Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Read the Bible in 2011

Make a New Year’s resolution this year that can change your life. Challenge yourself to read the entire Bible in 2011. It will take hard work and discipline, but the benefits are eternal. Just purchase The One Year Bible in a version that is easy for you to read (NIV, NLT, ESV, I am reading the NLT in 2011). You can pick up a copy at your local bookstore or online. These books arrange the text of the Bible into 365 daily readings. Each day in The One Year Bible you will find a selection from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, a portion from the Psalms, and a selection from the book of Proverbs. Each week there will be a study posted on this blog to help you stay on track and to communicate insights or ask questions. Need more information? Contact Pastor Seth (smoorman@bethanylutheran.org) or make a comment on this post. May God bless your time in His Word this year!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The One Year Bible- December 27th

It is the last Monday in 2010 so that means this is the last post for the One Year Bible for this year. Next week will be post #1 for 2011 as we start fresh again. I hope you all will be joining us next year as well. If you were at all like me, seeing the end of the book is both exciting and rewarding. It is no small task to read the entire Bible. There are parts that are not much fun to read and there are parts that are hard to relate to. I think the best part for me is seeing how all the pieces fit together. The story as a whole is so much more powerful than some sections taken out of context. I hope that as you hear scripture being read in worship, you can fit it into its context and fill in some of the blanks in your mind to get the whole picture. I have finished my reading so this post will make reference to some things that you may have not read yet. Don’t worry, you can always come back and read the post again. With that, on to the last study of the year... 

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

This week we spent time in the book of Zechariah. The book of Zechariah is a post-exilic book, meaning it was written to the people who had returned to Jerusalem at the end of the exile in Babylon. It has many interesting and detailed images written in apocalyptic form. It was nice that we were reading from the book of Revelation at the same time since John seems to have used Zechariah for some of his imagery. This is not to say that John plagiarized his book but he did use other sources to help him make sense of what he was seeing. Many scholars have a difficult time with the prophecies in the book because there is no consensus on the historical context of many of the images. We know that some are obviously Christological (The Branch, illusions of Palm Sunday (9:9), looking on the one whom they have pierced (12:10)) and others must have some context in the day that we are too far removed to see. Eric Hartzell has this to say in his commentary on Zechariah: 

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. He too had seen the captivity and had returned. With Haggai, he say the people’s apathy toward building God’s house. He joined in the message of Haggai who spoke for God...”Build my house!” 

The book of Ezra tells us. “Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them” (Ezra 5:1) 

There are many striking pictures in the book of Zechariah. Some of them are surrealistic and in kaleidoscopic colors. Some are stark and strange. Zechariah painted with prophetic brush on the imaginations and consciences of his people. We come upon these paintings today and see that over the years the colors have not faded and the images have not been blurred. He painted hell and heaven; he preached God’s law and his gospel. 

Zechariah was also a prophet who spoke words directly describing the coming Savior. In this book we hear words that we recognize from the Passion History of our Lord. Zechariah knew the Savior by inspiration and by prophecy. 

A few more days in 2010 sees the reading of the book of Malachi and the finishing of Revelation.

Here are the vital stats for Malachi: 

PURPOSE: To confront the people with their sins and to restore their relationship with God 

AUTHOR: Malachi 

TO WHOM WRITTEN: The Jews in Jerusalem and God’s people everywhere 

DATE WRITTEN: about 430 B.C. 

SETTING: Malachi, Haggai, and Zechariah were post exilic prophets to Judah. Haggai and Zechariah rebuked the people for their failure to rebuild the temple. Malachi confronted them with their neglect of the temple and their false and profane worship. 

KEY VERSES: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace...But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” (4:1-2) 

SPECIAL FEATURES: Malachi’s literary style employs a dramatic use of questions asked by God and his people. 

The book of Malachi is another post-exilic book and has many connections with the book of Nehemiah. Kenneth Barker in the book introduction of Malachi in the NIV Study Bible says: 

Although the Jews had been allowed to return from exile and rebuild the temple, several discouraging factors brought about a general religious malaise: (1) Their land remained but a small province in the backwaters of the Persian empire, (2) the glorious future announced by the prophets had not yet been realized and, (3) their God had not yet come to his temple with majesty and power to exalt his kingdom in the sight of the nations. Doubting God’s covenant love and no longer trusting his justice, the Jews of the restored community began to loose hope. So their worship degenerated into a listless perpetuation of mere forms, and they no longer took the law seriously. 

Malachi rebukes their doubt of God’s love and the faithlessness of both priests and people. To their charge that God is unjust because he has failed to come in judgment to exalt his people, Malachi answers with an announcement and a warning. The Lord they seek will come—but he will come “like a refiners fire”. He will come to judge—but he will judge his people first. 

Malachi ends with a warning of the Day of the Lord. As we have discussed before in this blog, this Day is always referring to the Day of Judgment; the day that God will put an end to the wickedness of this world once and for all. It is never a good day for those apart from God, but for those who believe it will be a good day.

The New Testament

It would take me weeks to give you all the info needed to understand the book of Revelation. One of my seminary classes was devoted to this book and we spent hours trying to figure out what it all meant and to try to make some applications for ourselves. For that class I read the biggest book of my scholastic career (almost 700 pages!!). I learned a lot and I am struggling trying to figure out how I can give you the condensed version. I will give you some highlights from my big commentary authored by Louis Brighton:

The book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible. Whether it was written last or not, the church was led to place it at the end of the canon because she saw in it the completion of God’s revelation. Nothing further would be revealed by God until the second coming of Jesus Christ. Revelation is thus the culmination of the entire story of salvation contained in the Bible. It is the end point of all that is written in both the OT and NT. for it draws all of revelation, both prophetic and apostolic, to its final goal: the exalted reign of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of lords and the fulfillment of the promise of the new heaven and earth. 

As the last book of the Bible and the completion of God’s revelation to his church, it is the lens through which the entire Scripture is to be viewed. Revelation reveals and confirms that Christ was prophetically promised and that his incarnation, death and resurrection happened so that God’s creation could be restored to its original glory and righteousness. Revelation thus points to the final meaning and the final answer to all that is revealed in the Bible. In addition, as the last book, Revelation puts an official stamp on all of God’s revelation, a final confirmation of the divine truth and origin of God’s spoken and written Word. This finality points to the urgency of the last times, in which all things will be brought to an end—an urgency which reminds the Christian to Hold fast to the faith and which encourages the church to complete her mission. 

Brighton goes on to say: 

The message of Revelation reveals two ongoing phenomena: the terrifying sufferings and horror on earth, and the reign of Jesus Christ as Lord in his heavenly exalted glory. As these two phenomena are described, God’s people on earth are encouraged to cling in hopeful faith to the eternal heavenly glory that beckons them in Christ. In turn they also are strengthened and encouraged for the work of Christ’s mission on earth. The tribulations and sufferings portrayed lead the Christian not to pessimism and despair but to realism. The adversities and troubles prophesied will come to pass, and Christians will suffer because of and through them, as will unbelievers. Such plagues and distresses demonstrate God’s wrath and judgment for the purpose of motivating the godless to repentance. God’s own people also experience these same sufferings and plagues, for the dragon, Satan uses these sufferings and plagues in his attempt to destroy the church and her witness. 

With all this being said, the most important thing to get out of a reading of the book of Revelation is that God is in control, his wrath is coming, it is time to repent, God will be victorious and all those who put their trust in him will have the blessings of eternal life. If this is all you got out of the book, then great. The other stuff is there to help make this point clear. 

Bits And Pieces 

I think the best way to finish out this study is to quote from the last Psalm, number 150: 

Praise the LORD.

Praise God in his sanctuary; 
praise him in his mighty heavens.

Praise him for his acts of power; 
praise him for his surpassing greatness. 

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, 
praise him with the harp and lyre,

praise him with tambourine and dancing, 
praise him with the strings and flute, 
praise him with the clash of cymbals, 
praise him with resounding cymbals. 

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. 

Praise the LORD. 

I cannot say it any better myself. AMEN!!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bethany Bullet - December 21, 2010

“Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

Could you blame the guy? He recognized the situation. All signs pointed to one thing…his fiancé had been unfaithful. Joseph really didn’t have a choice. As a righteous and devout follower of Yahweh he could not follow through on the marriage; that is what a righteous man in his day would have to do according to the Law. Looking at the original language we could also translate this as “Although Joseph was a righteous man…” Kind of changes things doesn’t it? So was Joseph being “righteous” by filing for divorce and keeping it quiet? Or is it another example in the Bible of the outwardly righteous not acting so? It is a fascinating text and I think that it is intentionally ambiguous to make a point, and point to ourselves in the process.

Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. His hand had been forced. He recognized the signs. Logic as well as the Law dictated a particular course of action. I am sure his feelings and emotions were raw. This was not a quick decision. Matthew tells us that he “considered it.” And then in typical divine fashion, there is a twist in the story, recognition of a different plan, an important plan, a plan beyond Joseph, indeed beyond humanity, a plan that doesn’t seem to make sense.

How often have you analyzed a situation, recognized the circumstances and formulated a plan without even a hint of the greater consequences let alone seeking the LORD for wisdom and guidance? Have you ever acted in a way you thought was righteous only to see that your intentions were neither righteous nor right? Whether it is in a relationship or a business referral, we have all made poor decisions.

So what can we learn from Joseph? First we need to recognize what God is doing.

In the Christmas story we have a cast of characters who don’t seem to recognize what is going on. Zechariah demands a sign and his tongue falls silent. Elizabeth keeps a low profile. Mary is frightened at the announcement, and Joseph decides to up and leave. Sound familiar? Have you found it hard to recognize what God is doing? Would you like a huge sign in the sky? Well it came, in a star and in a multitude of the heavenly host the night Jesus came as a baby.

Recognizing who Jesus is - the eternal Son of God that comes in the flesh. He came for those who have trouble recognizing that they need help. This helps us understand why he came.

Jesus is the only righteous One, who recognized our sinful condition and had in mind to save us from public disgrace. This was not something that was to be done quietly but was something that would rock the foundations of the world as He would defeat death and the devil as the promised Messiah and Redeemer.

Another way to recognize what God is doing is to see that He keeps His promises. During Advent and Christmas we hear from those often ignored Old Testament prophets who remind us that God is in the business of keeping His Word.

  • The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14)
  • The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death light has dawned. (Is. 9:2)
  • For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6)
  • But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, 
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

God has indeed kept His promises through His Son Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we find a Savior. In Jesus, our sins are forgiven.

Looking at the story of Christmas and indeed the entire story of salvation found in the Bible we also recognize that God at times acts contrary to common sense.

Just think about…
• the flood
• the passage through the Red Sea
• the message in the mouth of a donkey
• three men in a fiery furnace
• the mouths of lions that were closed
• a hand writing on a wall
• AND a King being born of a virgin.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for Jesus to be born to a queen? The King of kings and Lord of lords slept His first night on earth, not in a palace, but in a feeding trough. It just doesn’t make sense. He lived in the humble home of a carpenter not surrounded by the riches of royalty.

In fact, GRACE doesn’t make much sense does it? We do not deserve the gifts we have been given. Our actions are contrary to what has been required. To recognize what God is doing, we need to recognize our own sinfulness. The story of Jesus birth is only important because of what that baby came to do, namely make the trek to Calvary, to suffer and to die in our place. You see, God recognizes us for who we are but does not treat us as our actions deserve. God would have every right to cast us off, to expose us to public disgrace, to leave us to die in our sinfulness. But God at times acts contrary to common sense.

But Paul reminds us, “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.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

This is what God is doing in the Christmas story.

So what does that mean for us? Once we recognize that the Christmas story is more than just a birth announcement, once we understand what God has done in Jesus, we can start to recognize what God is calling us to do.

Like Joseph, we have been called to listen to His voice and trust Him. God knows what He is doing and He does as He promises. Recognizing what God is calling you to do is similar to Joseph and Mary, the shepherds and the wise men. Since He is faithful, we can trust Him. When He speaks through His Word that your sins are forgiven, they really are. When He promises to be with you always, He means it. When His Word is connected to water in Baptism, something amazing happens. When he says “This is my body…this is my blood broken and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” we know that all our sins have been washed away. When He calls us to make disciples of all nations, we need to heed His command.

After Joseph heard the words of the Angel and the promises of God, he obeyed His call. At times it can be hard to listen and obey, but Mary and Joseph listened to what God was saying to them and named the Child Jesus, a name that means “The LORD saves” because that is what this Child would do. As the angel told Joseph, “He will save his people from their sins.”

We too can follow the voice of the Savior. Obey His commands and listen to His call as it comes when we spend time in the Word, as we are gathered for worship, as we respond to His grace, as we live a life of faith.

In many ways living a life a faith is contrary to common sense. A life of faith embraces that which the world dismisses. It is the Christ part of Christmas; a bold witness to the promises of God recognizing what He has done and will continue to do through us. Living a life of faith may be contrary to the world, but it helps us to recognize what we are, and whose we are. Like Joseph, we may think we have it all figured out, but we too have experienced some divine intervention as Jesus Christ intervened in the world so that we can recognize Him as Lord and Savior. Like Joseph, our perspective has changed as to what is considered righteous.

Because Jesus was righteous He did not want us be exposed to public disgrace so He had in mind to quietly enter the world as a babe in Bethlehem to make us righteous. That is something to recognize.

Let us pray…
In this season of anticipation help us to recognize who you are, and what you have done through Jesus. In this season of expectation we prepare to welcome Christ Jesus into the bustle of our lives and the hard to find moments of solitude. We prepare to welcome Christ Jesus into our homes and situations along with friends and families. We prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, into our hearts, and those often hidden parts of our lives. We prepare to welcome Christ Jesus, for beneath the surface of your story is an inescapable fact. You entered this world as vulnerable as any one of us in order to nail that vulnerability to the cross. Our fears, our insecurities and our sins, all that can separate us from God exchanged by your Grace for Love. We cannot comprehend the reasoning only marvel that Salvation comes to us through a baby born in a stable, and reaches out to a world in need. We boldly pray this in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastor Seth Moorman

Monday, December 20, 2010

The One Year Bible- December 20th

As Christmas fast approaches, so does the completion of our journey through the Bible this year. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. This journey never really ends but can be the beginning of some new habits. I hope this year has got you in the habit of daily time in God’s Word. I hope you will continue with this habit whether it is reading the Bible again in this same format or it is another way to study, please keep up the hard work. This is the second to last post for this year. Next week I will wrap up all the readings for the year and then on January 4th I will give the first post of 2010 starting the Bible from the beginning again. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. On to today’s study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament

The book of Jonah is famous for its fish story, and in many respects, that is one of the keys to this book. Jonah tried to run from God. His fear got the best of him and he tried to get away from it. I found it interesting that even in the midst of his flight from God, the Lord was honored. Did you catch it when the men on the same boat as Jonah threw him overboard and the storm stopped? “At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.” (Jonah 1:16 NIV). One great connection to Christ in Jonah comes from mouth of Jesus himself, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40 NIV). Jesus used Jonah to help teach what was going to happen to him; yet again another great connection between the Old and New Testaments.

Micah is one of those gloom and doom books of the latter Old Testament. It has a similar message to many of the other books, i.e. destruction is coming, turn back to God. But there is a huge gem of prophecy in chapter 5, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel” (Micah 5:2 NIV). This is one of the great Christmas prophecies and shows why the Messiah had to be born in the small town of Bethlehem. Just one chapter later we see some great practical advice to the exiles as they live in captivity. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV).

The prophet Nahum writes some of the most comforting and the most disturbing things in the Old Testament. He reminds us that the Lord is slow to get angry (1:3) and he is our refuge (1:7), but what will happen to those who don’t believe (i.e. Nineveh) will be something awful.

I am glad the book of Habakkuk is not so long because most of it is depressing and bad news. Thank goodness for the last two verses of the book, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:18-19 NIV). This is the key to the book. It reminds me in a way to the book of Job who said, “I know that my Redeemer Lives!”

The key to the book of Zephaniah is in Chapter 2, “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility” (Zephaniah 2:3 NIV). Even in the middle of this destruction that will come as a direct result of sin, God still reminds them to do right.

Haggai writes to those who have returned to Jerusalem but were busy building their own houses and not a house for the Lord. Haggai gives the people encouragement to get to work on building the new temple and gives them a reminder that God is with them

The New Testament

I think maybe I need to back up and give you some perspective on the book of Revelation. Without seeing the whole picture, the details will only confuse you. First of all as I have written before, the book of Revelation is in the genre of other apocalyptic books; as the American Heritage Dictionary defines as: Involving or portending widespread devastation or ultimate doom. The book of Revelation looks at this in regards to the end of the world and it looks at it from different angles. As one of my seminary professors said, John sees a vision of the end of the world from three points of view. Each point of view is like a different camera angle shooting the same scene. Each camera sees the action and the characters from a different point of view. Each angle provides certain aspects of the story to be emphasized. Some angles completely obscure the action and something may be lost. When John writes about what he sees we must keep in mind that this is not all happening in linear time as we are used to. John sees the complete destruction of the world with the seven seals on the scroll opened by Jesus himself. Then he sees the destruction of the world again with the seven trumpet blasts. This time different parts of the same story are emphasized. A bit later we will see the seven censers of God’s wrath being poured out. This time John will describe the end of the world from another point of view. In the middle of all of this is the cosmic war between Satan and Christ. We must remember that the war was won for us on the cross and the open tomb. We are part of the group that has been sealed in baptism and we have the mark of God on us. Therefore all of this bad stuff will not affect us. We are assured of our place in heaven already. I hope this give some perspective to you as you read. I will spend some more time next week getting into some of the details.

Bits and Pieces

Only two books to go... We will spend this whole week in the book of Zechariah. Here are the vital stats for the book:

PURPOSE: To give hope to God’s people by revealing God’s future deliverance through the Messiah

AUTHOR: Zechariah

TO WHOM WRITTEN: The Jews in Jerusalem who had returned form their captivity in Babylon and to God’s people everywhere

DATE WRITTEN: Chapters 1-8 were written about 520-518 B.C. Chapters 9-14 were written about 480 B.C.

SETTING: The exiles had returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple, but the work had been thwarted and stalled. Haggai and Zechariah confronted the people with their task and encouraged them to complete it.

KEY VERSES: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey...He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and form the River to the ends of the earth." (9:9-10)

SPECIAL FEATURES: The book is the most apocalyptic and Messianic of all the Minor Prophets.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bethany Bullet - December 14, 2010

Have yourself a merry little Christmas…

Even in the midst of that which is called the most wonderful time of the year it is easy to lose the merry. To aid us in being merry, with or without the singing, the Scripture directs our attention to Mary’s song, “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

In all honesty, I must admit that in circumstances like Mary’s (obviously no one but Mary has ever experienced a virgin birth) each of us knows what it is to experience unexpected, unprecedented, and life altering events; events that bring with them “Hurray’s” and “Oy Vey’s.” I unlike Mary am more prone to find the “Oy” than the joy. I seem to sing a different, yet all too familiar, tune of my own: the “Woe is me!” melody, “You can’t be serious!” ditty, or the “Bleep, bleep, bleep!” chorus. When unexpected, unprecedented, or life altering events come my way and bring with them heartache as well as a handshake, rejoicing is not the first thing I’m heard singing.

You couldn’t blame Mary had she tuned up that negative band, could you? Think about what she is getting:

  1. In trouble with her fiancé. Luke doesn’t record Joseph’s reaction to this news; we have to read Matthew to get that. Do you think Mary needed to read the Gospel account to find out? All she needed to read was Joseph’s face, right? How do you think her husband-to-be is going to feel about her pregnancy with a child that is not his? I don’t think she expects him to be teaming with joy at the news she is expecting - do you?

    Recall what the angel said to Mary when he visited her to share this news. Never in that conversation did Gabriel say, “… and don’t worry about Joseph; an appearance to him is the next thing on my ‘to do’ list.”

    You couldn’t blame Mary had she sang the “Woe is me!” melody could you? Think about what she is getting:
  2. Public shame, ridicule and humiliation for herself and her family. This story begins with Mary hurrying off to her cousin’s home in the country. I’m sure it was a joy and a comfort to go and see someone else who had been visited like herself, by both an angel and an embryo. Yet, I’m also equally sure that this journey wasn’t discouraged by her family. They had been trying on dresses, visiting caterers, tasting cakes, picking out invitations, and finalizing guest lists – now the bride is expecting, and it isn’t the groom’s. How do you expect the small community to respond? What song shall they sing - Silent Night or Go Tell It on the Mountain? Would this be kept a quiet private matter for them to work out or would it be the talk of the town?

    God bothered to send an angel to her, as well as to her cousin and her cousin’s husband (to be continued as we find out in next week’s reading); by Christmas Eve and Epiphany day we will know that He even took time to send angels to shepherds and wise men too. How much trouble would it have been to send one to her parents, to her neighbors, to her pastor, or maybe even to those who sat in the pew with her? Instead, what happens is she is sent off to her cousin’s.

    You couldn’t blame Mary if she took up that all time hit, “Why, Lord, Why - Why Me?” tune. Think about what she is getting:
  3. Hardship…Not just that of being a new bride or being a new mother but being a new bride and a new mother at the same time. Though that all might qualify as hardship. Not only was she a target for gossip & rumor, her child would be a target for exile & murder. They would be forced to journey to Bethlehem while she was nearly due. Then due to the rage of a madman king they would need to flee to Egypt while the child was just a toddler so he wouldn’t become a victim of this ruler.

    You couldn’t blame her if Mary’s song sounded more like “My soul is in anguish, my heart is melting, and my spirit cries out.”
  4. After all that will be the song her son shall sing one day; a song known as the 22nd Psalm whose great refrain is “My God, My God, how you have forsaken me.” In the words of the angel, she is getting a baby; in the words of Simeon, she is getting a sword to pierce her soul.

Maybe Mary just doesn’t get what she is getting? How can all this be on her plate? Yet, what resonates is a hymn of joy.

It doesn’t in my story. Believe it or not, my story is a bit like hers - so is yours for that matter. Think about those things that Mary was getting again.

  • The prospect of divorce and public humiliation through the actions of a spouse or a child or the FATHER.
  • An unwelcomed move, loss of job and home, collapse of future security, rejection by those closest to you, as well as unwarranted, ridiculous & wicked demands by those who rule over you.
  • A parent who outlives a child and another who very well probably died before the child was fully grown.

Sad enough if this is just the stuff of this story, but it isn’t is it? This is the stuff of our stories too. This is the stuff that forms the material to why the song in question was written to begin with. This is why Mary gave birth, that through her Child’s sorrow, shame, and suffering we might ‘get it’ ourselves.

Mary rejoices! She teaches us the key to joy in the midst of “Oy.” Mary finds the joy not in what she is getting but in what God is doing. Joy, real joy and true merriment, is found not in our experience but in God’s advent:

His entrance into this world as Mary’s Babe to redeem it completely and His return to this world as Mary’s Lord to restore it fully.

Pastor Kevin Kritzer

Monday, December 13, 2010

The One Year Bible- December 13th

Someone recently said to me that every day is a battle between what is important and what is immediate. What did they mean by this? The important things are those items on your list; the things that you need to get done. The immediate things are those that other people need you to do for their lists or things that you have no control over. I think this time more than any other we need to find that balance between the important and the immediate. Where is Bible reading in all this? Well it is very important and when you have to write a blog each week it becomes immediate. Don’t let this struggle get you down and remember that in this season, we focus on the important fact that Christ came to be our mediator and that in a truth we can hold on to immediately. On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
We covered a lot of ground this week and we will cover even more next week. Finishing up the book of Hosea we continued to see the symbolism of Gomer and Hosea’s relationship compared to the relationship between the Lord and his people. There are some hard things in this book but the steadfast love of God will persevere no matter what. His love keeps his anger in check, his love wants the best for us, and in his love he will provide a way (think Jesus here) for us. We see this when Hosea writes, I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man— the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath”. (Hosea 11:9 NIV). What comfort we have in our loving God.

Joel is one of those books that we see a lot about “The Day of the Lord”. We discussed this a few weeks ago. We will see its culmination in the book of Revelation as well. Since God is a just God, at some point, he will bring judgment upon those who have disobeyed. We read about the love of God in Hosea, but in Joel we see his judgment and it is not pretty. This will be a time of suffering and strife. One of the keys to the book comes in chapter two, Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2:13 NIV). We should have a change of heart before the Day of the Lord. The Lord says that he will be a refuge and a fortress for his people. There is some good news of grace but it is limited to those who believe.

The message of the book of Amos is similar. Amos describes that day like this, Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him”. (Amos 5:18-19 NIV). Not a good day indeed!! There are many warnings in the book to come back to the safety of Yahweh. The book ends with a mention of the Davidic Covenant (9:11) and a message of hope for all those exiled (9:13-15).

The book of Obadiah gives a message to the land of Edom. Those who live in this land are the descendants of Esau and have caused many problems for God’s chosen people for many years. Judgment is again the main theme and the return of the exiles is secondary. Edom, and when reading between the lines, others like Edom, will be destroyed because of how they treated others.

The New Testament
The small letters of 3 John and Jude are tucked away at the back of the New Testament but that does not mean that they are unimportant. Third John gives us some great words on supporting mission work and the people that are engaged in it. The book of Jude has some interesting quotes in it that make it a bit suspect in some circles. We know that the letter is general in nature being that it is written to all but the author quotes from a book called The Assumption of Moses in his letter. This is a bit odd because that book was never granted status as scripture. Because of this many discount the letter in its entirety. This may be a bit unfair because the book still has some very good and doctrinally sound material in it the best being verses 20 and 21, But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” (NIV)

On to the book of Revelation. This is one of the most intimidating books in the entire Bible. Outside of the Gospels, more has been written on this book than most of the others. I will admit to you that for many years I too have been scared of this book. Lutherans in general shy away from the book because for the most part we don’t sweat the details. We know that the world will end and that God has promised to take care of the believers. I think we have learned our lesson from many of the prophets in their description of “The Day of the Lord”. But just because we don’t worry does not mean we should ignore this book. We need to know what it says especially because other Christian groups spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on this book. We at least must be conversant when someone asks us a question.

The first thing to remember is that the book of Revelation is written as an Apocalypse (meaning revealed in Greek) to John and describes the end of the world using figurative language. We should not get carried away with the literal interpretation of the book. We also need to remember to keep the events of the book within the context that they were intended. John was writing from a first century point of view to people with the same worldview. He was attempting to describe future events so his hearers or readers could understand. We should be weary of placing too much of our own culture and time on the text and make it say things John never intended. Don’t try to read too much into the text!!

As we begin the book we see a vision from John that is remarkably similar to ones we just read in Ezekiel and in Daniel. I think John was trying to use things that he knew to describe amazing things. The four beasts and the halo around God were all seen in the Old Testament as well as the sea of glass. We will get into this more but almost all the time when we see numbers of things, there is meaning there. For example the number three is almost always associated with the triune God, six is the number of evil, seven is the number of perfection and of God, ten signifies completion. Multiples of these numbers give emphasis.

John is told to write letters to the seven Churches in Asia Minor. If seven signifies perfection and God then this letter can be seen as being written to all the Churches in the world; each one giving us a glimpse of ourselves in their strengths and weaknesses.

I don’t want to get you too confused this week so I will let you digest this information first. As you read, remember to keep it in context and remember that almost everything is written in symbolic language.

Bits and Pieces

We already Jonah and started Micah and I forgot to give you the vital stats for those books. We will also read Nahum, Habaakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and we will start Zechariah. I know it is a lot of info, but it is important to get some context before you begin reading.

Here are the vital stats for Jonah:

PURPOSE: To show the extant of God’s grace—the message of salvation if for all people

AUTHOR: Jonah son of Amittai

TO WHOM WRITTEN: Israel and God’s people everywhere

DATE WRITTEN: Approx. 785-760 B.C.

SETTING: Jonah preceded Amos and ministered under Jeroboam II, Israel’s most powerful king. Assyria was Israel’s great enemy, and Israel was conquered by them in722 B.C. Nineveh’s repentance must have been short lived, for it was destroyed in 612 B.C.

KEY VERSE: “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:11)

SPECIAL FEATURES: This book is different from the other prophetic books because it tells the story of the prophet and does not center on his prophecies. In fact, only one verse summarizes his message to the people of Nineveh (3:4). Jonah is a historical narrative. It is also mentioned by Jesus as a picture of his death and resurrection (Matthew 12:38-42)

Here are the vital stats for Micah:

PURPOSE: To warn God’s people that judgment is coming and to offer pardon to all who repent.

AUTHOR: Micah, a native of Moresheth, near Gath, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem

TO WHOM WRITTEN: The people of Israel (the Northern kingdom) and of Judah (the Southern kingdom)

DATE WRITTEN: Possibly during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (742-687 B.C.)

SETTING: Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea

KEY VERSE: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (6:8)

SPECIAL FEATURES: This is a beautiful example of Hebrew poetry. There are three parts, each beginning with “Hear” or “Listen” and closing with a promise

Here are the vital stats for Nahum:

PURPOSE: To pronounce God’s judgment on Assyria and to comfort Judah with this truth


TO WHOM WRITTEN: The people of Nineveh and Judah

DATE WRITTEN: Sometime during Nahum’s prophetic ministry (663-612 B.C.)

SETTING: The particular prophecy took place after the fall of Thebes in 663 B.C.

KEY VERSE: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness. Whatever they plot against the Lord he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. (1:7-9)

Here are the vital stats for Habakkuk:

PURPOSE: To show that God is still in control of the world despite the apparent triumph of evil

AUTHOR: Habakkuk

TO WHOM WRITTEN: Judah (the southern kingdom), and God’s people everywhere

DATE WRITTEN: Between 612-588 B.C.

SETTING: Babylon was becoming the dominant world power and Judah would soon feel Babylon’s destructive force.

KEY VERSE: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” (3:2)

Here are the vital stats for Zephaniah:

PURPOSE: To shake the people of Judah out of their complacency and urge them to return to God

AUTHOR: Zephaniah

TO WHOM WRITTEN: Judah and all nations

DATE WRITTEN: Probably near the end of Zephaniah’s ministry (640-621 B.C.) when King Josiah’s great reforms began.

SETTING: King Josiah of Judah was attempting to reverse the evil trends set by the previous kings. Josiah was able to extend his influence because there wasn’t a strong superpower dominating the world at that time. Zephaniah’s prophecy may have been the motivating factor in Josiah’s reform. Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah

KEY VERSE: “Seek the Lord , all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” (2:3)

Here are the vital stats for Haggai:

PURPOSE: To call the people to complete the rebuilding of the temple

AUTHOR: Haggai

TO WHOM WRITTEN: The people living in Jerusalem and those who had returned from exile


SETTING: The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in 586 B.C. Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple in 538 B.C. They began the work but were unable to complete it. Through the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, the temple was completed.

KEY VERSE: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains in ruins?” (1:4)

SPECIAL FEATURES: Haggai was the first of the post-exilic prophets. The other two were Zechariah and Malachi. The literary style of this book is simple and direct.

I will give you the vital stats for Zechariah next week.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Bethany Bullet - December 7, 2010

Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, and make straight paths for him.’”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
+ + +

  • Maybe John the Baptist is being too harsh? He does come on awfully strong don’t you think?
  • It is not like he was dealing with those who were ‘dealing’ right? He isn’t attempting to promote spirituality to those who were peddling flesh.
  • These aren’t gangsters or mobsters or even seekers - “Hey, you’re not being sensitive enough to my needs.”
  • They aren’t dangerous terrorists, angry atheists, or protesting environmentalists - “Get out of the river and quit eating those bugs.”

These are professional church workers. This is the council of presidents of the Jerusalem Synod with a delegation of the Seminary professors of Concordia Capernaum. These individuals are the leaders of the church. All they have done is show up to see John’s show and they get blasted before they utter a word.

“Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath - you brood of vipers?”

Preaching about not coming to church to the Christmas and Easter crowd isn’t necessarily all that helpful. If on one of the few times you show up to worship, you get judged, condemned, and questioned about not being in church - rather than welcomed and rejoiced over then that might not achieve the intended result. This maybe isn’t the best outreach methodology that John the Baptist could have employed, don’t you think? I know some of you know people who haven’t worshiped regularly in some time. Should you see someone like that this holiday season I sure hope you say, “It is good to see you. I hope you come back soon.” Rather than, “Where the heck have you been to, belly crawling slither’er?”

“Brood of Vipers”
that’s pretty strong stuff; especially when you consider the facts at hand. These men went to worship, they offered sacrifices, they tithed, they prayed daily, they read and memorized scripture. They talked, studied, and wrestled God’s word and His actions in the world. They were members of the church, not just first generation either. They were sons of charter members and graduates of congregational schools. Why does John lash out? Why so strong? “Snake bit, creepy crawlers – venomous horde.” John may have an issue; perhaps he is too comfortable with his image as a rabble rouser.

Or could it be that they have grown too comfortable with being themselves? More importantly, have you? Here you are, reading a message delivered in church this past Sunday. Maybe you even heard it and are reading again today? There are lots of vipers in this world – rapists, pornographers, murderers, bank robbers; why pick on the church goers? Why lash out at us? Could it be that like those who journeyed to John the Baptist all those years ago and we who have journeyed here this morning have grown too comfortable with ourselves and our sins?

We had a theft on campus a while back. One day as some who knew were talking about it, it became clear that they were very upset that someone stole from God.

  • “Stealing is wrong but stealing from God…”
  • “You mean taking from grandma is less offensive than taking from Father?”

Sin is sin, yet some sin we’re not as upset by. Usually it is our own! We left that conversation with someone saying something to the effect, “I guess if we saw all sin as being against Him we’d be more outraged by it.” Especially our own! Have we grown too comfortable with our guilt?

So if you are John do you alarm the vipers or charm the vipers? You know what John’s Cousin does to the viper – crushes its head! The original snake, Satan himself, crushed under the foot of Christ.

+ In that step Christ squashed that which coils round your heart and mine, the serpent serum known as sin.
+ In that step Jesus, who was bitten in exchange but rose triumphant at the last, came to forgive us and to lead us to penitence of our sin even that of being too comfortable with it.

The wrath of which John warns his hearers has fallen fully, on the One and only Person who never sinned and was so uncomfortable with that He continually called people from it.

Today, He, through John, calls us from sin anew.

Repent. Turn from sin…turn to Him again and again, today and tomorrow.


(The above link is to the Book of Concord, Small Catechism with the link leading to “Confession.”)

Pastor Kevin Kritzer

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