Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bethany Bullet - September 30, 2014

God at Work FOR us is the dominion of ALONE!   We are saved by grace ALONE!  On account of faith in Christ ALONE!  Without any work or merit of our own… i.e. (Christ’s work alone)

However, God at Work IN us and THROUGH us is the territory of TOGETHERNESS!  Such has been the case since the garden when God so declared that it was “not good for man (i.e. us) to be alone.”

You might live completely on your own, you might work were no one else draws a pay-check, you might make your way to church by yourself, but we simply can’t do life alone. We weren’t made to try and we’re called into the company of God’s community!

Even though relationships can be messy and congregational meetings can be feisty, we are made to operate within community.  From our families, to our neighborhood, from our places of employment and instruction, to our congregation the Lord has chosen to God IN us most often THROUGH others; and conversely He has chosen to work IN others THROUGH us! 

-Pastor Kevin Kritzer

The One Year Bible- October 6th

A few years ago I was teaching a class here at Bethany called “The Divine Drama” which studies the overarching themes found in scripture and how the Bible tells one story of salvation. One of the lessons in the study is about the prophets of the Old Testament.  In the text book the author, Rev. Dr. Harry Wendt, gives some good info that we can use as we study the prophets. 

The prophetic books constitute one-third of the Old Testament, or one-quarter of the Bible.  They empower people today to hear, in astonishing ways, the passionate proclamations of those to whom the LORD revealed his truth and will.  To understand the message and mission of Jesus the Messiah, we must understand the ministry of Israel’s ancient prophets.  After all, Jesus was that expected Final Prophet (see Deuteronomy 18:15, Mark 9:7)

To really understand Jesus we need to understand the prophets, and when we understand the prophets we will fully understand the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
This week I have been searching for the nuggets of grace in Jeremiah. All too often we get bogged down with the repeated message of the coming doom and destruction. I hope you can start seeing the nuggets of grace as well.

“’But even in those days, declares the LORD, I will not make a full end of you..”—Jeremiah 5:18 ESV

Here Yahweh gives some hope to his continued message of exile and punishment. This faithful remnant would return to the Promised Land and set the stage for the coming of the Messiah.

“‘But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD..’”—Jeremiah 9:24 ESV

Yahweh describes his true character in this verse. Even though punishment is coming (and it is deserved) he still is full of love. The exile showed his justice. It was not a good time for the people but it was to benefit them as a whole and again make way for the Messiah.

“‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.  He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit..’”—Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV

God is the one who has planted us; his living streams water us. When we stay connected to this living water we continue to grow and we have nothing to worry about. When we think we can go on our own, we start having problems.

I have said it before and I will say it again now, don’t get discouraged by hearing all the gloom and doom news from Jeremiah. Try to mine the gems of good news.

The New Testament
In my studies this week I found some great information in “The Peoples Commentary Bible” by Harlyn J. Kuschel. The following paragraphs are from that book:

Only two of the thirteen letters of the New Testament authored by Paul we addressed to congregations he had not founded and most of whose members he had never met. One was Romans the other was Colossians. About four or five years after the founding of the church in Colosse, its pastor Epaphras came to Rome to visit Paul. Why would he make the 1300 mile journey just to see Paul? There were some problems with the church in Colosse. They were being influenced by some ideas that mixed Judaism, Pagan religions, and Christianity. Thier message included a belief in self-salvation. This was a danger to the true teaching of Jesus. Epaphras wanted to discuss this with Paul personally. In the letter Paul does not directly address those who are teaching falsely in the church. He simply overwhelms their errors by confronting the Colossians with the full riches of the Gospel of Christ. Throughout the letter there is constant emphasis on the greatness of Christ. Paul knew that the more thoroughly the Colossian believers understand the person and work of Christ, the better equipped they will be to recognize and reject errors like the one seeking to win its way into their congregation.

From the time that this epistle was written to our own day the clear message of the gospel and salvation by grace through faith in Christ has been obscured by many false teachers. In Colossians Paul cuts through all the confusion of human laws and ideas and simply and directly points us to Christ. Christ is sufficient for our eternal salvation, and he is sufficient for our day-to-day living as his children.

One of the things that struck me this week as I was reading through Colossians is the wonderfully clear view of Christ it presents. We see that Jesus was fully God and fully man. He was the Messiah and salvation comes only through him. His ministry was one of love and caring so that “Christ is all, and in all.” (ESV) or as the New Living Translation says, “Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us” (Colossians 3:11b NLT).

Chapter 4 has one of the best messages of evangelism in the entire New Testament. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.(Colossians 4: 5-6 NIV). We all should live our lives in such a way.

I know we got into 1 Thessalonians a bit this week too but I will hold my comments on it until next week.

Bits and Pieces

We will finish 1st as well as 2nd Thessalonians this week. We will also start on 1 Timothy. Here are the vital stats on 2 Thessalonians:

PURPOSE: To clear up the confusion about the second coming of Christ
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The church at Thessalonica, and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 51 or 52, a few months after 1 Thessalonians from Corinth
SETTING: Many in the church were confused about the timing of Christ’s return. Because of mounting persecution, they though the day of the Lord must be imminent, and they interpreted Paul’s first letter to say that the second coming would be at any moment. In light of this misunderstanding, many persisted in being idle and disorderly, with the excuse of waiting for Christ’s return.
KEY VERSE: “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance” (3:5)
LAW THEMES: Steadfastness; affliction; eternal destruction; man of lawlessness; idleness.
GOSPEL THEMES: The Gospel message; God’s righteousness; Jesus gathers us; the Spirit sanctifies us.
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Silas, Timothy
KEY PLACE: Thessalonica
SPECIAL FEATURES: This is a follow-up letter to 1 Thessalonians. In this letter, Paul indicates various events that must precede the second coming of Christ.

Here are the vital stats for 1 Timothy:
PURPOSE: To give encouragement and instruction to Timothy, a young leader.
TO WHOM WRITTEN: Timothy, young church leaders, and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 64, from Rome or Macedonia (possibly Philippi), probably just prior to Paul’s final imprisonment in Rome
SETTING: Timothy was one of Paul’s closest companions. Paul had sent Timothy to the church at Ephesus to counter the false teaching that had arisen there. Timothy probably served for a time as a leader in the church at Ephesus. Paul hoped to visit Timothy, but in the meantime, he wrote this letter to give Timothy practical advice about the ministry.
KEY VERSE: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (4:12)
LAW THEMES: Charged/Appointed with service; thread of false teachers; management.
GOSPEL THEMES: The glorious Gospel; salvation through Christ, our Mediator; hallowed by God’s Word/grace.
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Timothy
KEY PLACE: Ephesus
SPECIAL FEATURES: First Timothy is a personal letter and handbook of church administration and discipline.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The One Year Bible- September 29th

This week we turn the calendar to another month and nothing says October like the Major League Baseball playoffs or Sunday Football, perhaps it’s the dusty corners that turn into pumpkin patch carnivals, but ask any of the readers of “The One Year Bible” and they will tell you October is for the book of Jeremiah. Beginning October 3rd and going all the way until the 28th, Jeremiah holds its spot as the most days spent on any book (other than Psalms and Proverbs which we read every day). So settle in and get comfortable. Get your hot cider and your blanket because it is time to cuddle up with Jeremiah (that is a joke, if you don’t get it, you will soon). On to the study for today...

Where We Have Been

The Old Testament
I said last week I would spend some time talking about the book of Isaiah. I continue to be fascinated with this book every time I read it. There has been much debate on whether Isaiah actually wrote the entire thing. Most of this controversy is not worthy of mention here. In my mind, the arguments are not very convincing. For me, the one thing that really glues the whole book together is the continued mention of “The Holy One of Israel”. We talked about this a bit a few weeks ago. This phrase occurs 26 times in the book and only 6 times outside of the book. The overarching theme of the book to me is one that unveils the full dimensions of God’s judgment and salvation. God is “The Holy One” who must punish his rebellious people, but will afterward redeem them. This not only came to pass with the remnants return to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah, but also came to pass with the coming of Immanuel, God with us, in the person of the Christ child born in Bethlehem. The parallels are striking. The book of Isaiah refers to the people as evil, wicked, prostitutes, selfish, and [place your own adjective here]. Sounds a bit like the circumstances when Jesus arrived, not to mention today. Isaiah, like no other book, spells out the wonderful plan of salvation in the promised Messiah. Not only was salvation found in the remnant returning, it also was found in the person, work, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This same salvation can be found today through the power of Jesus Christ, in His word, and through what he left behind, namely baptism and communion. I don’t want to get too philosophical or theological on you, but just stop for a moment and sit in the majesty of God who, in his perfect plan, provided a way for you, a lowly sinner, to be made right with him. How awesome is that. Other main themes in the book include holiness, and hope. God is the one true God, who is holy and desires us to be holy too. There is a wonderful sense of hope in the book as well. Because of the promises from God, we have hope in salvation and hope of eternal life with him forever. Please know I am pouring in some meaning from other parts of the Bible that bring these themes out for me, but that does not change the fact that I believe that Isaiah was talking about them as well.

We will start Jeremiah this week and we will spend quite a while chewing on the topics in this book in the weeks to come. It may sound like Jeremiah keeps repeating himself, and that is true, but only because the people are not listening to the message. They just don’t get it. Look for the following mega-themes to come out in your reading and in our studies: Sin & Punishment (similar to Isaiah), God is Lord of All, New hearts, Faithful service. We will spend some more time on these themes in the weeks to come.

The New Testament
We finished off the book of Ephesians this week with the armor of God. I always thought this was great original imagery from Paul, then I read from Isaiah one day later,
He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head” (Isaiah 59:17 NIV) I guess Paul really knew his Old Testament well!! The idea of the Armor of God is great concrete imagery that can be quite useful in teaching about the faith.

We did get to experience this week one of my favorite things about reading the Bible this way. We got to read an entire book (even though it was a small one) in just a few days. This is cool now but when we get a bunch of small books in a row coming up it will be hard to keep it all straight. The one thing to say about the book of Philippians is, rejoice! It seems to be a recurring theme with Paul in this letter. Paul rejoices for the people in Philippi and he instructs them to rejoice always and in everything. One amazing passage jumped out at me this week, For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:21-24 NIV) What a great vision Paul has. Sometimes we get the “poor is me” attitude and it gets us down. Paul takes it the other way and says, “I don’t care what you throw at me, I still know that God will be honored.” I pray I can have that attitude every day. Philippians chapter two has one of the most amazing descriptions of who Jesus is. This is a great passage to share with someone who is just starting the journey of the Christian life. Paul gives us some great words of comfort and of hope in this letter. Two last quotes, But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14 NIV)I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13 NIV) I can’t say it much better than that. I like to go to this book whenever I need a pick me up. It is full of great phrases and encouragement.

Bits and Pieces

The Old Testament
Get ready for a steady stream of warnings from Jeremiah about destruction from the North and to repent and turn back to God. We will see this play out over and over again in the next few weeks.

The New Testament
We will finish up the book of Colossians and get into 1 Thessalonians this week. Here are the vital stats for the book:

PURPOSE: To strengthen the Thessalonian Christians in their faith, and give them assurance of Christ’s return
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The church at Thessalonica and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 51 from Corinth; one of Paul’s earliest letters
SETTING: The church at Thessalonica was very young, having been established only two or three years before this letter was written. The Thessalonian Christians needed to mature in their faith. In addition, there was a misunderstanding concerning Christ’s second coming—some thought Christ would return immediately, and thus they were confused when their loved ones died because they expected Christ to return beforehand. Also, believers were being persecuted.
KEY VERSE: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (4:14)
LAW THEMES: Imitation; affliction; parental care; God’s Word at work; God’s wrath; idleness.
GOSPEL THEMES: Deliverance; God’s Word at work; resurrection of the dead; salvation; complete sanctification; God’s faithfulness
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Timothy, Silas
KEY PLACE: Thessalonica

SPECIAL FEATURES: Paul received from Timothy a favorable report about the Thessalonians. However, Paul wrote this letter to correct their misconceptions about the resurrection and the second coming of Christ.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bethany Bullet - September 23, 2014

There is a quote that is widely ascribed to Martin Luther that says, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.”  Whether Luther ever said that or not, doesn’t really matter, because the sentiment is true; we don’t have to import a Christian message into the places God has called us to work, because all vocations have a divine calling and God is already there as we work, for Him.  

Last week in worship Pastor Kevin Kritzer laid the foundation for our Parish Theme for this year of ‘God At Work.’  He reminded us that we see God at Work:

FOR us in Christ to grant forgiveness
IN us through the Holy Spirit to create faith
THROUGH us in the world to facilitate His presence

Today, I want to start with our New Testament lesson from Ephesians chapter 4. Paul begins, I, a prisoner in the Lord, encourage you to live the kind of life which proves that God has called you. Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other.”  (Ephesians 4:1-2)

Before we go any further, let’s remember…We are saved only by the grace of God, and we contribute absolutely nothing of our own actions to the work of Christ.  In that mysterious exchange upon the cross, Jesus bore all our sins, received all of the punishment that we deserve, and gave to us all of His righteousness.  We come to God as sinners, not as doers of good works, and what we receive from Him is pure, free, and unconditional forgiveness.

I’m sure you have heard the familiar words of St. Paul from earlier in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

God doesn’t need (and in fact cannot use) our good works.  Though our relationship with God has nothing to do with our works, good or bad, and is indeed, totally God’s work, but Paul continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).

By virtue of our creation, our purpose in life is to do good works, which God Himself “prepared” for us to do.  We are God’s workmanship, which means that God is at work in us and through us to do the work He intends.  God might not need them, but they are still important.

Often times, when we think of God at Work, we think in mystical terms, as an otherworldly magical power, not something so close to home.  God works in mysterious ways, not in ordinary ways, we think.  If He is going to heal us, we expect something spectacular—a miraculous rising from the wheelchair or hospital bed, something that doctors cannot explain.

Sometimes this happens, but the usual way He heals us is more mundane, though none-the-less wonderful as He works through the hands of doctors and nurses, medications and procedures.

If He is going to talk to us, we want a giant billboard along the freeway, a booming voice from heaven, writing in the sky, or at least an inner voice, if not a mystical vision.

The fact that He uses a book…mere ink on paper…much less a preacher, whom we know is no different from us, can seem like a letdown.

The truth is – God does indeed work in all things.  I think in our modern world we have lost the notion that God works through means, through the stuff, locations, and vocations of life. 

For countless generations it was assumed and accepted that God causes it to rain.  Then the scientists of the Enlightenment presented data about air pressure, relative humidity, and cold fronts.  That, they say, is what causes it to rain; we don’t need God to explain it. But knowing the chemical and metrological process involved by no means diminishes the fact that it is still God who makes it rain.  He is the one who designed, created, and sustains all of these natural processes.  He works through means. 

Water and Word, bread and wine, these are the means by which God works in the spiritual kingdom, but He is by no means bound here.  Yes God’s grace, the message of His love and forgiveness in Christ comes to people through the sacraments which are tangible manifestations of the Gospel.  He works through means.

God also works through means in the earthly kingdom.  God works through the natural laws built into creation.  He rules the nations, including those who don’t know Him by means of His moral law and He works in the so-called secular world by means of vocation. That is, He institutes families, work, and organized societies, giving human beings particular parts to play in His vast design.  He works through means.

We find God at work in us hidden in the vocations of His dearly loved children.  God’s fatherhood looms behind human fathers, and the marriage relationship is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

God is at Work as He provides for our needs.  He uses civil magistrates to protect us.  He uses parents to take care of us and spouses and families to bless us. 

Luther goes so far to say that vocation is a mask of God.  That is, God hides Himself in the workplace, the family, the church, and seemingly in secular society. 
To realize that the seemingly mundane activities that take up most of our lives—going to work, taking the kids to soccer practice, picking up a few things at the store, going to church—are hiding places for God can be a revelation in itself.  It makes the mundane, divine.

Most people seek God in mystical experiences, spectacular miracles, and extraordinary acts.  To find God in vocation brings Him, literally down to earth, make us see how close He really is to us, and transfigures everyday life. 

The work that God does through us, the good works of life, are not meant for God, but for our neighbor.  Look at those around you. You are literally surrounded by God at Work.  As God works through us we are God’s representatives no matter where we have been called in life. 

If you have been called to the boardroom, you do so by God to work for Him.  If you have been called to the classroom, or cubicle, the construction site, or the community center, you do so by God, to do His work. All vocations are divine by nature, instituted by God and how God works through you each and every day.

God is hidden in vocation, that is true, but in some ways it is also true that God is hidden in our neighbor.
Christ is hidden in our neighbors and all those in need.  Sometimes our neighbors may not seem all that loveable, but Jesus loved them and died for them. How could we not love them?

The farmer and the others who feed the hungry are feeding Christ. The mother dressing her baby is clothing Christ.  The nursing home attendant who meets the needs of the resident is taking care of Christ.  When we serve our neighbor, we are serving God.

You might be saying, what about me?  I’m not working any more, where is my vocation?  What about my family member who is home bound or being cared for by others?

Many of you know that my mother was in full time residential care for 19 years.  Suffering from an undiagnosed neurological disorder, she could no longer care for herself. 

Earlier this year when Rev. Dr. James Lamb from Lutherans for Life was here for life Sunday he said something most amazing. He said (and I am paraphrasing) that when he talks to those who are home bound, or relegated to residential or convalescent care he tells them that they have the privilege to be Jesus to others and he reminds them of Jesus words in Matthew 25, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

What comforting words! My mom’s 19 year tenure in nursing homes was not a waste, it was not punitive, or the act of an unloving God, but an extension of my mother’s ministry on earth. For years her vocation was that of a classroom teacher where she cared for the students in her classroom, later her vocation was that as mother as she cared for her children, but that was not the end of her ministry or her vocation.  She continued to be Jesus to those who took care of her, who fed her, bathed her, and took care of her needs, and in the end, when she finally entered paradise, she heard the wonderful words of the Savior, “Well done, good a faithful servant.” So today I have renewed hope and a changed perspective on service to the Savior and the idea of vocation. May I be blessed to be Jesus to others for as long as my mother.

There will be moments in life where your actions are not the actions of Christ, where you will not be working for God but working for your own selfish ambitions having given in to the temptations of Satan.  When that time comes, and it will, remember that God was at work for you in Christ.  He calls you by name, invites you into his presence here in His house and He hears your confession.  He worked a miracle on the cross and through the open tomb and announces that as far as the East is from the West, so far has he removed your sin from you. 

That is why we come back again and again to this place, because we know that God is at work through means.  In this place there is forgiveness, nourishment and refreshment that will strengthen you to be God at Work, wherever God has called you. 

So let’s end where we began, with Paul’s encouraging words to the Ephesians, I, a prisoner in the Lord, encourage you to live the kind of life which proves that God has called you. Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other.”  (Ephesians 4:1-2)
Let us pray…

-Pastor Seth Moorman

Monday, September 22, 2014

The One Year Bible- September 22nd

A number of years ago I was introduced to a form of devotion and reading called Lectio Divina. In short, it is a tool to use when you are reading God’s word. Here is a quick definition: Lectio Divina is Latin for divine reading, spiritual reading, or "holy reading," and represents a method of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God and to provide special spiritual insights. It is a way of praying with Scripture that calls one to study, ponder, listen and, finally, pray from God's Word. In the past I have used this tool to stop and spend some time just chewing on God’s word and praying through what I am reading. I encourage you to give it a try. One thing you have been doing without even knowing it is something called Lectio Continua which is Latin for continuous reading. It is the discipline of reading the entire Bible without omitting anything. Both Lectio Continua and Lectio Divina can bring some depth as well as breadth to the study of God’s Word. On to the study...
Seth’s Thoughts
The Old Testament
I think I could write a novel on what we found in Isaiah this week. I think I told you that I am putting a star in the margin of my Bible each time I read “The Holy One Of Israel”. Remember that this is a term that points to the coming Messiah, Jesus. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to remember who the “I” is in some of these passages. Sometimes it is Yahweh, other times it is Isaiah. Make sure you know who is talking. This will go far in helping you understand some of the significance of the passage. Some general thoughts; we have entered the second part of the book of Isaiah and we will start to see much more of a prophetic message. Isaiah’s audience has changed from the people living in the Promised Land, to the exiles living in captivity. Here we see a message of hope and promise. Chapter 40 begins the new section with such a message, “Comfort, comfort my people says your God” (Isaiah 40:1 NIV). The people are in need of comfort because of what has happened. The people have been exiled. They are living in a foreign land and they need to hear the comforting words of their God. Chapter 40 gives a hope filled message and ends with a verse near and dear to my heart, “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 NIV). This verse is my confirmation verse given to me by my father. It has been a source of comfort and hope for me for most of my life. I know that God is right there beside me giving me the strength I need to do his will. He promises to be with me when all other things seem to go wrong. Chapter 41 continues this same theme. Some of the most controversial parts of the book of Isaiah come from the sections where he mentions a character named Cyrus. He is called a shepherd, and one who will fulfill the purpose of God. He is also called an ally of God. Some translations use the Hebrew word Messiah to describe him. Cyrus was not a follower of Yahweh, he was the king of Persia, and a Gentile. He was used by God to bring the remnant back to the Jerusalem. Many believe that this name was inserted in later years to make Isaiah look good. There is no proof of this, and we should be careful to say that God was not the one who inspired Isaiah to write about this king. Many years later it would come to pass that King Cyrus would issue a decree that would allow many Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and more importantly the temple. Isaiah also spends much time on the topic of monotheism. There are so many references to the Messiah in Isaiah it is hard to mention them all. Keep on looking for things that seem familiar to the life of Christ. I will post some of the connections in an upcoming post.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the vital stats for the book of Colossians:

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

SPECIAL FEATURES: Christ is presented as having absolute supremacy and sole sufficiency. Colossians has similarities to Ephesians, probably because it was written at about the same time, but it has a different emphasis.

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