Monday, February 23, 2009

The Bethany Bullet-February 23, 2009

Today we take a break from our series on the Lord’s Prayer and focus on our Six Just Words for the month of February. From Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, Shine, your Light has come.”

Six of the most joyful words to me are the following, “Pitchers and catchers report on Friday!” The baseball season is right around the corner and not only players, but fans from across the country will descend on Florida and Arizona to bask in the sunshine, to catch a glimpse of boyhood heroes, and to recharge in the light and hope that come with the beginning of a new baseball season.

Hope springs eternal but there is something about getting out into the light of the sun that just feels good. Just ask a snowbird that flocks to the south during the winter months to spend time in the sunshine or a person who suffers from seasonal affective disorder and they will tell you, light is powerful. Light is necessary. Light cancels out darkness. But we are not drawn to the light; in fact we are drawn to the darkness by sin.

From John the 3rd chapter: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Where are the dark corners of your life? Where do you retreat when no one is looking? Where can you be found when there is darkness all around?

The devil loves it when we retreat to his territory; when we spend our times in the dark places not wanting the effective, powerful light of Christ to penetrate the deep recesses of our lives. We may want that light to hit us on the surface, but we cower in the corners of the dark to get try to avoid being changed by it.

But the light that has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ is effective, and powerful. It is necessary and he has come to cancel out the darkness that we seem to love.

For sinners the six words that we live by most often is, “Cower, hide, here comes the light.” But the light of Christ has come to bring hope and a future to all who hide in sin. If you are hiding in a dark corner right now know this, the Light that has come has not come to shame you but to make you shine. The light comes to shower you with love not shatter your heart.

But what does that light look like? Today (Sunday, February 22nd) being the Transfiguration of our Lord as well, we get a glimpse of it in our Gospel reading for today:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.

For a moment, Jesus revealed his divine nature to Peter, James and John. Jesus was changed before them and he became the light of God manifest in human form. It must have been an awesome sight. But the disciples were changed. Peter says, “It is good for us to be here!” Peter was no longer hiding in the darkness. He might have been terrified but he seemed to embrace the light; the light had affected him, its power transformed him.

In our Old Testament reading from this week we have another story of someone being changed by the presence of God on a mountain. In Exodus 34, Moses is on Mt. Sinai meeting with God and when he comes down his face is glowing. Moses had an encounter with God on a mountain and he too was changed, by his time in Yahweh’s presence. His face was glowing and it made the people a bit nervous. Moses was shining in the glory of God. Everyone knew just by looking at him that something was different. His time spent in the presence of the almighty was written on his face.

How is your face? Does it glow with the radiance of God? Have you been changed by the light of Christ?

Our six words for today call us all to bask in the “Son” light. These words call us to bask in the warm presence of God as we immerse ourselves in His word, as we encounter him in bread and wine, his very body and blood. Our six words remind us that we have been raised with Jesus the day he broke the bonds of sin and death. We arise because he has risen. And now we are called to shine.

Here is the application part of the message:
How can our faces be radiant like Moses’? How can we bring the effective, powerful, transforming light of Jesus to others? How do we share with others how good it is to bask in the presence of Jesus?

May I offer this?


Share the name that has been imprinted on your heart through the waters of baptism, confirmed through study of his word, sustained through his life giving meal in all you do and in all you say. It’s part of the Bethany blueprint. It is a hallmark of a growing follower of Jesus Christ. We SHINE when we SHARE HIS IMPRINTED NAME EVERYWHERE. Our faces can glow with the love of Jesus for a hurting world. Here are some of the most joyful words in world, “Arise, Shine, your Light has come!”

The One Year Bible- February 23rd

This has been quite a week for me. I was privileged to lead worship yesterday morning as well as our SoulSing service in the evening. I have been preparing for Lent which begins this Wednesday. I am working on the details of our Mission trip to Alaska. I am working on a few new outreach programs and prepping for Bible study and the expansion of SoulSing. To put it mildly, I am busy. The one constant this week has been my daily readings. I have managed to read every day and it has been a source of strength and a blessing for me. When you have days, or, weeks, or months like this I hope you will lean on the strength that you will find in God’s Word. On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

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

Good Morning Seth,

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

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

Any insight you could offer would be greatly appreciated.


My Reply:

I just finished that reading myself. The thing you need to remember about all these laws and regulations is that they are for the people of Israel in the wilderness as God is forming them to be his people. All these laws were not written for us in the US in the 21st Century. The reason that God placed some dietary restrictions on the people was two-fold. First of all many of the animals that were considered unclean had problems with parasites and other things that could make the people sick if they were not cooked or handled properly. God needed the people to be healthy. Secondly, many of these animals were used by the pagan people they would encounter in the Promised Land in their worship of false Gods. God did not want them to associate with them so he set them apart.

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Bethany Bullet-February 17, 2009

Lord’s Prayer the fifth petition:
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
This petition begins with an admission of need and therefore of guilt. We are in need of forgiveness and we do not merit that for which we ask. While we live in an era of blame and detoured responsibility there is no denying the ultimate truth – each of us has failed to live as perfectly as God demands.

Jesus of course knew humanities need for mercy, grace and forgiveness; it is in fact why he came into the world. After he taught this pray he told a parable, it is recorded in Matt. 18. This parable’s about being forgiven and forgiving; it is known as, The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. This so called servant was called to account by his master, he owed an incredible sum, and he could have paid a 1000k a day and worked for the next 40 years and still would not have covered his bill. He fell at the feet of the master, this servant, and cried, “Have pity on me and I will pay you every cent I owe.” The king felt sorry and let him go free and told the official that he did not have to pay back what he owed.

It is interesting to note that that is not what the servant had requested. The servant didn’t ask for forgiveness but dispensation. He sought a grace period not grace, period – end of story. The master offered even more than requested, he did not offer more time he erased every dime. The debt was cancelled, the bill torn in two and the servant was declared free and clear.

Now the parable continues, and as Jesus tells it he presupposes a few things, the first is that we who are in need of forgiveness and guilty of trespass have ourselves been trespassed against. In fact, Jesus tells the parable in the first place because Peter asked about the amount one ought to forgive.

Peter has in mind specifics. This isn’t just philosophical banter, theological inquiry, this isn’t an exploration of religious obligation this is personal. Peter, I’m sure, knew the rabbinical tradition that stipulated the wounded forgive three times. Peter was willing to double that and throw one in for good measure. Seven times, will that cover it? Jesus says, no not seven times but seventy times seven. If you’re counting fingers and toes, you’re missing the point! Mercy that is marshaled out isn’t mercy! Formulated forgiveness isn’t forgiveness at all.

True, forgiveness is not a grace period but grace period. Yet, a grace period, the exact thing “Servant A” requested of the master is the very thing requested of him by a fellow servant. The forgiven servant, whose debt of millions was cancelled, goes out and has a fellow servant who owes him pennies on the thousands. If you are a first-timer to the parable you might think this forgiven servant who himself is now in a position to forgive might bump into his fellow indebted servant, throw a hand on the shoulder and expound upon the blessings of being forgiven, serve himself as a living commentary on pure grace and in turn forgive the debt owed him. That isn’t exactly how the story goes down. He seeks out his fellow servant, grabs him by the scruff of the neck and demands payment.

We too have been wronged, even as the parable and petition both proclaim our status as trespasser they both correctly define us as those trespassed against too. The real question is not how did the servant in the parable respond to the mercy he had received but how are we going to respond?

There is a reason forgiveness is hard for us: it is a divine absurdity. What an incredible thing it is to ask forgiveness, what an incredible thing it is to offer forgiveness. In Jesus’ story the forgiven yet unmerciful servant demanded his pound of flesh. In the story of Jesus we find that the master, God himself, demands His pound of flesh as well. Yet, in his Son, Jesus, God provides the flesh He demands. So Jesus, “who being in very nature God consider equality with God something not to be grasped, but taking the very nature of a . . . servant and humbles himself to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2)

Yes, forgiveness is a divine absurdity. That He might grant it, he pays the price we owe Him. The only thing that makes forgiveness possible between us and our God is that the pound of flesh has been provided for our trespasses in Jesus. The only thing that makes forgiveness possible between us is that the pound of flesh for those who trespass against us has also been provided in Christ. When we pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us we are not praying that we might be forgiven in the measure we forgive! (Note: The word “as” is not causative in the text!) We are praying however that we might be forgiving having personally experienced the power of undeserved forgiveness, grace period that our God offers us.

*Perhaps a few things to consider that can be instructive for us:

  • First, in the parable the chance to forgive came when an admission was made, “I know I owe” and a confession was given, “be merciful and have patience with me.”
  • Second, this does not mean that there are no consequences to sin, nor does it mean that we can sweep aside the laws of the state nor the safety of others, forgiving is not condoning and remission of sin is not permission of sin;
  • However, as we pray this petition we admit our need and ask for forgiveness and we seek a desire to be forgiving when asked ourselves to offer such; realizing that we have been given more than we could ever ask – more than a grace period – but in Christ grace period. Amen.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The One Year Bible- February 16th

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

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

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

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

Burnt Offering:
Leviticus 1; 6: 8-13; 8: 18-21; 16: 24
The burnt offering was for unintentional sin.
This was a blanket sacrifice for wrongdoing in general. The price was a male bull, lamb or goat. It had to be a perfect animal, without defect. The poor could offer a pigeon or dove. The penitent would present the animal at the entrance to the tent, which housed the altar and the tabernacle. 
After presenting the animal, the sinner would place his two hands on the animal and thus, it was accepted as an offering for sin. Probably this act transferred the sin from the human to the animal, which paid the penalty and was sacrificed. They would kill their own offering and then the priests took over.
The priests bled the animal and cut it up ceremonially. The priests sprinkled the blood on the altar. Some of the internal organs and legs were washed. They then burned it whole on the altar. The aroma was said to be pleasing to God. The fire had to be continually burning and was never extinguished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bethany Bullet-Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Teach us to Pray
It is probably worth reviewing a bit as to where we’ve been in this prayer our Lord has taught us to pray. Our relationship with God is intimate but not casual; it is childlike but not infantile. The Lord has come as king to topple tyrants. God’s will is done, and He exercises his will both inordinately, as at Creation, and ordinately, for example through Word and Sacrament to bring and strengthen us in faith. Thus, to this point, the petitions of this prayer have been very relevant.

Now comes the fourth petition, “Give us this Day” and I’m left to wonder if in fact this is a passé petition for a Costco generation? Is this an obsolete supplication for an affluent nation? True, there are millions even hundreds of millions of people who will go to bed hungry tonight, who will not know where their next meal is to come from; but most of us will fill up a shopping cart at a warehouse in the next week and stock the cabinets in the fridge, hallway and the extra fridge in the garage. So I’m left to ponder, is this a passé petition for a Costco generation?

Before I can answer that question I think it serves us best to ask this one, “What did the first hearers of this prayer hear in these words?” I have no doubt that many of those gathered around Jesus as He first taught these words were not too sure where their next meal would come from. However, I am equally certain that the vast majority of them had their minds not jump to their own current condition but their forefather’s ancient situation. Their minds sprang back to a time in the desert when God rained down bread from heaven. They neither baked nor bought their bread; they gathered it each morning and in so doing knew that they were utterly dependant on God for their survival. We go to the cupboard each morning to make toast, maybe on days the cupboard is bare we need to scramble, a few eggs, or make a run to the market, but we are no less utterly dependant on God for our survival and when we pray this petition we are to hear and speak this truth.

This petition instructs and directs us!

It instructs us as to what kind of God we have. A God who is concerned about the most basic and routine events in life and a God who is part and parcel to the staple of life; yet, He is a God who not only provides bread, He is a God who becomes bread. In His Son, God is the living bread of heaven, the life giving bread come down to the world and this God who becomes bread through the power of His Word causes bread to become His body. “Jesus, took bread, gave thanks and said, take and eat this is my body.”

This petition also directs us to give God the highest form of worship possible. For in these words we declare that all things are God’s and all the gifts that make life possible and enjoyable flow from His gracious hand. Luther’s catechism lists “body, food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like” as being part of the daily bread God provides. That being the case, this petition not only directs us to offer God the highest form of praise; it directs us to offer ourselves as answers to the petition we pray. When you pray, “give us this day” you are asking God to not only provide you what you need from the above list, you are asking God to provide through you what others need from that same list. Give us this day therefore also means, make me such a devout spouse, child, parent, employer, employee, citizen, leader, neighbor, friend, co-worker and provider that others receive the “daily bread” that they so need.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The One Year Bible- Febrary 9th

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

Seth’s Thoughts

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

1. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt.
2. You shall have no other Gods but me.
3. Do not misuse my name.
4. Remember the Sabbath day.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. Don’t murder.

7. Don’t commit adultery.
8. Don’t steal.
9. Don’t give false testimony.
10. Don’t covet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bits and Pieces

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Bethany Bullet-February 4, 2009

“Thy Will be done.”
On Sunday, Pastor Kritzer said that, “It was my desire that the Steelers win the Super Bowl! It was God’s will that I hallow His name regardless of the outcome of the game and that should Warner and the Cardinal receiving core get hot, I not loose my cool.” Now some would say that it must have been God’s will that his team win, after all they won. Those who say so would fail to understand, however, that God does not only possess an inordinate will (an absolute will) but an ordinate will (one that works through means) as well. So more than likely the winning team would be the one that had the best defense and clock management, of course some will say the one that got the calls to go there way.

God’s inordinate will was exercised at creation. There weren’t any “no’s” during creation. Light did not say, “I’ll shine when I get around to it!” The earth did not reply, “Hold your horses, so to speak, animals will spring forth sometime next week.” God commanded and it happened. That inordinate will of God will be at work on judgment day. Every knee (not just some) will bow. Every tongue (not just those who’ve done so previously) will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. The absolute will of God was at work in the ministry and life of Jesus in those events we call miracles. Wind and wave did not question nor complain. They became still. Fish and loaves did not mumble but multiplied. Demons did not rear their heads and corpses did not play dead. They did as Christ willed; they left the places they had been.

God, however, has chosen to exercise His will in our daily lives through the created order and in our spiritual lives through word and sacrament. This is known as the ordinate will of God. True His will is that all people believe and come to the knowledge of the truth but He does not simply hardwire us for faith. The Gospel is not directly downloaded into hearts and minds irresistibly. He offers, invites, calls to faith and in such a manner as to be resistible. Now when faith springs to life He is the source, cause, and agent, yet not because He has willed so inordinately – This is a topic for a different section of the catechism we’ll talk about some other time. For now, let’s get back to understanding the will of God.

To understand this petition concerning God’s will—it is essential that we remember the first two petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. This will not only help us to pray this petition but to understand what it is we are praying for.

It is God’s will that His name be hallowed! The second commandment, as well as the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer addresses this truth. It is certainly true that God’s will is that His name be hallowed and is most centered on those who call him, Father. Yet, we God’s children fail to hallow His name as commanded. We hit our thumb with the proverbial hammer and His name is invoked in a way that would make grandma blush and our Father weep. We miss a putt, get a ticket, see the 401k slip further away and far too often it is not praises of His holy name that we cry out. Clearly it is God’s will that we hallow His name, He has so commanded, yet God does not control nor coerce our response to His command. He does not always exercise His will in an irresistible manner.

In fact, the will of God and Christian freedom are theological realities that are best understood together. Some view God’s will like a major metropolitan city in a foreign country in which you are on vacation. The signs of course are in a language you cannot read, the local public transportation system is one you don’t have mastery over. You have a place to be in a few minutes and all you possess is the general map from the local tourist information bureau. It tells you about the cities architect, its beauty and the joy of its residents. However, it provides only a few street names and several landmarks. The only way to know for sure if you’re going the right way is experience. Do the streets appear to correspond with the map? Are the landmarks headed toward or away from your intended destination? This is how some people view the will of God: Always a mystery, always difficult, always a fight, never sure if you are really where you ought to be.

There is a better picture. As we understand the inordinate and ordinate will of God, we can imagine a playground. It is surrounded by a fence. Outside the fence is a flood control channel, a city street, a pile of stones and all kinds of windows. These are off-limits. Now mind you, this fence is not impenetrable, unbreakable, nor unlikable. It is in place to keep the children safe but it is not impossible for them to get in trouble. Inside this fence are a swing, a slide, a handball wall, basketball court, and a jungle gym. You are free to play, free to choose, and free to enjoy & live within the will of the playground designer.

Nowhere was this prayer more fervently prayed and lived out than when Jesus, after He taught it to His disciples, prayed it Himself. In the garden He prayed, “Thy will be done.” Then instead of sitting back and waiting for God’s will to happen, He got up and walked to the cross so that through the means of His suffering and death God’s will to forgive, redeem, and restore us for our failure to comply with His will would be accomplished.

When we pray, God’s will be done, we are praying that we recognize that miracles are possible and that God in His authority can do anything He wills. “Yet, we are also praying that God’s will is done among and through us as He breaks and hinders every plan of the devil, of the world, and of our own sinful nature that would keep us from hallowing His name or keep His kingdom from coming.” –Luther’s Small Catechism

Monday, February 02, 2009

The One Year Bible- February 2nd

Congratulations on finishing one month in the journey of reading the Bible this year!! It is amazing to me how the Lord directs our lives at times. I have been thinking about the over arching story of the Bible. As we journey in the Bible this year we will see narrative sections as well as prescriptive sections. The narrative portions get the big billing since they tell the “story,” but don’t just skip past the other sections. There is some good stuff in there. Just over 40% of the Old Testament is devoted to telling the narrative story. The following Old Testament books are largely or entirely composed of narrative material: Genesis, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, and Haggai. Also, Exodus, Numbers, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and job contain substantial narrative portions. People like stories and the stories in the Bible are important. They are purposeful stories that tell the historical events of the past and are intended to give meaning and direction for a given people in the present. There is a difference in the Bible’s stories for they tell God’s story. As the book How to Read the Bible for all Its Worth says, “The biblical narrative tells the ultimate story—a story that, even though often complex, is utterly true and crucially important. Indeed it is a magnificent story, grander than the greatest epic, richer in plot and more significant in its characters and descriptions than any humanly composed story could ever be.” (How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 90) Enjoy the stories and remember to try to see the overarching story of God’s love for his creation and his desire to save us from sin.

Seth’s Thoughts

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

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

The Plagues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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