Monday, July 25, 2016

The One Year Bible- July 25th

There have been times in my life where I can just feel the presence of God.  At times I can hear his call and he seems close.  But there are also times when God seems distant and far removed from my daily life.  Have you ever felt this way?  Remember that it is all just a matter of perspective.  In reality in our sinfulness we are the ones that drift away.  Sin takes us far from God and in our own minds we try to blame God for leaving us.  Some times I would like God to give me a big sign in the sky to tell me his plan or that he is right there.  The people of the Old Testament got a visual show.  When God’s presence came to earth, the people would see it in the form of a thick cloud.  God revealed himself to his people visually so they could believe.  He did the same when he sent his son Jesus.  Jesus became the walking temple for all of us to see.  Today we can see him every time we partake in the Lord’s Supper, every time we read His Word, and every time he calls another child his own in baptism.  When you think that God is distant, remember that he is right here, closer than you think.  On to the study…

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
Some good stories this week in the Old Testament. Most of the counting and lists are done with and the narrative picks up in earnest. You may not have even been aware that we started 2 Chronicles this week. Solomon continues to build the Temple for the LORD. It was an impressive structure! There was so much gold used it could not be counted. Silver meant nothing and bronze was almost worthless. It is interesting to note that the curtain of the temple is mentioned. It is what separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. This is the curtain that tore in two (in a different temple mind you) when Jesus died. Jesus’ death brings Holy God and sinful man back into a relationship again. It must have been an awesome sight to see the thick cloud of YAHWEH filling the temple. This was the first time in a while that there had been a physical manifestation of God on earth. Solomon’s prayer was a good one and got the people back on track. God’s response to Solomon was also quite amazing. All was good during the life of Solomon but soon he would be buried with his fathers and his son Rehoboam would become king. Rehoboam did not fare to well. He did not listen to his father’s advisors and soon the kingdom was split. Civil war then raged and the Northern Kingdom went on a road to destruction as they worshiped idols and bowed down to other Gods. King Asa tried to get things right with God but it did not last. Jehoshaphat tried to do what was right but we will soon find out that he has troubles as well. Here are the vital stats for the book of 2 Chronicles:

PURPOSE: To unify the nation around true worship of God by showing his standard for judging kings. The righteous kings of Judah and the religious revivals under their rule are highlighted, and the sins of the evil kings are exposed.
AUTHOR: Ezra, according to Jewish tradition
DATE WRITTEN: Approximately 430 B.C., recording the events for the beginning of Solomon’s reign (970 B.C.) to the beginning of the Babylonian captivity (586 B.C.)
SETTING: Second Chronicles parallels 1 and 2 Kings and serves as their commentary. Originally 1 and 2 Chronicles were one book. It was written after the exile from a priestly perspective, highlighting the importance of the temple and the religious revivals in Judah. The northern kingdom, Israel, is virtually ignored in this history.
KEY VERSE: “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV).
KEY PEOPLE: Solomon, the queen of Sheba, Rehoboam, Asa, Jehoshephat, Jehoram, Joash, Uzziah, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Josiah
KEY PLACES: Jerusalem, the temple
SPECIAL FEATURES: Includes a detailed record of the temple’s construction

The New Testament
Paul really gets on a roll in this weeks readings. If you were not convinced you were a sinner before, I bet you are now. Romans six deals with the idea that those who have been united with Christ have been united with him in his death and more importantly in his resurrection. This is great news because now those who are “in Christ” (one of Paul’s favorite phrases) will receive all the benefits of God. Those who are in Christ are dead to sin and alive in Christ. We do not have the freedom to just continue sinning. We are no longer slaves to sin. But then Paul brings up a good point. This is a confusing passage (especially in the NIV) but the NLT (New Living Translation) is a bit clearer for me. “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead I do what I hate...I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:15,18b-20 NLT). Paul realizes that in this world, we are so interwoven with sin that it is impossible to extract ourselves. We are in dire straights! We cry with Paul. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 NIV). In the end it is all about Jesus. He is the only one that can free us from this problem. His death and resurrection make it possible for us to leave the sin of this world behind and live for Him in all we do. We now live our lives by the Spirit of God and we have been adopted into his family. And we can call him Daddy (Abba, Father). This relationship cannot be broken. It holds firm even when sin attacks. Therefore do not worry about your status in the world. The important thing is that we are part of the family of God. On the 27th we will read that being a member of this family is easy, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 ESV). Good news indeed!!!  Now this verse has been used by many Christians to support a view that human beings must do something in order to become a Christian.  This is not a new idea.  Now days we call it “decision theology” but this has been with the Faith for a long time.  To use a $2 word it is called syncretism.  This means that in some way we have to cooperate with God in some way shape or form for our salvation.  When we make some sort of an effort towards God then he will have mercy on us.  The point of view goes something like this:  We encounter the message of salvation and then we need to make a decision to accept this good news.  The power of God does not begin in our lives until we make a conscious choice to follow him.  Until then we are lost.  This point of view is prevalent in many Christian circles.  Those who hold this view are big believers in altar calls and praying the “sinners prayer” in order to become a believer in Jesus.   There are two passages that help me understand that this is not how God operates.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NIV)  Paul also says in Romans 8, The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8 NIV)  When we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, is cannot be an act of a sinful person, because this pleases God.  There must be something that was working in us before we could even do this.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  He works in us before we even know who Jesus is.  He comes to us in the waters of baptism before we can even talk.  He starts working on our sinfulness even before we know.  There is no way we can cooperate with God.  Salvation is his action and his action alone.  I could go on and on with this one but I think you get the idea.  Please let me know if you have any more questions about this. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

The One Year Bible- July 18th

Summer is usually a time of rest and relaxation. But sometimes summer can be just as busy if not more so than the school year. During the school year there is a set rhythm to the days and weeks and months, but summer seems to be a flurry of activity. It reminds me of our life in Christ. We all are looking forward to the day when we can rest in the presence of Jesus. It seems like that day will never come. And as we wait we have been given the task of doing God’s will here on earth. Some days it seems like we will never get it all done, but even when we fail (and we will!), God is right there to forgive us and point us in the right direction again. I hope that through your daily reading of Scripture the Lord speaks to you to not only remind you of the rest that awaits, but His love for you as we carry out His will. On to the study....

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
I will admit that this weeks readings were not too interesting for me, mostly a bunch of lists and numbers. A few things did jump out at me. Fist of all was the repeated mention of the Davidic Covenant that YAHWEH had made with the family of David. This was to last forever but it came to an earthly end. But remember that Jesus is the fulfillment of that covenant and Jesus still sits on the throne that was promise so many years ago. I also thought that it was cool to read about the six-fingered man. It is not too often you hear about them. One last thing that jumped out was the fact that David was the one who made the plans for the temple and gave them to his son Solomon. I am not sure if this is idealized history but it is in the Bible and I believe it.

The New Testament
WOW!! Where to begin? There are many, many books written about Romans and I do not intend to add to the list by using this blog. But I would be remiss if I did not touch on the big theological themes in the book. First of all it is important to remember that Romans reads like a legal court document. Paul is serving as the lawyer who representing faith in Jesus and he is defending his beliefs to a particular group of people at a particular time in history. I do not believe, as others do, that this book contains all that is needed to be a Christian. (i.e. there is no mention of holy communion just to name one). But I do believe that this book contains some of the most important insights into the Faith. First of all, Paul sets up his case by setting out the argument that everyone is a sinner. There is no one who does right. We are all scum, even those who think they are doing what is right (those who follow Jewish Law). God is also a God who shows no favoritism. He hates all sin no matter who does it. Paul brings up the character of Abraham because he is one of the biggies to the Jews. He is like a superhero to them. If anyone deserved to be saved it was Abraham, right? But what does Paul say that makes Abraham a righteous man? Was it is accomplishments, or his attitude, or the fact that he was circumcised? NO! In fact Abraham is declared righteous in Genesis 15 and he is then circumcised in Genesis 17. Abraham was justified by faith, apart from works of the law. We too are justified the same way. We do not magically become Christians by being baptized. We become Christians by faith!! Don't get me wrong here, baptism is important and is powerful, but it is not some pill that is taken or hoop to jump through in order to get "in". That was Paul's point. There is nothing that we do! When we try to earn our own way, or believe that we have some part in this process we get it all mucked up and we forget that this is an action of God and not us. Because we are in this great dilemma, God sent Jesus to us to be a sacrifice for us so we could be saved. It is all passive (by the way almost all of the Greek verbs that describe what we do or become of us are in the passive case). Paul says it way better than I, "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:19 NIV).

One quick thing here. On the 16th of this month we will read from Romans 3 that quotes from Psalm 14 and then we read Psalm 14 on the 18th? How cool is that!!!

I hope your summer is not too busy and that you get some time for some earthly rest. Have a great week, let me know if you have any questions and I will see you all soon.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The One Year Bible- June 11th

This summer is filled with so many things.  So this summer I have prepped and led VBS at Bethany, have planned our annual mission trip to Alaska which leaves at the end of the month, and on Tuesday I fly to New Orleans for the 2016 LCMS National Youth Gathering.  Getting ready for ministry like this is filled with long hours and a lot of stress.  In many ways it is a microcosm of life.  Jesus didn’t say the following him would be easy, in fact he said it would be filled with difficulties.  But they are all worth it when you see the face of a child who is hearing about Jesus for the first time.  So I encourage you to stay in the Word and know that God is with you every step of the way.  On to the study…

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
As you have seen, the book of 1 Chronicles starts out with just a bunch of lists and numbers. It is not easy reading (and I will admit that I have skimmed a bit) but it is setting the stage for the story to come. In his book called “A Theology as Big as the City” Ray Bakke gives some insight to 1 and 2 Chronicles:

“I believe the books called Chronicles emerged from documents compiled by folks combing through the ruins of destroyed cities after the captive and exile in Babylon. The events depicted in Chronicles are from the same period as Samuel and Kings, but they represent a theological perspective not originating in the palace. In Chronicles, Israel is viewed as a theocracy. David and Solomon are idealized, and the message is: Here’s how the Lord meets all needs, both material and spiritual.”

Bakke gives me some perspective when reading this book. A few insights from the readings, first the readings are a bit random at first and hard to understand but don’t let that bug you. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the names and even if you skip through some of it. Second, as you read, try to remember the stories as they were written in Samuel or Kings. How are they different? Chronicles does not give all the details but is like the “Readers Digest” version of the story.

The New Testament
We finished up the book of Acts this week with Paul in Rome having survived a shipwreck on the island of Malta. Paul was sent to Rome to have a trial by Caesar even though Felix, Festus and Agrippa all could find no reason to keep him. Felix did hope that Paul would bribe him but Paul didn’t and that is one of the reasons he probably stayed in Caesarea so long. During the hearings, Paul takes the opportunity to share his own testimony and to witness about Jesus Christ. Paul shares his conversion experience again (the third time in Acts) and gives glory to God in all he does. Paul summarizes his doctrine by saying, “But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23 NIV). We will see this doctrine again and again as we read through Paul’s letters. A few interesting things at the end of the book, first off, Paul gets bit by a snake and lives! That is pretty cool. The people first thought it was “karma” that a prisoner would get bit by a snake, but when he did not die they all though he was a god. I would like to have known how Paul responded to this, but Luke moves on in the story. We learn that Paul is under house arrest in Rome but many people come to hear him talk and he shares the message of Jesus with them. One thing of note here is that Paul had already sent his letter to the Romans before he even arrived, so there were already believers in the city. An apostle did not start the church in Rome; Jews who were converted in Jerusalem at Pentecost most likely started it. The end of the book is a bit strange. Why do we not know the outcome of the trial with Caesar? How long did Paul stay in Rome? Where did he go after? How did he die? These are all good questions but they don’t all have good answers from scripture. We can piece together the end of Paul’s life from other sources but it is a bit blurry. Some theologians believe that Luke intended to write a third volume to the story. If he did, it has been lost to history. We will have to ask Luke when we get to heaven why the end is so abrupt.

Bits and Pieces
We will start the book of Romans this week. I love this book but I will try to limit my discussions of the text since I could teach a semester class with all the things that we can find in this letter. I will share the big ones with you. Here are the vital stats of the book:

PURPOSE: To introduce Paul to the Romans and to give a sample of his message before he arrives in Rome.
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The Christians in Rome and believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 57, from Corinth as Paul was preparing for his visit to Jerusalem.
SETTING: Apparently Paul had finished his work in the east, and he planned to visit Rome on his way to Spain after first bringing a collection to Jerusalem for the poor Christians there. The Roman church was mostly Jewish but also contained a number of Gentiles.
KEY VERSES: “The righteous will live by faith” (1:17b) “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1)
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Phoebe
SPECIAL FEATURES: Paul wrote Romans as an organized and carefully presented statement of his faith—it does not have the form of a typical letter. He does, however, spend considerable time greeting people in Rome at the end of the letter.
Have a great week!!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Bethany Bullet - Week of July 3, 2016

We finish up our time in the book of Galatians as we turn to chapter 6. Before we get into the text let me remind you where we have been.

Many Bible scholars and your two pastors are of the opinion that this letter was most likely the very first New Testament book to be written.  It comes before Paul is put into a physical prison, yet talks extensively about freedom.

There were some in the community who, after Paul left the Galatian church, began to influence the new believers that there was something they had to do in order to be a follower of the Messiah. 

The ceremonial requirements of the law, they said, needed to be followed as a prerequisite to being a believer. 

But as we heard when we began our study of this book, the Gospel is no longer the Gospel if there is anything we need to do to be a follower of Jesus. 

Throughout the letter Paul has been talking about two different things; justification and sanctification.  We spent time with this last week but let me give you a quick reminder.

In Christ we have been justified, that is our bill has been paid, our account has no debt, we are all square, everything is lined up correctly in our relationship to the Almighty ONLY because of what Jesus has done. It is a state of being.

We claim no merit, we add nothing, we don’t deserve it and we are made right only through the blood of Jesus and his defeat of sin, death and the power of the devil.

When we are justified, it is “just as if I’d” never sinned.  “We are a new creation in Christ, the old is gone the new has come.” (Those are Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 5:17)



The End! 

We have been freed from the tyranny of sin!  We could stop right there because there is nothing else that is needed in regards to our salvation.

But that is not where Paul stops.  He goes on to talk about our response to all of this.  That is what we call sanctified living

Last week we talked about that freedom that we have to live for God. We also saw how this is a struggle between our sinful flesh and our Spirit filled life. 

Sanctification is that daily battle we all face, and, that we all too often fail at living for the Spirit.  But that does not mean we give up.  We are freed, not to do anything we want but freed to serve others in love. 

It’s important for us not to get the cart before the horse when we think of Justification and Sanctification. 
We don’t do things so that God will love us.  But we are still called to do things that please God. 

I had a seminary professor explain it this way. 

Many feel that the life of a Christian is “Do, be, do, be, do”

Meaning that some think we need to do something before we are justified.

But really the Christian life is, “Be, do, be, do, be”

I know the grammar is not correct, but the doctrine is.

We ARE justified, it is a state of being, and because we are, we can do…do for others.

So when you get confused remember, it’s not “Do, be, do, be, do” it’s “Be, do, be, do, be.”  Always ending on the “be” that you “are” justified on account of Christ.

OK, Pastor, that’s a lot of talk and we haven’t even gotten into the text for this Sunday morning.  Yes, I know, but to understand the end of the letter we need to have some perspective before we see how Paul closes it out. 

So, let’s dig in…

From Galatians 6, starting at verse 1:  Once again this week I am reading from the New International Version, the one that is in the pew Bibles.  “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)

Paul is talking about interpersonal relationships here.  Like we did last week, as we look to the original language we get a little more perspective.  You could rightfully translate the beginning of verse one as “whenever someone is caught in sin…”  

In reality, at some point, every one of us will be caught in sin, be it by a brother or sister coming to us in love or by the work of the law showing us our sin. 

Paul hearkens back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)

When we correct and admonish one another we do so not to lord it over them but sharing the burden with them.  We do not walk the road of sanctification alone.  And we walk the way with humility and grace.

Paul continues, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  Each one should test his own actions.  Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.”  (Galatians 6:3-5)

Not only is the stronger believer’s kindness and consideration important for the weaker believer, but such action is important for the stronger believer also. 

The temptation is always there for the stronger believer to compare him or herself to the weaker and then feel smug in a position of relative strength, but that is falling into sinful behavior.  We need to understand that we all carry the load in the life of sanctification.

This is not something to be proud about.  We should never go wagging our fingers at others in judgmental disagreement upon their sin.   That’s God’s job, and the law does a pretty good job at it as well.  We are all in need of God’s grace and mercy.

Because we have been freed from sin, we freely give help, encouragement and share words of grace and mercy with others who need it.  This is living free in the Spirit. This is living a life of sanctification.  This is “Be, do, be, do, be.”

In Christ, and in the Spirit we are able to carry one another’s burdens.

Moving on to verse 6, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  (Galatians 6:6-9)

In Paul’s encouragement to the Galatians it is very important to remember that the activities he is discussing is sanctified living. 

The activity of proper sowing is not in and of itself the thing that leads to reaping eternal life. 

Rather, the sowing is a Christian’s response, which is the proper use of the material things God has given.

The sowing is an outward indication that living faith is at work in the believers’ life.

It’s “Be, do, be, do, be” not “Do, be, do, be, do.”

Paul describes the sanctified life this way in verse 10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10)

This does not mean we play favorites.  Paul calls us to do good, that is bring the love and grace of God in Christ to all people.  We do not get to pick and choose, but we should never turn our backs or our works on the family of faith.

Paul continues in verse 14 and following, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.  Neither circumcision nor un- circumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.  Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:14-16)

Paul doesn’t launch a full scale attack on circumcision; instead he returns to the core issue, salvation does not come by anything we do.  Nothing we do improves our statues before God.  It’s not “Do, be, do, be, do.”

What counts is a new creation. And that new creation is what happens when sinners come to faith in Christ. 
By faith we exchange our own filthy rags for the glorious garment of Christ perfect righteousness.  Clothed in this, we are forgiven, at peace with God, assured of an eternity of bliss with God in heaven. 

Until that time, we spend our days on earth in cheerful service to the God who gives us everything by grace, freely as a gift. 

We cannot boast in works, or actions, or earthly status.  The only thing we boast about is the cross and in that alone. 

The rule here is just that, to boast in Christ and his cross alone. 

It is at the cross that we are made heirs of Christ and receive the blessings of eternal life so that our lives may be described as “Be, do, be, do, be.” 

Paul puts his “money where his mouth is” at the end as he says, “Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen” (Galatians 6:17-18)

Paul paid the price and experiences personal suffering and hardships because of Christ and he had the scars to prove it.  But I think there is more to it than just telling scar stories and showing how much he endured, but Paul, and every one gathered here today has been marked by Jesus.

His scars have marked you as his own.  He has called you by name and even placed His name upon you in baptism.  The marks of Jesus are given to us as a deposit and guarantee of what Jesus promised by his life death and resurrection, that you are his forever. 

For that he desires the grace of Jesus to be with all believers.

So forgive my bad grammar and let me say, never forget who you “be” so that you can “do” in His grace for others.  It all about “Be, do, be, do, be.”

-Pastor Seth Moorman

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