Friday, June 27, 2008

The One Year Bible- June 27th

I have gotten in the habit of writing smiley faces or unhappy faces in the margins of my One Year Bible to indicate a good story or a bad one. Usually they about equal each week. This week however, I had way more unhappy faces. I wrote one for each time someone killed another person or events that were displeasing to God took place. Looking back, it makes me appreciate even more the love God has for us. As a group, people keep messing up. I do every day. But God loves us and sent his son for us. It is just amazing when you stop to think that Jesus was sent to this earth in spite of and because of people like Ahab and Jezebel. On to the study.....

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

A couple of stories I want to mention today that have parallels in the New Testament. First of all, there is a miraculous conception with the woman from Shunem. It reminds be of the story of Abram and Sari in Genesis but it also points forward to both Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Like Jesus, this child died and was brought back to life again (after he sneezed seven times, that is funny). Now I don’t want to press the text too much, but it does set a precedent that God is a powerful God and he can bring people back from the dead. Then there is the story of the poisonous stew. Elisha made sure the stew was O.K. to eat and in a fashion similar to the feeding of the 5,000 everyone ate and was satisfied and there was food left over. In an of themselves these stories show the power of God, but I think they also are a set up for what was to come in the person of Jesus Christ. Then there is the story of the ax head the floats in the water. What was that all about? Again it shows the power of God and points to who Yahweh is. Tomorrow we will read another odd story, after Elisha dies and is in his tomb the people need to bury another person. Now in those days the dead were buried in shared tombs like caves. The Moabites start a raid on the people so they just throw the body in the tomb. It bumps into Elisha’s bones and the guy comes back to life! Now that is awesome!! God is still using Elisha to show is power long after Elisha died. I wish there was more to this story but the text just goes on to another story. Sometimes the Bible does that. It does not mean that it is not part of scripture but sometimes there is nothing else about the story. One thing that I found in reading this week was trying to keep the kings straight in my mind. What I did was look for some sort of a list and here is what I found. I hope it is helpful:

Kings of Judah and Israel

Kings Before Division of Kingdom

· Saul: First King of Israel; son of Kish; father of Ish-Bosheth, Jonathan and Michal.

· Ish-Bosheth (or Eshbaal): King of Israel; son of Saul.

· David: King of Judah; later of Israel; son of Jesse; husband of Abigail, Ahinoam, Bathsheba, Michal, etc.; father of Absalom, Adonijah, Amnon, Solomon, Tamar, etc.

· Solomon: King of Israel and Judah; son of David; father of Rehoboam.

· Rehoboam: Son of Solomon; during his reign the kingdom was divided into Judah and Israel.

Kings of Judah (Southern Kingdom)

· Rehoboam: First King.

· Abijah (or Abijam or Abia): Son of Rehoboam.

· Asa: Probably son of Abijah.

· Jehoshaphat: Son of Asa.

· Jehoram (or Joram): Son of Jehoshaphat; husband of Athaliah.

· Ahaziah: Son of Jehoram and Athaliah.

· Athaliah: Daughter of King Ahab of Israel and Jezebel; wife of Jehoram; only queen to occupy the throne of Judah.

· Joash (or Jehoash): Son of Ahaziah.

· Amaziah: Son of Joash.

· Uzziah (or Azariah): Son of Amaziah.

· Jotham: Regent, later King; son of Uzziah.

· Ahaz: Son of Jotham.

· Hezekiah: Son of Ahaz; husband of Hephzi-Bah.

· Manasseh: Son of Hezekiah and Hephzi-Bah.

· Amon: Son of Manasseh.

· Josiah (or Josias): Son of Amon.

· Jehoahaz (or Joahaz): Son of Josiah.

· Jehoiakim: Son of Josiah.

· Jehoiachin: Son of Jehoiakim.

· Zedekiah: Son of Josiah; kingdom overthrown by Babylonians.

Kings of Israel (Northern Kingdom)

· Jeroboam I: Led secession of Israel.

· Nadab: Son of Jeroboam I.

· Baasha: Overthrew Nadab.

· Elah: Son of Baasha.

· Zimri: Overthrew Elah.

· Omri: Overthrew Zimri.

· Ahab: Son of Omri; husband of Jezebel.

· Ahaziah: Son of Ahab.

· Jehoram (or Joram): Son of Ahab.

· Jehu: Overthrew Jehoram.

· Jehoahaz (or Joahaz): Son of Jehu.

· Jehoash (or Joash): Son of Jehoahaz.

· Jeroboam Il: Son of Jehoash.

· Zechariah: Son of Jeroboam II.

· Shallum: Overthrew Zechariah.

· Menahem: Overthrew Shallum.

· Pekahiah: Son of Menahem.

· Pekah: Overthrew Pekahiah.

· Hoshea: Overthrew Pekah; kingdom overthrown by Assyrians.

The New Testament

We are in the middle of hearing about the missionary journeys of Paul. I hope you found a good map to help you follow along. A couple of things about these readings. First of all Paul is following his pattern of going to the synagogue first (remember this pattern from last week?). Then he heads out to the streets and in Acts 14 we have a very famous sermon. It is referred to as the sermon on Mars Hill. Paul argues using Greek ways to the philosophers about this person called Jesus. Later on Paul uses one of the statues of the “gods” and says that this “unknown god” is indeed Jesus. Of course this gets Paul into all kinds of trouble and they people try to kill him so he flees the area. Acts 15 records a big debate on whether or not Gentiles have to become Jews first (i.e. through circumcision) before they can be Christians. Paul has a great line in the debate that seems to set the church on the right path, “But we believer that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:11 ESV) Then James gets up and makes the decision to have a compromise and he says, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those who turn to God.” (Acts 15:19 ESV) I think these are some wise words that we need to be heard today. Of course, because of the message, Paul and Silas end up in prison, but God turns it into a positive thing when they were able to share the message of Jesus with all in the prison, including the jailer. We find out that they all get baptized and became followers. There is a lot more to say about this week’s readings but we don’t have time here. Let me know if you have any questions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-June 24, 2008

So far in our study of the book of Romans this Pentecost season, we have been discussing what theologians would call “justification.” The lengths that God has gone so that it would be “just—as—if—I’d” never sinned. But even in the midst of this good news our sinful minds start asking questions:

  • “What now?”
  • “How do we respond to this good news?”
  • “If God has done it all, where do I fit in?”
  • “What is my part in all of this?”

In Romans 6, Paul starts to answer these questions for us. Here we see a good before and after picture of our lives: Before - our lives in sin…After - our lives in Christ. Let’s start at verse 17, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Paul likes this word, “slave”. He uses it often to describe our connection to sin, and as you read more of Paul’s letters you will find him describe himself as a slave of the Gospel. This description shows the radical change that has been made in us through Jesus Christ. It is The Manifestation of the Grace that we have been talking about the last few weeks, here at Bethany. But what does it mean to be a “slave to righteousness”?

Those who are in Christ have experienced the ultimate before and after story. Because of our depraved flesh, because sin is a reality, we know full well our “before” status (in fact, many of us kind of like our “before” status.) But in our sin we are enemies of God. In our sin we cannot please God. And if we ever have a hope of a continued relationship with Him, something needs to change. We are in need of a before and after story of our own. Here is how our before and after story might go:

You see it was one day, many years ago, God decided to do something different. Up to that point God had been struggling with the weight of sin, a definite problem. For His creation had been yo-yoing between doing the right thing and sin, eventually tipping the scales in the way of sin. But God’s love never fluctuated. His creation had tried everything, including doing good works and just about every fad program that had guaranteed success, and they all failed miserably. Ultimately, humanity became more and more sinful. Nothing seemed to work the right way. Many tried to say that humanity was not that bad and we don’t need to do anything about the evil in the world. Sin and loneliness became humanities best friends. During stressful times humanity seemed forget God and many strove to become perfect in all aspects in live except where sin was concerned. That was the one thing they couldn’t control. But, eventually the weight of sin came crashing down. Humanity suffered attacks from the devil himself. It was subtle at first but it became intense. Humanity refused to see that anything was wrong, but the pain and suffering continued. Then one day everything changed. In a stable in a small village God came to earth in Jesus Christ, who went to the cross where the weight of sin came crashing down on him; this, so that we can look into the mirror and not hate what we see. It was a change that we could not make, for everything we had done up to that point was wrong. Our way of living would only lead to death. Our course, this had to be reversed and Jesus flip-flopped with us to change our lives.

This is not simply a feel good story; it is the truth that is founded on the centrality of grace and the action of a loving Father. For in Him we have been changed. He moves us from before to after.

The key concept that Paul begins to explain here is called, sanctification. it describes our daily life in Christ. This is how we are to become slaves to righteousness. This is the application of what we have been talking about for the past few weeks. It is time for the rubber to meet the road. And I want to leave you with three things today:

#1- We are all slaves. We are no longer slaves to sin, but because of Jesus we are now slaves to righteousness. We can live righteous lives because of the grace freely given to us. We still feel the effects of sin because of our fallen nature, but one day this will all pass away and we won’t have to worry anymore.

#2- Slaves inherit reward. Slaves to sin inherit death but slaves to righteousness inherit eternal life. It is not the type of thinking we are used to. One who is in slavery is often mistreated; they do not receive many benefits. But, because we are now slaves to righteousness we produce the fruits of living for the King. The ultimate reward is eternal life.

#3- We are called to bear fruit. As we live our lives in Christ and as we live out our faith - we bear fruit. Jesus himself tells us of this calling when talking about the deeds of others, He said, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:43-44). The fruit that we should be known by is the fruit of grace; the fruit that has the power to change, the fruit of forgiveness, compassion, mercy and love.

So what now? Do we go on sinning?

NO! But…we become slaves to righteousness, which leads to eternal life, so lets bear fruit!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The One Year Bible- June 20th

The NBA, and NHL crowned champions this past few weeks, the Baseball season is in full swing, and the Euro 2008 soccer championships are heating up, but the most exciting contest was in our readings this week. Many people in the world live and die through sports. In most of the world soccer is like a religion. National holidays are called to watch a match played half way across the globe. Employers close shop because everyone is fixated on the match. Many become so obsessed that their very existence hinges on the outcome of a game. In 1 Kings we have another contest that captured the attention of a nation. When Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal the nation was transfixed on the outcome. God used this opportunity to remind the people of who God was and that he had complete power. God used this match to bring the focus of the people back to God. We all have times where our focus is not on God. I am reminded of these words from the book of Hebrews, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV) I hope your Bible reading helps to focus your eyes on Jesus Christ. On to the study....

Where We Have Been

The Old Testament
The time of the kings was not a glorious time for the people of God. After only three kings (Saul, David, Solomon) the nation divides and there is almost constant war. “There was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam.” (1 Kings 14:30 NIV) There was also lots of murder and other vile behavior from both sides. Don’t forget to keep the kingdoms straight in your head as you read. When you read Israel, think northern kingdom ruled from Samaria, and when you read Judah, think southern kingdom ruled from Jerusalem. In this section of scripture every time Israel is mentioned it is always in reference to the northern kingdom and not to all the people. Almost every king we meet is bad and we will read over and over again, “He did evil in the eyes of the LORD and followed in the ways of.........” There are a few exceptions to this. Make sure you spot the good ones and remember what they did. 1 and 2 Kings make mention of a few source materials. The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel, and The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah, have never been found but they are mentioned here. Most kings had a scribe who wrote down everything that happened during their reign. It was a common practice and just because we do not have these books today does not discount the validity of the scriptures. We saw the beginning of the history of bad blood between Jerusalem and Samaria this week. Remember in Jesus time, the Jews hated the Samaritans. The history of this rivalry goes back to the divided kingdom. The Samaritans of Jesus day were a bit different because of the exile and other factors, but this is the beginning. God’s prophet Elijah has a big role in the kingdom of Israel. He spends a lot of time trying to convince the Israelites that they have turned away from YAHWEH. His challenge of the prophets of Baal and the sending of fire to consume the king’s messengers are two big ones. A quick note on the challenge on Mt. Carmel; one thing that makes the scene even more dramatic (if it wasn’t already) is the fact that Baal was the god of the weather and he rode on the clouds. If you remember that right after the challenge on the mountain, Elijah says that it is going to rain and it does, in buckets. That was a big “In Your Face!” to the prophets of Baal. I also like the fact that Elijah was given “super strength” as he ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot. I don’t have time here to talk all about Ahab, but suffice it to say that he was a scumbag. He was terrible and I think his wife was even worse. Most of the kings of Israel will be compared to him and eventually he and his wife will become synonymous with evil. “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.” (1 Kings 21:25-26 NIV)

The New Testament
Many people believe that in the early church Peter did ministry only to the Jews and Paul did ministry only to the Gentiles. But when you start looking at it, it becomes obvious that this was not the case. In Acts 10 Peter clearly is called and sent by God to the house of a Gentile. Not only does God give him a vision that this is OK, Peter also baptizes Cornelius and his family! This is Peter doing ministry to the Gentiles. Peter got into some trouble with this, but he was convinced saying, “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’” (Acts 10:34-35 NIV) Acts 12:24 marks a transition from Peter’s ministry to Paul’s. Even though Paul is known as an apostle to the Gentiles (he even said it himself) Paul’s first destination when he goes into any town or city is the synagogue. If he is to bring the message to the Gentiles, why start in the synagogue? The quick answer is that Paul had a desire that all come to know Jesus and that all would be saved. He himself was a Jew (and a Pharisee to boot) and his desire was also for his own spiritual family. The standard process for Paul and his companions was this: They would start in the synagogue and would preach with success until they encountered hostility. They would then go out to the streets and find some success until they were persecuted and then they fled the city. (My seminary professor had us memorize this as S.S.Hos.S.S.P.F. which stands for synagogue, success, hostility, streets, success, persecution, fled) So both Peter and Paul brought the message to all people everywhere. One thing that is very interesting to note is the list of early church leaders at the beginning of chapter 13. This was a very multicultural group. From the beginning the church has been multi-lingual and multi-cultural (remember Pentecost?). I think we can learn from this model. If we look to Acts as our guide we need to find ways to break the church away from a mono-cultural Western mindset. (Now I am rambling so I will move on.) One neat thing that we find in Acts is the many Old Testament references. The early church used the Scriptures to help teach the truth of Jesus Christ to those waiting for the Messiah. We will see even more of this later.

Bits and Pieces

The Old Testament
Tomorrow we begin the book of 2 Kings so here are the vital stats:

PURPOSE: To demonstrate the fate that awaits all who refuse to make God their true leader
AUTHOR: Unknown. Possibly Jeremiah or a group of Prophets
SETTING: The once-united nation of Israel has been divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, for over a century.
KEY VERSES: “The LORD warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance wit the entire Law that I commanded your fathers to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the LORD their God.” 2 Kings 17:13-14
KEY PEOPLE: Elijah, Elisha, Shunammite woman, Naaman, Jezebel, Jehu, Joash, Hexikiah, Sennacherib, Isaiah, Manasseh, Josiah, Jehoiakim, Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar
SPECIAL FEATURES: The 17 prophetic books at the end of the Old Testament give great insights into the time period of 2 Kings.

Have a great week!!!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bethany Bullet-Monday, June 16, 2008

Read Romans 5

Our time in Romans thus far has centered on the central teaching of the faith. The assigned reading for the 5th Sunday in Pentecost crystallizes this teaching by three simple points: the depravity of the flesh, the reality of sin, and the centrality of grace.
  1. Depravity of the flesh: While we are the handiwork of God and while we are His creation cast in his image, we are simultaneously by nature—fallen. St. Paul’s assertion is that we do not merely disappoint God behaviorally, but that we are in opposition to Him inherently. This is vital to comprehend. The answer to the situation we find ourselves in is not simply, clean up your act, behave better, or stop sinning. For the problem is much deeper than our outward acts of rebellion. Our very nature, our flesh is depraved – it craves its own desires rather than to fulfill the law God requires. This depravity leads us to a stark reality.
  2. Reality of sin: It is not just inconvenient that we are imperfect—it is fatal. We deserve death, separation, and isolation from God for eternity. God can’t simply ignore this reality and welcome us into his fellowship as we are, in spite of our sinfulness. Notice I didn’t say he wouldn’t, I said HE CAN’T! It is against His nature, Holiness won’t allow it! He can’t simply brush off our guilt, sweep it under the rug, and shrug it away. It must be dealt with. This reality requires God to act and brings about the centrality of grace.
  3. Centrality of Grace: We did nothing to earn or merit the love of God. We do not deserve to be in relationship with the God of heaven. His wrath is justified and he would have every right to condemn us eternally – but He doesn’t. Instead God takes the punishment that should befall us on Himself in His Son. On Jesus the wrath of God came crashing down on our sin. On an outcropping of a hill, Jesus took up His position. Although ONLY He, being righteous and holy could have escaped the blow, without regard for His own safety, He threw himself into the path of God’s wrath and absorbed the full force. Mind you this act did more than critically wound him in body. In His soul He suffered that which we deserve to be forsaken by God. His unwavering devotion to the mission of the Father in the face of certain death, graciously granted us life by His own death.

In exchange for the death we deserved and the guilt we have earned, through faith, He has granted us His own holiness and perfection. Now God sees us as in the righteousness of Christ. This is grace!

This is the teaching, as Luther says, on which the church stands or falls. If you get this wrong, it doesn’t matter what you got right! We are saved by the grace of God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, through faith. Salvation is 100% gift and 100% the work of God. And these three points, the depravity of the flesh, the reality of sin and the centrality of grace, are 100% necessary to understand the rest of the book of Romans that we will be exploring this summer.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The One Year Bible- June 13th

Have you ever read a book and about half way through, not known the main storyline? Maybe you missed it, or possible it is not there, but it is never fun reading a book without a point. Some people get that when they read the Bible. For many it seems like a bunch of disconnected stories that do not seem to fit together. One way to see the big picture is to take the time and read through the whole thing. If you are like me, there is no way I could just sit and read the Bible straight through, starting at page one and going to the end. Some people have the ability to read a book in a weekend or even in a day. The only time I have ever done that was for a class. But when you start digging into scripture and the big picture is revealed, the whole Bible starts to make sense. This happened to me a few years ago when I was teaching an Old Testament class. Our textbook was the Bible, and for the first time in my life, it started to make sense. In this weeks readings we have seen some of the connections. Lets look at them today....

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
This weeks readings had some great connections. The people of Israel now have peace under king Solomon. Things are looking up for the people. The author of 1 Kings gives us a bit of a flashback to Abraham when he writes, “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy.” (I Kings 4:20 NIV) The promise that was made to Abraham has come to pass. Solomon then undertakes the building of a permanent home for Yahweh. Solomon sends a message to king Hiram of Tyre to make an order for building supplies. Tyre is in what we call Lebanon today. Tyre had (and still has) a great natural resource in timber. It was the best timber around, and only the best was used for the temple. It took seven years to build the temple. I don’t know if you have been part of a building project, but a seven-year building project must have been stressful. When the day came for the dedication of the Temple the priests were sacrificing away and then they had to stop. “When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the LORD (remember all caps = Yahweh). The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the LORD filled the Temple.” All of the promises of God to Abraham had been fulfilled!!! Without studying this beforehand one would not understand the gravity of this time. Remember back when we were reading in Genesis and I mentioned the three fold promise that was given. God promised to make Abraham a great people, to give them land, and to have a relationship with them. All three have now officially come to pass. The people are more numerous then the sand on the seashore, they are living at peace in the land, and Yahweh has come down to have a relationship with them in his earthly home. This is no light matter. Solomon speaks of the PLR promise in his prayer of dedication as well. This is the high point of the Old Testament. At this point all seems to be going well, everyone is happy and prosperous. There was so much gold that silver had no value. I especially like this verse, “The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.” (1 Kings 10:22 NIV) Why did Solomon need apes and baboons (or peacocks if you are reading the ESV)? Who knows, but when you have money you will find new things to buy just because you can. But sin is still in the world and bad times are just ahead of the people. Soon after this great event even wise Solomon starts to fall away. His wives and their “gods” start to distract him and the country divided in two. Solomon’s son will not be king over a united kingdom. The LORD will provide consequences for sin. This ushers in a time of great suffering and troubles that will last for many years to come. We also see a new literary pattern when the kings are introduced, “So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.” (1 Kings 11:6 NIV) Look for this pattern as we continue to read about the Kings of Israel and Judah. The rest of 1 and 2 Kings will be filled with sin, sin, and more sin. We will see a few bright spots, but it seems now that the promises of God are far from being fulfilled. It may be helpful to read the rest of the Old Testament narrative with this verse in mind, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes” in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV) The promise will be fulfilled in Jesus who, as a descendant of David, will sit on his throne forever. This is the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. Jesus will be the one who will make us his people through his suffering and death, Jesus will give us land in heaven, and he promises to be with us forever.

The New Testament
As we continue in the book of Acts we see that the Word of the Lord continues to grow and spread as the church begins, but there were some rumblings of discontent. The Apostles address this concern and start to delegate some authority. This is a good thing that we can all learn from. One verse really struck me from Chapter 6, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7 NIV) Wow!! Some of the priests hear the Word and become believers of Jesus. That is powerful! The big connection this week to the main story is that of Stephen. He was commissioned to help pass out the food in Jerusalem and there he is preaching the message of Jesus Christ. He gets arrested and then has a marvelous speech. In this speech he mentions the PLR promise that was given to Abraham! How awesome is that? We just heard about it from Solomon and now we hear it from Stephen. His message gave a great summary of the Old Testament and he even mentions David and Solomon and the temple. What a great connection. He goes on to say, “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men” (Acts 7:48 NIV). Jesus was the temple. He even said so himself, “Jesus said ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,’” (John 2:19 NIV) Jesus was talking about himself. Stephen becomes a great witness to Jesus and because of his death the word of the Lord was spread. One thing of note here is that there is a Pharisee named Saul who was in favor of killing Stephen. We will meet Saul again in a minute. One of the other people commissioned to pass out food was Philip. We see him later preaching and baptizing, not just passing out food. I think both Stephen and Philip tell us a lot about our vocation. We have been called to do certain things, but we all still preach, teach, and share Christ every day in every way. We saw the spread of the Gospel to Samaria in chapter 8 when Peter and John travel up to bring the Holy Spirit. This is a big deal because any good Jew hates anything Samaritan. Both Peter and John not only go to Samaria to see what was going on, but they also stopped and preached the Good news at many Samaritan villages. Philips meeting with the Ethiopian brings the message to Gentiles!! This is the beginning of something big. At the end of our readings we see this Saul character again. He was one bad dude. He hated the believers of the way and would do anything to stop them. But God had other plans. He called him on the road to Damascus and changed his life forever. We will spend more time talking about Saul (a.k.a. Paul, his Greek name) later. One quick thing: God does not change his name, he just goes by Saul when he is with Hebrew speakers and Paul when he is with Greek speakers, but more on him later.

Have a great week!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yesterday our 8th graders graduated. They chose Jeremiah 29:11 as their graduation text. It was intriguing to me as a preacher that on a day they celebrated their knowledge; they graduated because they had proven they knew things, enough things about math, science, history, English, and religion to become Bethany graduates. Yet, their text was one verifying what they do not know.

The Kingdom of Israel was in exile. The Babylonian captivity was in full swing during the ministry of Jeremiah and soon after his prophetic ministry the Kingdom of Judah would also fall into exile. No son or daughter of Abraham knew how bad things could get nor when exactly this exile would end. In his most famous passage, Jeremiah proclaimed such knowledge was unnecessary, after all God knew! “I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to grant you a hope and a future.” Israelites, you don’t know, but you know the One who does know and that is all you need to know because He has made it known that He knows His plans for you are for your good and welfare. That is a pretty fair translation of Jeremiah 29:11

In speaking to our 8th graders it was easy to address their reality of ‘not knowing the unknowables.’ There is so much they simply do not know. They don’t know how much time they will spend with their Bethany friends come next year and they move on to ten (or so) different high schools. They don’t know if after high school they will go on to a university, join the work force or the armed forces. They don’t know what they will end up doing, who they will end up marrying, if they’ll be residing in the promised land of Southern California or go into exile somewhere else. But they don’t need to know that, for they know the One who does know, and that is all they need to know, because in Christ He has made it known that His plans for them are for their good and welfare.

Yesterday our Choir also led us in morning worship under the theme, “Through the Church.” What a powerful phrase, Through the Church is! When fully fleshed out it means that, God has chosen that rather than working through prophets and apostles, angels or His own Incarnate self He will work through average, ordinary people. We are those people!

Like the Israelites of Jeremiah’s time and like our ’08 graduates we too are a people who don’t know the unknowables. We don’t know how high gas prices will go. We don’t know how far housing costs will fall. We don’t know what will happen to the stock market next week, nor the unemployment numbers next month. We don’t know when the war in Iraq will end nor if the war on terror ever will. We don’t know who will be elected president, or if the gubernatorial declared drought will come to an end soon. We don’t know how far the assault on traditional culture will go.

We don’t even know the easier things. We don’t know when declining demographics of school age children combined with a positive economy will bring a sizeable return to private/parochial education. We don’t know for sure if our budget will finally balance next year at Bethany. At the writing of this we don’t know for sure if we will be adding staff—that is a voter’s meeting decision.

We certainly don’t know the tougher things. We don’t know if those we’ve been witnessing too and praying for will finally embrace Christ by faith. We hope but we don’t k know. We don’t know if the most dramatic years of ministerial growth are in Bethany’s past or its future. We hope future, but we don’t know. We don’t know when Christ will return and in the words of C.S. Lewis, “put all things right.” We hope soon, but we don’t know.

That is where the two totally different events of yesterday, Hymn Fest and Graduation merge into one collective message. We don’t know the unknowables, but we know the One who knows and that is all we need to know for He has made it known that He knows His plan for Bethany and each of us and it is one in which He intends for our good and welfare. We also know that He has determined to work for that good and welfare of Bethany and even the world through the church, that’s us, to make Him known even in the midst of a world chuck full of unknowables.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The One Year Bible- June 6th

June gloom is officially here. For those of us in southern California we know this all too well. Most mornings are gloomy and overcast (of course today was beautiful and sunny). It is a strange thing for newcomers to the area to wake up expecting the sun and getting clouds every day. I kind of like this time of year; the Jacarandas are in bloom, the mornings are overcast, school is almost over; it is just a nice time of the year for me. Others don’t like this time of year. It is stressful with the kids being home, its overcast every morning, you still have to go to work even in the summer months, and it’s not that fun. I think we go through these seasons in our Christian lives too. At times things are going well and at others nothing seems to work out. There are seasons in the life of Christ as well. He started his ministry and things seemed to be going well, he was gaining popularity, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, etc. Then he makes his way into Jerusalem where he suffers and dies. The difference here is that it was love that motivated Jesus. It was his love that drove him to the cross. It was his love that broke the chains of death and the power of the devil so we can one day be with him forever in paradise. This is some good news. That will be a great day. No more tears or sadness, no more schoolwork to do, no more work at the office in the summer. This is the reason Jesus came. One day we will all have the ultimate vacation and freedom in heaven. Enough of my rambling.....on to the Study.

Vicar Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
I am not sure what has happened to the writer of 2nd Samuel. I seemed to notice that the flow of the story was much more difficult to follow this week. It could have been me, but it is true that the literary structure of this book is nowhere near that of the books of Moses. Once again the main point of the story is that problems abound in the house of David. His son Absalom leads a revolt and it does not end well. There were plenty of guts spilling on the ground this week. There were a bunch of murders and stories of warriors. I did find it interesting that there was a guy with six fingers and six toes on each hand (2 Sam. 21:20). That was pretty cool. As the book of 1 Kings opens we see a struggle for power. What usually happened at the end of the reign of a King is that there was a power struggle. Many of the sons would claim the right to be the king. When one obtained the dominant position, he usually tried to kill all the other sons. This is what was going on here. Adonijah and Solomon have a problem with who will be the next king, and true to the house of David, Solomon orders the execution of Ahonijah. Even king David from his deathbed orders for the death of one of his enemies. This is the family of the promised Messiah? This is the line of the savior of the world? It just goes to show that God loves us so much and he desires that we are all saved. He loves us so much that even to this sinful family will come the long awaited Christ, the Son of the Most High God. A member of this horrible family will fulfill the promise given to Abraham long ago. God’s mercy endures forever.

On another note I found it interesting that we read of the “mighty men” of David. These were the four warriors that helped David in his battles with Saul and with the surrounding nations. There was also a list of “the thirty”. These guys were almost as good as the “mighty men” but not quite. After reading this in the Old Testament (June 4th) I found an interesting parallel in the reading from Acts from the same day. In Peter’s Pentecost sermon he says, “Men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs...” (Acts 2:22 ESV). If you are reading another version you might not see the word “mighty” but the ESV uses the word. Peter then goes on to quote from David. Was Peter making a reference that Jesus is now the mightiest of the mighty men? I have not done the digging necessary to find out if others think this but it was interesting that we read both of these on the same day this week. Just some food for thought.

The New Testament
There are some great things to talk about from our New Testament readings. The days after the resurrection were filled with sightings of Jesus. We don’t get all the details of the events but I like to think this was a time of joy and preparation. Joy for the disciples, knowing the truth of the Messiah and preparation for the work that was to come. We don’t get to hear everything from the mouth of Jesus but when we get into Acts I think we start to hear what Jesus was telling them in his last days on earth. But even with all of this, the disciples still have their problems and doubts. Thomas struggles with not seeing the risen Lord with his own eyes, but when he does he has one of the greatest statements of faith, “My Lord and my God!” If we all could be so bold to shout this with Thomas. John tells us in chapter 20 the reason for his Gospel, But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31 NIV) One other thing in John that astounds me is that we only get a glimpse of the ministry of Jesus. John tells us, Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25 NIV) I am excited to get to heaven and find out the other things that Jesus said and did. A few amazing things happened the first few days of the Christian Church. Can you imagine 3,000 baptisms in one day?? Where would this take place? I had wondered that for years and recently I heard a reasonable explanation. Just outside of the temple was a place where the Jews could wash and become ritually clean before they entered. This was a large complex of pools and basins just south of the entrance to the temple. One of my seminary professors showed us pictures from this location and by seeing it, it would be easy to baptize many people all in one day. This may or may not be true, but it does make sense. We have already seen the disciples get in trouble for their message but the Lord helps them. This will continue throughout the book. More about the book of Acts next week.

Bits and Pieces

Just a few things here for you: First of all if you are reading from the ESV (English Standard Version) this year you may have noticed a new word that pops up now and again. The word is Sheol. The NIV usually translates this word as “the grave”, “the depths”, etc. This indeed is a word that means the place where God is not. The Old Testament writers usually do not develop the idea of hell very far mostly because any place without God would be horrible. The word Sheol is Hebrew and has packaged within it not only a view of what we term hell but also the whole idea of separation from God and all of his benefits (love, mercy, grace, etc.). This is indeed a bad place.

One other interesting thing to note is an idiom that the Hebrew’s use for the anger and wrath of Yahweh. Some of this idiom comes out in translation. When the writers of the Old Testament wanted to describe God’s anger they focused on the face of God and talked about his nostrils flaring or burning (2 Samuel 22:8-9). This meant you were ticked off. There is a related phrase that does not usually get translated it literally says that Yahweh was “long of nose”. This meant that he was patient, loving, gracious, etc. The two phrases are not actual opposites, just a way in which the language was used to try to describe an indescribable God.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Romans 3:21-28

“But now a righteousness from God has been made known.” If the first words you heard out of someone’s mouth were, “but now…” you would know that you were coming into a conversation midstream. Before the “but now” there had to be a “back then” or maybe a “before this.”

The midstream conversation we find Paul engaged in, in Romans 3, is about righteousness. There is a righteousness that “now…has been made known.” It stands to reason that there is another righteousness that was already known. This already known righteousness is the one that is innately known by us.

It is a righteousness that is…

  • Ingrained in us and a part of who we are
  • By which the world works and it is a good thing

It is a righteousness based upon…

  • Expectations and accomplishments
  • Requirements and merits
  • Abilities and elbow grease
  • Performance reviews and end results

This is the righteousness by which…

  • We elect a president and select a spouse
  • We gage an athlete, an employee, a company and perhaps a ministry

This is the way the world works, and for the most part it is a good thing.

Soon we will vote for president. That vote is going to be based upon . . .political righteousness. Now we might not agree on what forms that righteousness as the list has many options: legislative achievements, legislative record, platform, vision, articulation of position, emotional impact of speeches, how the candidate makes you feel about the candidate, yourself or the nation, and consistency in positions are but a few. Whichever you personally base your decision on, you base it on something that forms your understanding of political righteousness. You don’t close your eyes and put your finger on a ballot—do you? You don’t vote for the candidate who is lowest in the polls because you’re feeling sorry for them—do you? You cast a ballot based upon political righteousness. It is how the world works and it is a good thing.

Soon students will be graduating from 8th grade, High School, a University, or being promoted to the next level. The diploma or promotion was not granted because the teacher couldn’t stand the thought of one more year with that student in their classroom. It is usually based upon academic righteousness such as ones performance on tests, attendance in class, participation in discussion, compliance with direction, or completion of projects. Whether a scale or a curve sets grades such decisions are based upon academic righteousness not professorial mercy. It is how the world works and it is a good thing.

Obviously we could go on and on. It is the bases of how companies make decisions for raises or hires. It is how parents determine levels of freedom, responsibility and privileges. It is the wise and godly way to figure out whom a good spouse might be or how to determine a congregational plan and future – based upon actual actions and reasonably determined outcomes. It is how the world works and for the most part if is a good thing.

Unfortunately, one result of having a world that works this way is believing that we have a God who works this way i.e., “If I do, then He will” or “As I perform so He will respond.” This, however, is not how God works and it is a good thing.

Our beginning is equal, we are a handful of dirt animated by the breath of God; our ending is equal, to dust we shall return; and in the midsection we all stand in the same position, by nature sinful for we’ve fallen short of the glory of God. “BUT NOW. . .a righteousness of God has been made known!” It is a good thing!

The stand of God’s righteousness isn’t a curve or a scale. It is perfection. Divine Righteousness is the decisive factor, being holy, pure and blameless – not just occasionally but continually, not just externally but inwardly. And we’ve fallen short, by a long, long way.

Yet, in Christ God met His own standard. Jesus was perfect, pure, holy, and blameless not just some of the time but all of the time, not just in what was observable but that which was internal – his very heart and soul. He met the requirements of the law. He lived up to the standard of Divine Righteousness. Then in His sacrificial death He took our place in suffering and punishment now through faith in Him, it is made known that we are granted His righteousness.

The way the world works, is not the way our God works, and it is a good thing.

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