life of every creature

and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10

In the hand of God—it is the best place to be! However, there is an inviting alternative proposed in Job. “There are those who carry their god in their hands.” Job tells us that these people are at ease, undisturbed, and secure.

Who wouldn’t want to be at ease, undisturbed, and secure? Security is at a premium. From our borders, to our homes, to our jobs…we want security. Our own loved ones easily disturb us when we are seeking just a moment of peace and quiet from the mad and sick world in which we live. We constantly find ourselves bombarded with the pain and brutality of life. “On edge”, probably describes us better than “at ease.” Sub-prime loans and foreclosures, the Dow and our portfolio, terrorism and bird flu, hostile corporate takeovers and down sizing, what’s next? For those who carry their god in their hand there is a simple option.

  • Are you under appreciated and under compensated at work? Form and fashion is that god in your hand that says to you that you deserve better and are owed whatever it is you can get your hands on in the supply closet or the cash register.
  • Arguing constantly with your spouse? Going through the motions of marriage? Just plan bored? Form and fashion, that god in your hand that says to you that marriages are disposable and other spouses are readily available.
  • Find yourself with an unexpected pregnancy? Form and fashion, that god in your hand that says that it is your choice, it is merely potential life, and abortion is the way out.

Having god in your hand is very attractive. There is only one problem. To fit in your hand it would have to be a very small god indeed. Such a god could never carry you in his hand. But there is a God who can, the One and Only True God. This God formed you with His hand. This God, in the hands of Jesus, redeemed you from all sin…even those, of carrying god in your hand so that you might justify any action.

This God…
+ Has carved you in His palm;
+ Nothing can snatch you from His hand;
+ He will carry you through any and every circumstance in life.

In the hand of God, one large enough to always carry you through everything—that is the place to be—and for the sake of the nail scarred hands of Jesus that is where you are.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The One Year Bible- February 1st

Congratulations on finishing one month in the journey of reading the Bible this year!! It is amazing to me how the Lord directs our lives at times. This week in my seminary class we began to talk about Old Testament narrative. It has been fascinating learning more about one of the most important parts of the Old Testament. Just over 40% of the Old Testament is devoted to telling the narrative story. The following Old Testament books are largely or entirely composed of narrative material: Genesis, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, and Haggai. Also, Exodus, Numbers, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and job contain substantial narrative portions. People like stories and the stories in the Bible are important. They are purposeful stories that tell the historical events of the past and are intended to give meaning and direction for a given people in the present. There is a difference in the Bible’s stories for they tell God’s story. As one of my textbooks says it, “The biblical narrative tells the ultimate story—a story that, even though often complex, is utterly true and crucially important. Indeed it is a magnificent story, grander than the greatest epic, richer in plot and more significant in its characters and descriptions than any humanly composed story could ever be.” (How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 90) Enjoy the stories and remember to try to see the overarching story of God’s love for his creation and his desire to save us from sin.

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
Exodus is a well written book that is foundational for the faith of both Christians and Jews. Within it’s pages lie some of the key elements of our faith (the Passover, the 10 commandments a.k.a. the 10 words). A reading of this book is not complete without seeing the awesome wonder and power of God. One of the key words in the Old Testament is translated as “remembered”, as in God remembered his people, the people are to remember to celebrate the Passover etc. This is a theologically significant word in that it shows God’s grace and his love for his people. This theme will be carried out to completion as God remembers his people once again as they are slaves to sin and provides redemption through his son. Before we get to the Passover lets take a closer look at one of the most famous sections in the book, namely the plagues. Much has been made of these events in movies and other media but they show how God works in systematic ways. One thing to remember is that even when God showed his mighty wonders, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. He said the right things but went back on his word. I think at times we are all a bit like Pharaoh. We like to have things our own way and when things are going badly we will promise everything. Things ease up and we go back on our word. Eventually this will end up badly for us. But I am getting off track, so back to the plagues...

Before the first plague Moses and Aaron have a confrontation with Pharaoh and his magicians. We see here that Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them. By looking at the first nine plagues in groups of three we can see some interesting things.

The Plagues:

1. Blood (7:14-25)
2. Frogs (8:1-15)
3. Gnats (8:16-19)

4. Flies (8:20-32)
5. Animal Disease (9:1-7)
6. Boils (9:8-12)

7. Hail (9:13-35)
8. Locusts (10:1-20)
9. Darkness (10:21-27)

In each series the first and second plagues are announced to Pharaoh in advance. The third is given without previous warning. The series of 3 x 3 leads up to a climax in number 10, the number that is the symbol for completeness. Within the plagues themselves there is a progression, an increase in severity. The last three are especially severe and destructive. The Egyptian magicians vie with Moses in duplicating the first two plagues. At the third they try but no longer succeed in their magic arts. They must confess, “This is the finger of God.” Beginning with the second group of plagues (4,5 & 6) a distinction is made between the Israelites and the Egyptians. The land of Goshen where the Israelites live is spared. The first nine plagues deal with phenomena that have to do with nature. Since the Egyptians worshiped the powers of nature, what more effective way could God display his power over all things, which they looked upon as deities? The tenth plague was the plague of the firstborn. With this plague all the first-born were to be killed. But the angel was to “pass over” the homes of the Israelites.

The Passover presents to us one of the most important Old Testament types of the Savior Jesus Christ. As we look at the directions for preparing the Passover meal, we see step by step how the entire ritual points to Christ, our Passover lamb. The Passover lamb was to be a year-old male. John the Baptist tells of the Messiah who was to be the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." In Corinthians, Paul says, “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” God directed that this Passover lamb was to be “without defect.” Peter wrote that we were redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” The Passover lamb was to be slaughtered as a sacrifice. Paul reminded his people “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. The writer of the book of Hebrews repeatedly refers to Christ as an “offering” and “sacrifice”. “Do not break any of the bones.” This was direct foreshadowing of Jesus. The Israelites were to “take some of the blood and but it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses.” God said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” This points to the teaching that we are redeemed from the power of sin, death and Satan with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. God tells the people that they are to remember the Passover for “generations to come”.

I hope you can see how the Passover celebration is important to our understanding of who Jesus is and how he is the culmination of Gods redeeming work on earth. It is no coincidence that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples the night before he was betrayed. Again it is no coincidence that Jesus instituted another celebration that is to be celebrated for “generations to come” as he gave his disciples the first communion feast.

The New Testament
I want to spend a little bit of time talking about parables this week since we have seen so many of them in the book of Matthew and we will see more as we go through the Gospels. I will most likely make reference to this post in the future or will just repost some of this material again when the times comes. In my seminary classes on the New Testament we spent quite a bit of time on parables because of their wonderful content and use for us not only as preachers but also as Christians. Today I would like to share with you some material from an article written by Dr. Erich H. Kiehl who was a professor at Concordia Seminary St. Louis for many years. He wrote an article titled “Why Jesus Spoke in Parables” in which he said:

A parable may be defined as “a story with a puzzling quality which confronts the hearer with the need to make a decision for or against Christ through the Spirits work.” Perhaps the most helpful is the more usual definition: “A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly (spiritual) meaning” with the addition “in the sense that it confronts the hearer with the need to make a decision for or against Christ through the Spirits work.”

An analysis of the content of the Gospels indicates that about one-third of the Gospel accounts are parables. Aside from their theological importance, parables shed much light on life in the New Testament era. Except for the Egyptian papyri, which emphasize life in Egypt, the parables are the best source of information about life in the Near East in the New Testament era. They reflect the innate love of graphic, pictorial speech and the great delight in a story, which is still true of life there today. Jesus’ parables demonstrate everyday experiences and events in the world of nature.

Since Jesus’ hearers would not listen to him on his terms, that is, the true meaning of the kingdom of God as revealed in Scripture, Jesus then began to speak to them in parables. His hearers had an innate love for graphic stories and pictorial speech. Jesus used this appealing parabolic approach to catch their attention and to seek to get them to ponder the true meaning of what he said. As people wondered and pondered what Jesus was telling them in his parables, the Holy Spirit could work in their hearts, seeking to lead them to the proper Biblical understanding of His message. In time, as the Spirit penetrated the hardness of the heart, hearers could grow in understanding of the true meaning and nature of God’s kingdom and of life in the kingdom. Crucial in this was the Spirit leading them to understand who Jesus truly is in His ministry and teaching as the fulfillment of the prophecies in his person and work, and its decisive implications for their life as members of God’s covenant people.

From The Concordia Journal July 1990 p.248-249.

Dr. Kiehl continues in his article to develop the skills of determining what Jesus actually meant when he told his parables. He warns us not to try to put our own meaning into the parables but to strive to find the true meaning, the one that Jesus meant for us to have. This is no easy task, especially when Jesus does not explain the meaning of the parable. Don’t worry to much if some of this flies over your head. The main point is not to force our own thoughts and insights on the text and miss the true point of the parable. When in doubt, pray, meditate, or ask your pastor (or vicar) if you don’t fully understand.

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