Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, September 30, 2008


BY is one of the smallest words in our vocabulary. Yet its meaning is significant. BY means cause even agency (if you will.) The word ‘BY’ also carries with it vehicle or route imagery (if you will.) In Ephesians chapter 2, BY is a validation that the action is not yours. BY = equals the cause of your salvation, the agency that has accorded this condition of being saved.

What is that agency; what is that cause? It is GRACE. Now grace has many different definitions to be sure.

  • What we say when we sit down at the dinner table is referred to as grace.
  • Grace is what Olympian gymnasts, Nastia Luikin displayed on the mat and what Shawn Johnson displayed on the beam.
  • It is what a cheetah in pursuit of a gazelle affords the tourist on safari - it is beautiful power and fluidity that inspires awe commonly known as grace.
  • Grace is an attitude and action presented when the heat and pressure are on but the one under this heated pressure remains calm & collected, can answer difficult questions, can stand up under scrutiny, maintains composure, remains truthful, and refrains from vulgarity or blame.

None of those things are what Paul is thinking about in this text. Here, Paul is calling to mind God’s unmerited favor; His loving kindness that is freely given to those who do not deserve it. His disposition and His attitude toward those who have rebelled/offended Him on account of what Jesus has done for us.

Let me make this clear – God is holy, and in His holiness he has no option but to be wrathful toward sin but on account of Christ, AND ONLY on account of Christ, God’s wrath has been appeased and HE now bears a different disposition toward fallen humanity – a GRACIOUS one. It is a favored view of me and you that we have not earned nor deserve but have been granted because of Christ. GRACE IS: GOD’S RICHES AT CHRIST’S EXPENSE. God’s total love and compassion for the lost because of the holy perfect life, innocent suffering & death, and victorious resurrection of Christ rendered to God in our place. This is why Christ came into the world – this is the mission of God:

  • to carry out the law in perfect obedience as required by God’s holiness,
  • to offer a sacrifice in our place,
  • to bear & absorb the wrath God has toward sin,
  • to take our place in life and death,

Christ came into the world that we might be granted a place with Him in life and through death to life eternal – that is GRACE.

YOU - this is a personal affirmation. For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. God’s love is universal but it is also individual. It is specific. God had YOU in mind when He sent His Son. God had YOU in mind when he wrought His salvific (salvific means-having the intent or power to save or redeem) plan. HIS GRACE – is FOR YOU! How often have we thought, “How could God love me?” Our closet opens in our mind, and we know that even if no one else knows, HE does. Our guilt is palpable, our frailty abhorrent to us and more than apparent to Him. “How could God love one like me?” “Forgiving them is one thing, me that’s another entirely.” With these six words Paul declares the Good News to everyone. It is declared as if you were the only one who needed it. BY GRACE WE…Paul could have used a plural pronoun but he chose not to. YOU - As if GOD has no one else to shower his love on than you. This is that particular! YOU Matter to God! YOU are the one He had in mind when He went to work on SAVING. By grace YOU have been saved.

The words, HAVE BEEN, are verification that the action is complete. God is not in the process of saving you. This is not a game of which we know not the ending. This is not a book of which the last chapter is yet to be written or read. YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED. It is an accomplished action. Paul is not the only one to say so: Jesus himself said so on the cross, “It is finished,” not it is underway. This accomplished action and certain result HAVE BEEN. What have you been? Saved!

SAVEDdelivered from an ending you have earned – death. Redeemed from a condition you have merited – guilt and rescued from a fate that you deserved – hell. To be SAVED means that God has changed your lot (so to speak); rather than death – life is yours, rather than guilt – forgiveness is yours, rather than hell – heaven is yours. You needed saving.

  • From what? God has SAVED you from – hell and the devil, YES, through the victory of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • From yourself? YES, through Jesus willingness to take your place.
  • FROM God’s own wrath – YES in His sacrificial offering and innocent suffering & death.

For by grace you have been saved. SIX JUST WORDS and when we hear them as they are meant we will never be the same – BY…GRACE…YOU…have been…SAVED.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The One Year Bible- September 29th

A number of years ago I was introduced to a form of devotion and reading called Lectio Divina. In short it is a tool to use when you are reading God’s word. Here is a quick definition I found from Wikipedia: Lectio Divina is Latin for divine reading, spiritual reading, or "holy reading," and represents a method of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God and to provide special spiritual insights. It is a way of praying with Scripture that calls one to study, ponder, listen and, finally, pray from God's Word. The past few weeks I have used this tool to stop and spend some time just chewing on God’s word and praying through what we have been reading. I have stopped in various places including parts of Isaiah, Ephesians and especially Psalms. Carol McDaniel just finished a study on this very thing. I encourage you to give it a try. On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
I think I could write a novel on what we found in Isaiah this week. I think I told you that I am putting a star in the margin of my Bible each time I read “The Holy One Of Israel”. Remember that this is a term that points to the coming Messiah, Jesus. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to remember who the “I” is in some of these passages. Sometimes it is Yahweh, other times it is Isaiah. Make sure you know who is talking. This will go far in helping you understand some of the significance of the passage. Some general thoughts; we have entered the second part of the book of Isaiah and we will start to see much more of a prophetic message. Isaiah’s audience has changed from the people living in the Promised Land, to the exiles living in captivity. Here we see a message of hope and promise. Chapter 40 begins the new section with such a message, “Comfort, comfort my people says your God” (Isaiah 40:1 NIV). The people are in need of comfort because of what has happened. The people have been exiled. They are living in a foreign land and they need to hear the comforting words of their God. Chapter 40 gives a hope filled message and ends with a verse near and dear to my heart, “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 NIV). This verse is my confirmation verse given to me by my father. It has been a source of comfort and hope for me for most of my life. I know that God is right there beside me giving me the strength I need to do his will. He promises to be with me when all other things seem to go wrong. Chapter 41 continues this same theme. Some of the most controversial parts of the book of Isaiah come from the sections where he mentions a character named Cyrus. He is called a shepherd, and one who will fulfill the purpose of God. He is also called an ally of God. Some translations use the Hebrew word Messiah to describe him. Cyrus was not a follower of Yahweh, he was the king of Persia and a Gentile. He was used by God to bring the remnant back to the Jerusalem. Many believe that this name was inserted in later years to make Isaiah look good. There is no proof of this, and we should be careful to say that God was not the one who inspired Isaiah to write about this king. Many years later it would come to pass that King Cyrus would issue a decree that would allow many Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and more importantly the temple. Isaiah also spends much time on the topic of monotheism. There are so many references to the Messiah in Isaiah it is hard to mention them all. Keep on looking for things that seem familiar to the life of Christ. I will post some of the connections in an upcoming post.

The New Testament
We finished up Galatians and now are in Ephesians. One of the main themes in Ephesians is “The Body of Christ” and the church. One key idea to keep in your mind while reading is one of Paul’s presuppositions of the book, namely that we are “In Christ” and apart from Christ we can do nothing. We are part of Christ by what he did on the cross and by claiming us as his own in baptism. We have been adopted into the family and now we can celebrate with all the rights and privileges as heirs of salvation. This is an amazing gift of God. This idea of “gift” is huge in Ephesians. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV). What a wonderful message. It is not up to us. If it were, I know I would be in trouble! I think I could just give quote after quote from Paul for this post. I have underlined so much in my Bible this week. Here are some of the best in my mind. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). “For he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14 ESV). “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV). I could go on and on, but you get the point. This book is a deep rich read, filled with so many good things. Don’t just skim over these things. Meditate on them, let them sink in, roll them around you head for a while. You will be blessed by doing so.

Bits and Pieces

The Old Testament
We will finish up Isaiah this week. I will have a lot to say next week about it. This week we will start the book of Jeremiah. Here are the vital stats:

PURPOSE: To urge God’s people to turn from their sins and back to God
AUTHOR: Jeremiah
TO WHOM WRITTEN: Judah (the southern kingdom) and its capital city Jerusalem
DATE WRITTEN: During Jeremiah’s ministry approx. 627-586 B.C.
SETTING: Jeremiah ministered under Judah’s last five kings—Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. The nation was sliding quickly toward destruction and was eventually conquered by Babylon in 586 B.C. (see 2 Kings 21-25). The prophet Zephaniah preceded Jeremiah, and Habakkuk was Jeremiah’s contemporary.
KEY VERSE: “’Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and relize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,’ declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty” (2:19).
KEY PEOPLE: Judah’s kings (see list above), Baruch, Ebed-Melech, King Nebuchadnezzar, the Recabites
KEY PLACES: Anathoth, Jerusalem, Ramah, Egypt
SPECIAL FEATURES: This book is a combination of history, poetry, and biography. Jeremiah often used symbolism to communicate his message.

The New Testament
We will finish up Ephesians, read Philippians and start on Colossians this week. Here are the vital stats for Philippians:

PURPOSE: To thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent Paul and to strengthen these believers by showing them that true joy comes from Jesus Christ alone.
TO WHOM WRITTEN: All the Christians at Philippi and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 61, from Rome during Paul’s imprisonment there
SETTING: Paul and his companions began the church at Philippi on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:11-40). This was the first church established on the European continent. The Philippian church had sent a gift with Epaphroditus (one of their members) to be delivered to Paul (4:18). Paul was in a Roman prison at the time. He wrote this letter to thank them for their gift and to encourage them in their faith.
KEY VERSE: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4)
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Euadia, and Syntyche
KEY PLACE: Philippi

Here are the vital stats for the book of Colossians:

PURPOSE: To combat errors in the church and to show that believers have everything they need in Christ.
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The church at Colosse, a city in Asia Minor, and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 60 during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome
SETTING: Paul had never visited Colosse—evidently the church had been founded by Epaphras and other converts form Paul’s missionary travels. The church, however, had been infiltrated by religious relativism, with some believers attempting to combine elements of paganism and secular philosophy with Christian doctrine. Paul confronts these false teachings and affirms the sufficiency of Christ.
KEY VERSES: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (2:9-10).
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Timothy, Tychicuys, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Epaphras
KEY PLACES: Colosse, Laodicea
SPECIAL FEATURES: Christ is presented as having absolute supremacy and sole sufficiency. Colossians has similarities to Ephesians, probably because it was written at about the same time, but it has a different emphasis.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not Quite What I Was Planning is a collection of six word memoirs. Other than the introduction the entire book is a collection of individual’s recollections and/or summations of their lives in only six words. The Introduction of the book recounts a legend that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in six words. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” was Hemingway’s completed work. Legend continues that he called it his greatest work. The memoir says that thus, “the six-word story was born.”

That isn’t entirely true. I’m not talking about the Hemingway part of the story; I have no idea if that is true or not. I’m talking about the birth of the six-word story. Six-Word stories are found throughout the Scripture, Liturgy, and the Hymnody of the Church. They are common phrases within Christianity and even the faith life of Bethany. In six-word stories over and over again the faith is contained, summarized, systematized, proclaimed, and empowered by the Spirit, lived out in the lives of Christians.

  • “Be holy, because I am holy.”
  • “As for me and my household.”
  • “Take, eat, this is my body.”
  • “Have mercy on me, O God.”
  • “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
  • “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.”
  • “Here I stand, God help me.”
  • “God is good, all the time.”
  • “My stuff is not my stuff.”

These are but a few six-word stories that have held out the promise of God, the faith of the church, and the life of His people.

In our Parish Theme this year at Bethany we will explore pairs of six-word stories under the title of “Six Just Words, Just Six Words.” Each pair will contain words of promise from God, His “Six Just Word” memoir if you will, His action, His declared righteousness and work on our behalf, His Gospel activity, His proclaimed Goodness, His Just Words (6 of them), that engender a corollary response from us, His children. Our “Just Six Words” memoir/response, so to speak are simple, Scriptural promises made by God’s people, made by us, in response to what we have received. There just words – words for regular people, like you and me, declaring we will do things that can only be done by the empowering of God’s Spirit.

By no means are the pairs we will focus on the only six-word stories in Scripture. They are, however, six pairs that tell the entire story of the Christian faith. In fact, if you had to explain the Biblical message to someone in only six pairs of six-word stories, these would accomplish the task. Of any Parish Theme we’ve explored together this one is more practical and has more impact potential than any other. To grasp in your heart the essentials of the Christian faith, something 66 books of the Bible proclaim and tens of millions of volumes that have been written throughout history to expound upon is no small task. Yet, these six-pairs of six-word stories can do just this; capture the essentials of the faith.

We all have a six-word story to tell. When our staff spent time together in August sharing our personal six-word stories, I arrogantly thought about writing, “I only needed two: I’m content.” However, I opted for “I’m content, four words to loan.” Contentment does not mean complacency. Contentment does not equal sloth or laziness. Contentment does not relate to the desire of the hands but rather to the disposition of the heart. You can work hard and be content. You can strive for excellence in your skills, you can pursue gain in knowledge, and you can labor for an expanded territory and be content. Contentment is a realization that all you have, while even gained at the sweat of your brow, is ultimately the very gift of God. I am content. This doesn’t mean I can’t wait to see Bethany add the next Sr. Staffer after we just added one yesterday. Nor does it mean I don’t want us to strive to expand our territory, strive for excellence in our ministry, or gain in our knowledge of Christ, our actions for Christ and our harvest through Christ. It does mean that with thankful hearts we trust all we have is a gift from Him and therefore no glory goes to us and no hurdle will defeat us.

I don’t know what God would Himself pick as His six words? If He were to rend the heavens, come down, and speak just a half dozen sentences – what would it be? I have a sneaking suspicion that if He were to do so it would be complete & succinct, and at the same time open-ended and require a response from us. I have a notion that if God were to give us only ONE Six Word memoir it would be: FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD.

Those words are complete and succinct. And yet they are open-ended and require a response. For God so Loved the World. . .that he gave his one and only son. The God of the universe, the creator of a thousand planted, loved this world and chiefly its inhabitants, created in His own image (yet twisted through the fall), enough that He was content and satisfied to enter the world himself, in His Son, and appease God’s wrath toward sin through Jesus. That is what those six just words mean. Christ bore the guilt of the world, not just my shame, not just your frailties, but humanities “falleness” – the sin of 10, 15, 20 billion people, everyone who has ever lived on this earth and ever will. Jesus hung on the cross not merely as one of us but as all of us. The collective guilt of humanity is what rang in the ears of God as He turned a deaf ear to His Son and forsook and condemned Him in our place. For God so loved the world!

And in just six words the story continues. As a matter of fact, the very words John uses to talk about Jesus in his Gospel’s 3rd chapter are the very words Jesus uses to talk about us in John’s 20th Chapter. Jesus said, “…as the Father has SENT me, so I am SENDING you.” For God so loved the World, that He was content, pleased to no longer raise up prophets & apostles, to remain on earth not in the flesh nor entrust the ministry of the church to an angelic host but to send us. For God so Loved the World...that He sent us into the world with the good news of His Son. Through us, God’s love is known.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The One Year Bible September 22nd

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

Seth’s Thoughts

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

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

Bits and Pieces

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

The New Testament
We will finish up Galatians this week and jump right into Ephesians. Here are the vital stats for the book of Ephesians:

PURPOSE: To Strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ


TO WHOM WRITTEN: The church at Ephesus, and all believers everywhere

DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 60, from Rome, during Paul’s imprisonment

SETTING: The letter was not written to confront any heresy or problem in the churches. It was sent with Tychicus to strengthen and encourage the churches in the area. Paul had spent over three years with the Ephesian church. As a result, he was very close to them. Paul met with the elders of the Ephesian church at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38)—a meeting that was filled with great sadness because he was leaving them for what he thought would be the last time. Because there are not specific references to people or problems in the Ephesian church and because the words “at Ephesus” (1:1) are not present in some early manuscripts, Paul may have intended this to be a circular letter to be read by all the churches in the area.

KEY VERSES: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6 NIV).

KEY PEOPLE: Tychicus, Paul

SPECIAL FEATURES: Several pictures of the church are presented: body, temple, mystery, new man, bride, and soldier. This letter was probably distributed to many of the early churches.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-September 16, 2008

None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

(Romans 14:7-8)

In the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt we see Moses as a young adult at the time he comes to grips with the fact that he is a Hebrew, and in good animated musical fashion, he breaks out into song. When he arrives at the palace that has been the only home he knows, he sings these words:

Gleaming in the moonlight
Cool and clean and all I've ever known
All I ever wanted
Sweet perfumes of
Graceful rooms of alabaster stone
All I ever wanted

This is my
With my father, mother, brother
Oh so noble, oh so strong
Now I am
Here among my trappings and belongings
I belong
And if anybody doubts it
They couldn't be more wrong

I am a sovereign prince of Egypt
A son of the proud history that's shown
Etched on ev'ry wall
Surely this is all I ever wanted
All I ever wanted
All I ever wanted

The longing for belonging is what Moses sings about and that is pretty familiar with most people today. Many seek to find belonging by the belongings they possess.

“To belong”—means to correspond to, to go with, suit, conform to, and to hit the spot.

“Belongings”—are effects, possessions, goods, or STUFF.

All of us have belongings and we all have a desire to belong. Along with our belongings we all want to belong to something. We all have some deep innate desire to feel a connection to something, to find a place we feel well suited.

Perhaps you find it in following a team, you are part of Raider Nation or USC; maybe you bleed Dodger blue. It could be in the PTA or the NRA, the YMCA or UCLA. But friends, Paul tells us that in God there is ultimate belonging.

This God has belongings: the Psalmist tells us that the birds of the air, all the creatures in the sea and even the cows on 1000 hills are his. The Prophets tell us that he created and owns the mountains and the seas, everything in heaven and earth including kings and kingdoms, understanding and victory, dominion, power, awe, wisdom council. But his prized possession is YOU! You are the people of his hand and the sheep of his pasture. He created us and fashioned us from the dust of the earth and we are the clay in his hands. We are more than an item in his collection we are a prized possession.

He took our belongings. The things we seem to cherish and hold on to, including our sin and disobedience and rebellion, and made it his own. In exchange, he gave us all of his own possessions including life that he procured on the cross and empty tomb.

We belong to the Lord! We belong to God! There is no greater sense of belonging that to be God’s own.

We may not know what we will be but we know that we belong to the Lord. It has been said that more money has been spent on a search for belonging than on belongings themselves but remember these words of Paul:

None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The One Year Bible- September 15th

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

Seth’s Thoughts

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

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

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

Bits and Pieces

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

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

PURPOSE: To refute the Judaizers (who taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish Law in order to be saved), and to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ


TO WHOM WRITTEN: The churches in southern Galatia founded on Paul’s first missionary journey (including Iconium, Lystra, Derbe), and Christians everywhere

DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 49 from Antioch, prior to the Jerusalem council (A.D. 50)

SETTING: The most pressing controversy in the early church was the relationship of new believers, particularly Gentiles, to the Jewish laws. This was especially a problem for the converts and for the young churches that Paul had founded on his first missionary journey. Paul wrote to correct this problem. Later, at the council in Jerusalem, the church leaders officially resolved the conflict.

KEY VERSE: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1)

KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Peter, Barnabus, Titus, Abraham, false teachers

KEY PLACES: Galatia, Jerusalem

SPECIAL FEATURES: This letter is not addressed to any specific body of believers and was probably circulated to several churches in Galatia.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Bethany Bullet-Tuesday, September 9, 2008

There are some pastors who in jest, or in condescension, say that it is the role of the Christian to pray, pay and obey. In other words Christians should talk to God, stock the budget and walk as told by authority, which in the case of those pastors is very convenient! Believe it or not those pastors would be right…in terms of duty…just mistaken in terms of venue.

In the divine institution of the church, Romans chapter 12, Paul has already told us what the role of the Christian is. God has called on us as members of the body of Christ and citizens of the kingdom to live in harmony, be a family, speak charitably, forgive freely, love sincerely and hate idolatry (that is any evil thing that would elevate human opinion of fleshly desires above the Word of God.)

Those pastors (which I spoke about above) would be right however in their understanding of the duty of a Christian citizens. In the divine institution of the state, Romans chapter 13, Paul declares that as one who is both a member of the body of Christ and a member of the state, Christians are called to pray, pay, obey and display.

We are called to pray for our leaders. To young pastor Timothy and his flock, Paul wrote, “I exhort you, that prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all; for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives.” While some citizens believe their first priority should be to demonstrate before leaders, and others give first thought to agitate the populace, and still others hyperventilate over leaders – we as Christians are called to supplicate first and foremost on behalf of our leaders.

We are called to pay. “People in government are God’s servants while they do the work he has given them. Pay everyone whatever you owe them. If you owe taxes, pay them. If you owe tolls, pay them. If you owe respect, pay it.”—Romans 13:6-7. This might not make April 15th easier, nor does it end discussion on rates or usage, representation or wisdom, but it does command obedience.

We are called to obedience. Obedience is not limited to such laws as are to our liking! We are not free nor at liberty to disregard laws with which we don’t agree. However, if a law conflicts with God’s law and obedience would mean disobedience to God’s command we must, as St. Peter said, “obey God rather than men.” When the state demanded the apostles’ to not speak in Jesus’ name they kept on preaching, thank God! When the state demanded the lives of infant sons, Moses’ mother made a basket of reeds to float him down the Nile, thank God! When the state demanded Christians to burn incense to Caesar as Lord, the martyrs were given strength to say Christ alone is Lord, praise God! When the state demanded neighbors be turned in for “protection” i.e. extermination, many opened basements and concealed their presence in good conscience, thank God! And if Christian citizens face laws that are insufficient, unwise, impractical or immoral they are free, even compelled, to seek to change such laws by use of legal means for legislation that is for the best interest and welfare of the community.

We are called to display. We are called to live out our faith in our lives and thus show what it is to be one who has dual citizenship, that in the state and that in the kingdom that never ends. A famous Lutheran preacher, Martin Franzmann, put it this way, “In so doing, as our actions and attitude proceed from faith, we not only keep the orders of the state, we rise above by doing more than is required.” For instance, as Christian citizens we affirm that life is sacred and precious. Yet, we will do more, for example:
  • By assisting with hurricane relief – you can send you donation to Bethany for the work of Lutheran World Relief.
  • Sponsoring a child through Mission India – support a child at Happy Home and Lutheran School in India for at least ONE year or more & make a difference in these children’s lives.
  • By making sure the Assistance Food Pantry at Bethany is full with appropriate resources for those who may come through our church office that are in need – a collection basket is in the narthex the 3rd Sunday of each month.

“In so doing we rise above the orders of the state, by doing more than required!”

Monday, September 08, 2008

The One Year Bible- September 8th

After sitting in my office thinking what to write this morning, I decided to see what I wrote last year at this time, and it was pretty good. Here are my thoughts from last year, which fit in so well with the themes of Ecclesiastes:

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

On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spiritual world
material world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bits and Pieces

I forgot to give you the stats for the book of Song of Songs. I will have more to say about this book next week. Here are the vital stats for the book:

PURPOSE: To tell of the love between a bridegroom (King Solomon) and his bride, to affirm the sanctity of marriage, and to picture God’s love for his people

AUTHOR: Solomon

DATE WRITTEN: Probably early in Solomon’s reign

SETTING: Israel—the Shulammite woman’s garden and the king’s palace

KEY VERSE: “I am my lover’s and my lover is mine; he browses among the lilies” (6:3)

KEY PEOPLE: King Solomon, the Shulammite woman, and friends

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

PURPOSE: To call the nation of Judah back to God and to tell of God’s salvation through the Messiah.

AUTHOR: The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz

DATE WRITTEN: The events of chapters 1-39 occurred during Isaiah’s ministry, so they were probably written about 700 B.C. Chapters 40-66, however may have been written near the end of his life, about 681 B.C.

SETTING: Isaiah is speaking and writing mainly in Jerusalem

KEY VERSE: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (53:5)

KEY PEOPLE: Isaiah, his two sons Shear-Jashub and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz

SPECIAL FEATURES: The book of Isaiah contains both prose and poetry and uses personification. Also, many of the prophecies in Isaiah contain predictions that foretell a soon-to-occur event and a distant future event at the same time.

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