Monday, March 31, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, April 1, 2008

One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. If you haven’t seen it, rent it you won’t be sorry. The movie ends with a kissing scene. And as the lovers embrace the narrator says, “In all history there have been five kisses rated the most pure, the most passionate, and this one blew them all away.”

Embraces that are pure and passionate are at times a joy to witness, while at other times they are gut wrenching to watch.
  • When a father steals a moment with his “little girl” before he gives her away to “another man” she will soon call her husband…
  • When a mother leaves her student at school for the first day of class, be it freshman orientation at university or the first day of kindergarten…
  • A sailor with his bride before he deploys…
  • A family with loved one before she is wheeled away into surgery…
  • Dear friends at their farewell party…

HUGS—are powerful to witness and even more powerful to experience.

Perhaps the last thing she planned to experience was an embrace. And as things worked out when she thought she would receive one it was denied her. “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.” Jesus was dead. He had been in the tomb since Friday. Mary returned at first light Sunday, the day that would come to be known as Easter, to mourn and give the corpse the proper anointing it had been denied with the hasty pre-Sabbath burial.

Just imagine Mary’s shock at finding Jesus alive. He is Risen! Just imagine her joy as she rushed to wrap her arms around him. Just imagine her confusion when it was refused. “Don’t hold on to me.” What one would natural expect at this point is to hear the narrator of the story say, “In all history there have been five hugs rated the longest, strongest and most enduring, and this one blew them all away.”

Jesus wasn’t trying to hurt Mary. Not by a long shot. His words can best be translated, “Don’t continue to grasp on to me physically, for I have not yet returned to my Father. Mary I will be with you always. Things, however, will not be the same. My presence will be with you forever, but not physically as it has been up till now. Mary was told that she was going to have to learn to let go of Jesus, so that she could go for Jesus. “Go to my brothers and tell them I am going to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”

Mary, let go, as hard as it had to be. Mary, didn’t hold on, even though she desired to I’m sure. Mary instead, held by the One the grave could not hold, went and held the news of Christ’s resurrection up to the disciples and the world has never been the same.

There is an application in this text that is rather important for us individually and collectively. It is an application that doesn’t come without fear, pain, or frustration. Which I suppose is in keeping with the text; after all I am sure Mary experienced all three when confronted with the need to let the hug end and the risen Lord “go.”

Individually the application is a simple question, what do you need to let go of so you can go for Christ? Is there anything you are holding on to that is keeping you from holding up Christ? Past hurt or past shame; dead dreams, fear about tomorrow or painful memories; bitterness, resentment or a grudge; pride, arrogance or the need to always be right any of these could be something that needs be let go of.

Collectively it is the same question. Is there anything as a congregation we need to let go of? A myopic view of our wants and needs over a global view of our call and mission; a focus upon the likes of the churched above the needs of the un-churched; a slavish dedication to what we want rather than a stewards dedication to what we have to give any of these could be things that ought not be held on to if we are to hold Him up.

But be assured of this, while letting go isn’t easy, through it Christ changes the world as we embrace Christ by faith, know that we are held by the One the grave could not hold and let go of that which hinders us in going for Him.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The One Year Bible- March 28th

When I was in high school, I played on the basketball team. My first year I warmed the bench for the freshman “A” team. I would have liked to actually play on the “B” team but my coach was great and wanted me on his team. My sophomore year was a blur and I think I played a total of three minutes but I loved being part of a team. My junior year I got cut from the team and I poured my heart out to the coach and asked to just be able to practice with the team. He said “no” but the varsity coach put me back on the team, (I think there is a story of redemption there but that is not where I am going). Needless to say I played a total of zero minutes that year, but I never missed a practice and I worked my tail off. My senior year I made the varsity team and was encouraged by a great coach. Gene Campbell will always have a place of honor in my heart. He not only put me back on the JV team the previous year, he gave me shot as a senior. His pre-game speeches were amazing. Our team was picked by the local paper to come in last in the league; we were small, un-athletic, and inexperienced. That did not stop Coach Campbell from giving us confidence and inspiring us to be more than we were told we could be. We finished the year in fourth place out of ten teams. We missed the playoffs but made everyone stop and notice us. I see Moses as that type of person for the people of Israel. If the paper did a story on them, they would be picked last among the people in the area, they were small, un-athletic, and very inexperienced, but Moses had confidence in them. As he stands at the boarder of the Promised Land, he recounts the history of the people and gets them ready and pumped up for the battle ahead. This is how I view the book of Deuteronomy. I know I mentioned some of this last week but I really wanted to flesh it out for you this week. Keep this in mind as you read the rest of the book. On to the rest of the study...

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

I want to spend some time this week talking about one of the most important passages in the Hebrew Bible. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV). Mark Braun in his commentary on the book of Deute

ronomy says the following:

“Israel did not worship a pantheon of gods; their God was one, undivided. Because of that, God wanted them to give him undivided loyalty. The Baals of Canaan were manmade pictures of the various forces of nature, but Israel’s God was one. “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” is the deepest statement of God’s nature as one Lord. For centuries the Jews have called this their Shema, from the first Hebrew word of this phrase. Observant Jews still say the Shema twice each day, as part of their morning and evening prayers, yet it is not so much a prayer as a statement of faith.”

This idea of one God is known as monotheism. It was a distinctive feature of the Hebrew religion. Many ancient peoples believed in many gods, or pantheism. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the whole earth, the only true God. This was an important insight for the nation of Israel because they were about to enter a land filled with people who believed in many gods. God reminds the people over and over again before they enter the land, not to have anything to do with these other gods. We shall soon see that this is a bit of foreshadowing, as the gods of the land of Canaan are the cause of many problems and eventually captivity and exile for the people.

Right after the Shema, Moses then gives some instru ctions to the people regarding education. The LORD wanted to make sure that the following generations would hear the stories and know of the love and mercy of God and his statutes and teachings for His people. “These commandments that I give you to day are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6: 6-9 NIV).

Mark Braun continues in his commentary:

“God wanted education in the faith to be a family thing. God didn’t want his people confining it to Sabbath days, l eaving it to the religious professionals to conduct. Moses’ words in verses 7-9 were probably meant in a figurative way; parents were to talk about their relationship with their Savior God and they went about their day-to-day lives. Many later Jews, however, took these versed literally. Jewish males, thirteen and older, tie phylacteries on to their foreheads and their left arms—two little black boxes containing tiny parchment scrolls on which are written four passages of the Hebrew Scriptures. Observant Jew s also fasten mezuzoth to the door frames of their homes and public buildings—small wooden or metal boxes that hold two scrolls on which are written this verse and Deuteronomy 11:13-21. The Jewish teacher Maimonides said that those who look upon the mezuzoth and the phylacteries as lucky c harms are ignorant, yet by obeying Moses’ words literally, many Jews many have found these outward symbols served as strong reminders of their faith. Crosses or pictures of Jesus serve a similar purpose in our homes.”

Jesus makes mention of this practice in Matthew 23 when he says, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you...

Everything they do is done for m en to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'” Jesus points out that although the Pharisees seem to be doing the things on the outside right, they are not right on the inside. They need to do what Mo ses intended. The word must come out through our actions (tied to our hands) and should be always on our minds (tied to our foreheads).

Here are some pictures of phylacteries and mezuzoths that may help:

The New Testament
We continue our journey in Luke and there are some amazing passages from this past week’s readings. I like the quote from Jesus, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31 NIV). We are all definitely sick because of sin. We are all in need of a doctor and the great physician; Jesus himself is there for us. You may have wondered about this “Son of Man” reference that Jesus keeps making reference to. I could write a book about it but the short answer is that he is most likely making reference to Daniel 7 where a “son of man” comes in glory from the clouds to rule. This was what Jesus was on earth to do. I will try to remember to talk about that when we get into Daniel (in November).

Jesus’ teachings on loving your enemies should make us all a bit uncomfortable. Do we really have to love them? Remember that because of sin we are enemies of God. He still loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die in our place for us. How many of you would die for your friends let alone your enemies. Just amazing. To a Jew the heart was the center of the emotions, as well as all reason and intellect. When Jesus talks about the good things and the evil things that come from our hearts would really hit home. He is not just talking about emotions here. This is the whole shootin’ match. What you say flows from what is in your heart. So that begs the question, what is in your heart? Is it sin or is it love. If it is sin how can you get rid of it? If it is love, how did it get there? The only way the sin will be removed is through what Jesus did for us. Because of his death he has removed that sin and has put in it’s place love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Bits and Pieces

I think I forgot to give you the vital stats for the book of Deuteronomy last week so here goes:

PURPOSE: To remind the people of what God had done and encourage them to rededicate their lives to him
Moses (except for the final summary which may have been written by Joshua)TO WHOM WRITTEN: Israel (the new generation entering the promised land)
The east side of the Jordan River, in view of Canaan
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Moses and Joshua

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We Californians understand earthquakes. Perhaps the only thing more terrifying than living through the earthquake is the fear of the aftershock.

Matthew tells us of an earthquake on Friday of Holy Week. "Jesus cried out in a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Suddenly the earth shook and the rocks split. The curtain of the temple was torn in two and tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people were raised to life." Matthew 27:50-52

Three days later Easter begins with another. "There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone." Matthew 28:2

If you are a California native and are about 19 or 20 years old, an earthquake might be one of your earliest memories—The Northridge Earthquake of '97. If you’re my age and a native—The San Fernando Earthquake of ’71 might be one of yours. Both were about 6.5 quakes. Pretty good size, definitely big enough to do damage and be remembered. You recall the jolt, the roll, perhaps stuff falling, people yelling, and taking cover.

It is a traumatic event. What happens next is just as troubling. The worry and fear that an aftershock is coming.

Just imagine the disciples. It is Easter Sunday; all they know is Jesus is dead and all they recall is the dark sky and the trembling ground and all of a sudden they are tossed from their beds. The Richter scale is off the charts—"Here we go again.”

The fear comes back. Jesus is on the cross again—“I don't know that I can take it.” Little do they know that this quake will rock the entire world not just their corner of planet Earth.

Jesus is alive! He stands in their presence! Instead of saying, “Duck and Cover”, He commands, "Go and Tell!" The epicenter of the universe is before them. The magnitude of the moment is eternal. Christ is alive.

We who live in earthquake country, who have our supplies ready just in case, are reminded that the BIG ONE has already come. And it shakes use to our core. The fault lines in our lives are very fragile aren't they? That topic, that look, that place, that picture, that smell, that sound and we are back there again. We are on the cross anew. The pain is as real as it was the moment it first happened.

We are all dealing with the after shocks of past actions; the things that humiliate us or haunt us. The things we hope never get revealed. The things we've buried and prayed never to have opened up for all to see. Today those things are gone. They threaten no more.

For the BIG ONE has come. Its magnitude is eternal. And here in bread and wine, in the house of God, you've come face to face with The Epicenter of reality. That all your guilt is atoned for, all your sin is forgiven, and all your future is in His hands, and eternity is yours through faith in Christ.

You live in earthquake country; if the ground starts shaking duck and cover may be the necessary response. But through the BIG ONE that shook 2000 years ago, the scheme and power of death and the devil have been knocked flat forever. “Go and Tell” is the only response!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The One Year Bible- March 21st

With Holy Week upon us and with the celebration of Easter just a few days away needless to say things are busy here at church. So to save some time I am posting on Thursday this week. I have completed the readings through the 21st hence the date at the top. On to the study...

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
Numbers is a strange book. It combines the narrative with some rules and regulations and then the “numbers” of counting and census taking. It can be hard to keep track of the story. I found myself turning back the pages a few times to remember what we read (this is not such a bad idea to do once in a while). A few things stuck out for me this week. The name of Baalam comes up again in the New Testament book of Revelation. I don’t know how much you know about the book of Revelation (and we don’t have time here to discuss in detail) but at the beginning of the book, Jesus gives John a message for seven churches. One of the letters warns of holding to the teaching of Baalam. This is the only place in the New Testament that makes reference to this story. Baalam knew about Yahweh but he took money from king Balak to give a curse against the people of Israel. Baalam gave in to the money and compromised his faith for the sake of material gain. I think that many in our world have compromised their faith or their beliefs for monetary gain as well. We outwardly worship the Lord but our hearts lust after wealth. This is the main message of the story. This lesson is important enough for John to mention it in the book of Revelation. Baalam ends up dying at the hands of the Israelites a few chapters later (31:8).

Another amazing event takes place in chapter 31. As the Lord commands the people to take revenge on the Midianites, they completely destroy them with the Lord’s help. This is amazing in and of itself but what really got to me was the fact that when the generals and captains gave a report to Moses they said, “Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing.” (31:49 NIV) How amazing is that!!! They go to battle and no one is killed?? No friendly fire, no accidents, not even one lost battle. This should have been a sign to the people to trust in God, but as we shall see, the people will start to trust in themselves and not in God and things go wrong. In this Saturday’s reading (March 23rd) we have a very important task and warning from God. As the people are on the edge of the Promised Land, they get a command from God, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it... if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” We will see that this is one of the main problems for the Israelites in the Promised Land. God told them what to do and they didn’t quite get the job done.

As we begin the book of Deuteronomy this week, don’t be puzzled by the fact that Moses retells almost the entire story of the history of God’s chosen people. I will have more to say about that next week, but I like to think of this book as Moses’ pre-game speech to the team led by Joshua. They were about to engage the enemy in battle and standing on the eastern bank of the Jordan, Moses encourages and motivates the people to do what God has been preparing for a long time. They were on the verge of taking possession of the promise that was given so long ago to Abraham. It is an exciting time, and time filled with some fear and expectation as well.

The New Testament
Luke is a great storyteller. He weaves a wonderful story together. Luke tells of three “songs” in the beginning of the book; Mary’s song, Zechariah’s song and Simeon’s song. All three of them are wonderful examples of praising God. Mary gives glory to God for the gift she has been given, Zechariah praises God for his mercy, and Simeon thanks God for the fulfillment of his promises through the Christ Child. These “songs” give a depth of emotion not found in the other Gospel accounts. If you grew up in a Lutheran Church that used the old 1941 hymnal you probably know Simeon’s song by heart (by the way it has made a comeback in the new Lutheran Service Book p.p. 199-200). I love that song. I will admit as a child I liked that song because that meant the service was almost over, but as I grew older that song and the words had an impact on me. Those of you who know the tune can sing along:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace
according to Thy word,
For mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation:
which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.
A light to lighten the Gentiles
and the Glory of Thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be
world without end AMEN.

After his baptism and a list of his earthly ancestors, Jesus’ ministry begins in earnest. He first is tempted in the desert and rejected in Nazareth. I could just imagine the scene in the synagogue where Jesus gets up to read for the service and at the end hearing him say “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” I think that would be one of the most exciting times for those who believed that the Messiah was coming soon. Was this guy the one that was promised? Could he be the Messiah that we have been waiting for? Can we like Simeon, now die in peace? For some this guy was a blasphemer and a troublemaker. I hope I would know that this is the Christ the son of the living God. Soon we see that the Pharisees start looking for ways to get rid of Jesus. They see him forgiving sins, and healing on the Sabbath.

One other interesting point Luke makes is that he sets the story in a historical context. One of the knocks on the Bible is that it is just some fanciful story that was made up by the writers. One way Luke gives some credibility to his book is that he places it within the frame of history. This makes the document have more legitimacy outside of religious circles because of the verifiable evidence of history. At the beginning of Chapter 3 Luke writes, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,...” All of these people can be verified to have existed using extra-biblical sources. Luke wants to let his readers know that he is not just making this stuff up. This was a very important point in the third century when the formation of the New Testament was happening. The inclusion of this information (as well as other factors) gave Luke a solid historical footing for inclusion in the New Testament.

May God bless you this Holy Week and have a blessed Easter!

Friday, March 14, 2008

The One Year Bible- March 14th

It has been quite a week for me. I was in St. Louis at Concordia Seminary for my theological interview and all went well. I even managed to bring along my One Year Bible and kept up with my readings. But needless to say I am way behind in the office so I will keep this opening short today. On to the study...

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

As we have said before, the book of Numbers has a general them of grumbling and complaining by the people. Time and time again God tries to show the people his love but the people don’t seem to get it. The phrase that God uses over and over to show is Grace is, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.” (Numbers 15:41 NIV). This is almost the same phrase God uses when he gives the law with the Ten Words (Ten Commandments). God reminds the people that the relationship he has with them is based on Grace. That being said, God is still a jealous God, who is Holy (meaning without sin and hating sin), therefore he cannot just turn a blind eye to the grumbling and disobedience of the people. A few examples to illustrate my point:

Their first complaint resulted in God sending a fire to destroy the people. Moses prayed to God and the fire left. One verse later the people start complaining again! Now they want meat. They were sick of this manna stuff and they longed to be back in Egypt. Moses even gets agitated with the people. But God, in his mercy, gives them meat to eat. So much meat that they get sick of it. Moses then selects 12 men to go into the Promised Land to check it out and when they return, 10 of the men say that Israel should not go in because the people are giants. Only Joshua and Caleb give a true account. They trust in God’s promises. So the people started complaining again. They even wanted to kill Caleb and Joshua. God gets fed up with this group and tells them that none of them will even enter the Promised Land.

Chapter 16 tells the story of the rebellion of Korah. This story serves as a lesson to all those who do not trust God. All those who followed Korah were either killed by fire or swallowed up by the earth. Then God wants to destroy all the people, but God in his mercy hears the cry of his people and spares them. (Do you see a theme here?) Surely this will put an end to the complaining. But as soon as they run out of water they rebel again. But God in his mercy hears the cry of his people and provides for them.

Then Moses gets into trouble by not giving credit to God for providing the water from the rock and he finds out that he will not enter the Promised Land. So the people start complaining again in Chapter 21. So God sends snakes to kill the people. But God in his mercy hears their cries for help. He tells Moses to put a snake on a pole and those who look at it will live. This is a foreshadowing of Christ, because those who look upon Jesus (on a pole a.k.a. the cross) will be saved (“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” –John 3:14). Our readings for this week ended with the people looking for safe passage through some of the lands near Canaan. They get themselves into trouble by trying to fight when God said not to.

Then just got to the story of Baalam. This is a story that tells about the power of God. Baalam knows the true God, but was not always faithful. King Balak wants Baalam to curse the people but Baalam will not because the Lord (Yahweh) is with them. God also shows his power by making Baalam’s donkey talk. God will use any means necessary to get his message across.

I hope you can see that our God is a God of mercy. He showed that mercy ultimately in the person of his son Jesus Christ who was the ultimate sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

The New Testament

We finished up Mark’s Gospel and it was a quick journey. It is believed that Mark was the first account of Jesus that was written. And it ends just as it begins, with action. In quick succession we have the Last Supper, the time in the garden, the trial, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Mark’s version of the Great Commission. Like Matthew, Mark mentions the Temple curtain being torn in two. This was very significant. Remember from our readings in the Old Testament that there was a curtain that separated the holy place from the most holy place and that only the high priest could enter it and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. When that curtain tore, it showed that we no longer need a human person to go to God for us. Jesus has restored our relationship with the father and now we can approach him because of Christ. The book of Hebrews really drives this point home. It is also interesting that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say that it tore from top to bottom. Thus signifying this was from God. There is an interesting bit of text at the beginning and end of the book that serve as bookends for Mark. In Chapter 1 he writes, “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Then in Chapter 15 verse 39 we read this that came from the mouth of the Roman centurion, “Surely this man was the Son of God”. Everything in between these two verses tells us all about the ministry of Jesus. Now of course the resurrection was coming but that was just more proof as to who Jesus is. One other textual note, I am sure that you noticed that at the end of Marks Gospel there was some note saying something like “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20. That is not to say that they are not Biblical. The translators want the reader to know that there are some textual problems with these verses. For the most part the problems do not go so far as to place a great deal of doubt in these verses but theologians do not generally use these verses as proof texts for doctrine.

As we begin the book of Luke I want you to notice the different style that Luke uses as compared to Mark. Luke seems to take more time in the story telling and uses “songs” to show some of the emotion behind the stories. Many have said that Mark is the Gospel for guys and Luke is for the ladies. I know that is stereotyping but I hope that helps you see the difference in the books.

Bits and Pieces

The Old Testament
This week we will finish up with Baalam and his oracles. Then we will read about another census for the people. A few more regulations will be discussed and then Moses will get a peek into the Promised Land before he dies. Chapters 28 & 29 describe the offerings and the feasts that the people are supposed to remember for all times. The people then get some vengeance on the Midianites and get to take some of the spoils of that event. We will talk more about the righteousness of war later. Before the people cross the Jordan the tribes of Gad and Reuben decide that they will stay on this side of the river. Chapter 33 gives an account of where the people have been as they were in the wilderness for 40 years and the regulations for living in the Promised Land start being discussed.

The New Testament
We will read the familiar Christmas story from Luke. We will see Simeon and his gift of seeing the Messiah. We then see Jesus as a boy in the temple and the ministry of his cousin John. Luke gives us the genealogy of Joseph after Jesus’ baptism and then tells of his temptation. Jesus then begins his public ministry as he reads from Isaiah in the synagogue and tells them that the scripture is fulfilled in their hearing. Jesus begins to heal and drive out spirits and then calls his disciples.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, March 11, 2008

We have all given and heard many excuses. It is part of our sinful nature to try to find ways to get out of doing something that is hard. Moses tried to even in the presence of God at the burning bush; he tried hard to get out of doing what God wanted him to do. Listen to his words from Exodus chapters 3 & 4:

  • "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?
  • "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?
  • "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?
  • "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
  • "O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”

Yahweh did not let the excuses of Moses get in the way of His plan, in fact, even in spite of the excuses; God empowered Moses to do the work he had been called to do. He even gave him some cool signs to help convince the people.

As we wrap up the Bethany Blueprint this week we come to Sharing Intentionally. Quite possibly, in this point more than any other we find excuse after excuse for not completing the task. Many of us, like Moses think we cannot do what God has asked us to do. We think we don’t have the tools or the skills to share about our faith. It is easy to convince ourselves that we can let someone else tell others about Jesus and then we can just sit here and do our own thing.

While it is true that God has given us all different gifts and abilities he has also called us ALL to share the message of salvation that we have been given in Christ.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28)

“Always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
(1 Peter 3)

It would have been easy for God to give excuses for not wanting to share his love with us. After all we were the ones who disobeyed. We were the ones who fell away. God in his justice would have every right to leave us in our sin, destined for destruction. But God in his mercy did not leave us to die. He sent his son for us to bring us back, to find us, to redeem us, to give us new life and to rescue us from slavery. As God called his own son to rescue his people he did not give excuses...he showed his love.

Jesus didn’t have a staff like Moses, but he carried a cross. His hands were not leprous but they healed the lepers. He didn’t pour water on the ground but poured out his own blood for our salvation. As Jesus walked the way of he took our sins and our excuses upon he defeated death and the power of the devil we have been set free. Why should we keep this to ourselves?

You may be saying to yourself, “Moses got some cool signs to use to share God’s message of salvation. Jesus, the Son of God used miracles and wonders to validate his ministry, what do I have?” You may be already thinking up some excuses, “God, if you would just give me some cool signs like Moses, people would believe me.”

You don’t have a staff that turns into a snake but you do have the sword of the spirit, the Word of God that will help you. You don’t have a hand that you can do magic tricks with, but you do have hands that can worship, that can serve, that can give. Most of you will not pour your blood on the ground to point others to Christ, but you do have his blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins that will strengthen and preserve you. What is the bottom line? You have all that it takes to share your faith in Jesus. Where do you start? First of all you can all share intentionally wherever you are, with the people you already know.

I ran across a poem a few weeks ago called “How to Build Community” and I want to use it to help you see that there are so many simple ways to find opportunities to share your faith.

Turn off your TV. Leave your house.

Know your neighbors; Look up when you are walking;
Greet people; Sit on your porch; Plant flowers; Use your library;
Play together; Buy from local merchants;
Share what you have; Help a lost dog;
Take children to the park; Support education;
Fix it even if you didn't break it; Have potlucks;
Honor elders; Pick up litter; Read stories aloud; Dance in the street;
Talk to the mail carrier; Put up a swing; Help carry something heavy; Ask a question;

Hire young people for odd jobs;
Organize a block party; Bake extra and share; Ask for help when you need it; Open your shades; Sing together;
Share your skills; Turn up the music;
Turn down the music; Listen before you react;
Mediate a conflict; Seek to understand;
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles;

Know that no one is silent although many are not heard.
Work to change this.

Each of these is simply a way to find an open door to share the message of Jesus. When we find ways to get out into our communities and rely on the gifts we have been given, the message of Jesus can be spread well beyond the four walls of the church. Here is a challenge for you to do a few things this week. Think of that one person with whom you have a relationship and find a way to talk to them about church, Jesus, faith or spirituality. Then take some door hangers that are available in the Church office and put them in your neighborhood. Put your own name & address on them so that your neighbors will know that it was you. People are more apt to come to church if they are personally invited. What better time to invite someone than on Easter. Then pray. Pray that you will find some open doors to share about Jesus and last but not least, remember that it is because of Jesus and how he shared his life with us so that we might have life is what makes this all possible!

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 Sharing Intentionally.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The One Year Bible- March 7th

So far, so good! We have already read three of the big five books of Moses in the Old Testament and we are almost halfway through the Gospels and it is only March! (Not to mention 50 Psalms and over 10 chapters of Proverbs) Yes, we have a long way to go, but we have already come so far. I am glad to be out of Leviticus. That is some tough reading. There will be more like it. When we get into Isaiah and Jeremiah (as well as some of the other prophets) the readings will be a bit tedious, but remember that the Bible has one story and that is about Christ. I hope this time in the word will help you in your Lenten journey to the cross as we all continue to work on our spiritual disciplines.

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
We finished up Leviticus with a few more regulations. One of the more interesting is the idea of jubilee. Every 50 years all debts were cancelled and the land rested. This was not only good for the land it was good for the society. This limited social stratification that can be divisive within society. The value of land and servants etc was all based on how many years until the next jubilee. This might not be such a bad thing to consider as God’s people today. Anything that can be done to meet the needs of the people must at least be thought of. Right at the end of the book there is this great word of grace from God, “I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” (Leviticus 26:11-13 NIV) Some of this sounds like the beginning of “The Ten Words” and indeed Yahweh is reminding the people of his continued love for the people. This will be important when we get into all the grumbling and complaining in Numbers. The book of numbers is so named because it starts out will a bunch of numbers. Don’t get too caught up in all the details here, you may just want to skim some of these parts when you get to them. In Numbers 6 we see the requirements of one who would be called a Nazirite. The one Nazirite we will see later will be Sampson. If you remember his story some of these requirements will make sense to you. Nazirites dedicated themselves to the service of the Lord for a period of time. Most of the Lord’s work was done by the Levites but if you were not a Levite you could still serve the Lord as a Nazirite. Also in chapter 6 is the Aaronic blessing, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26 NIV). This is familiar to must of us but the next verse I thought was quite interesting, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (v. 27). Kinda sounds like baptism to me. I have not done a deep study on this passage but I just wanted to throw it out there for you.

The New Testament
In our readings in Mark this past week we had a few great stories and a few that have confounded scholars for generations. In ch. 11 we have the story of Palm Sunday and the triumphant entry of Jesus. This story shows a glimpse of the divinity of Jesus as well as point to his role as our King. This story also solidifies him as the promised Messiah. The story of the fig tree is a strange one. Mark divides up the story into two parts. The first part happens right before the clearing of the temple and many scholars believe that Jesus used it as an object lesson. Here was a tree that should have had some fruit on it. Most fig trees begin growing fruit at the same time they begin to grow leaves. If there are leaves on the tree then one should find fruit. Not finding any fruit Jesus curses the tree. The lesson here is that the Jews are the fig tree but they are not producing any fruit. They are just content to grow leaves. But leaves are of no value. It is the fruit that is beneficial. This leads right into the clearing of the temple. Jesus “prunes” the temple so it can bear fruit. The withered fig tree is like those who do not listen to the teaching of Jesus. They will dry up. Jesus uses similar analogies when he talks about the vine and the branches and the idea of good people bear good fruit. Another great teaching is what some scholars call “The Great Commandment”. Jesus sums up all the commandments in two sentences. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” This is a summary of the first three commandments. “Love your neighbor as your self.” This summarizes the other commandments.

Bits and Pieces

Matthew was written for the Jews, Mark for the common man and was most likely Peters story. Luke is for those who are scholars and was influenced by the viewpoint of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke was a companion of Paul and spent years interviewing eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ. He probably spent time with Matthew and with Mark which explains why many things are repeated in Luke. Luke was a physician who had gone to school for many years. He was fluent in Greek, and the Greek of Luke is some of the most polished (and hard to translate) in all the New Testament. Here are the Vital Stats on the Book:

Purpose: To present an accurate account of the life of Christ and the present Christ as the prefedt human and Savior
Author: Luke—a doctor (Colossians 4:14), a Greek and Gentile Christian. He is the only known Gentile author in the New Testament. Luke was a close friend and companion of Paul. He also wrote Acts, and the two books go together.
To Whom Written: Theophilus (“one who loves God”), Gentiles, and people everywhere
Date Written: About A.D. 60
Setting: Luke wrote from Rome or possible from Caesarea
Key Verses: “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost’” (19:9-10)
Key People: Jesus, Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Mary, the disciples, Herod the Great, Pilate, Mary Magdalene
Key Places: Bethlehem, Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem
Special Features: This is the most comprehensive Gospel. The general vocabulary and diction show that the author was educated. He makes frequent references to illnesses and diagnoses. Luke stresses Jesus’ relationship with people; emphasizes prayer, miracles, and angels; records inspired hymns of praise; and gives a prominent place to women. Most of 9:51 to 18:35 is not found in any other Gospel.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The U.S. Government is taking “In God We Trust” off of the newest dollar coin set to go into circulation soon. That is what the alarming email said that I opened this morning. Rather intriguing considering I used that exact example in my sermon yesterday.

Of course, my first thought was that alarming emails are seldom accurate. My second thought was that would indeed be alarming to many of us who rejoice in having those words printed upon our currency. A little checking on this email and while the motto will not be on the coin’s face, it will be embossed around the coin’s rim.

Now my thoughts return to yesterday’s text. (Luke 20:20ff) Take a minute to read it. The teachers of the law thought they had Jesus trapped. If Jesus upheld the responsibility to pay the tax to Rome He would be accused of supporting an occupying force of a hostile foreign nation. If, on the other hand, He denounced the tax then Rome would accuse Him of instigating an insurrection and inciting rebellion. Either way He was in trouble. Jesus opted not to answer the question but instead allowed His adversaries to spring the trap on themselves.

“Show me the coin. Whose inscription is on it? Whose image?
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

They never saw it coming. They just naturally assumed that the money was theirs to begin with. If Jesus said they should give their money to the Romans, the people would abandon Him. If He said that they should keep their money and not pay the tax, the Romans would round Him up. Jesus ended up saying that the money wasn’t actually theirs. Some of it belonged to the government and all of it belonged to God.

Perhaps it is at this point that this Bethany Bullet becomes far more alarming than the email I referenced earlier. While we have not tried to trap Jesus, we too have fallen into the trap that the teachers of the law fell into. We naturally, in our natural, fallen state assume that our stuff, including our money, is our stuff. That all we have is ours to begin with. So while we get quite agitated with the thought of having the words, “In God We Trust” removed from our currency we don’t get as invigorated to live out the words by: affirming that all our stuff, including our money, is His to begin with; and returning a first-fruit portion of that gift back to the Lord, trusting that He will provide us with all we need. In other words we want those words to be seen on our cash but we are hesitant to see them “on” our checkbook ledger.

The LAW did its work. “Astonished by His answer, they became silent.” (Luke 20:26b) The Law has done its work on us as well; it’s easier to want “In God We Trust” on our money than it is to confess that we trust in God by how we use our money. The Lord isn’t finished there; there is more than just the Law. The GOSPEL follows. The Gospel shows our Savior and grants forgiveness. And thus forgiven, we are granted a desire to live for Him.

Luke records two events immediately following this episode. (Luke 21:1ff and Luke 22:1ff) One records the story of the widow who put in all she had and the other is the plot of Judas to betray Jesus for a sack of money. Read these two texts and you’ll find these three truths:

  1. Giving is a proclamation that God has already given us everything. While Judas made some money on the deal, Jesus went freely to His death for us. He gave His all when He gave His Son.
  2. Giving is a pleasure. The people giving alongside the widow did so to promote themselves…she gave to praise God. She sacrificed all she had and was pleased to do so.
  3. Giving is planned. The widow didn’t decide once she was there what she would do…she came with the intention of giving what she gave. And in so doing, “In God We Trust” is not merely a phrase on our money but is seen in how we view and use our money.

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