Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation 2010!

Today's readings, for the 493rd celebration of the Reformation, are Psalm 46 (sermon text), Romans 3:19-28, and John 8:31-36 (this text includes my confirmation verses).

What led Luther toward this Psalm? He used it for his classic hymn - "refuge" can be a shield and "strength" a weapon. How is God present, as a refuge and strength, among His people? He is present in His Word; though the mountains may "give way" (connoting a changing world), His Word will not pass away. The LORD is steadfast, immovable, faithful. The Word is also "a river" nourishing and restoring us.

God speaks - and things change. "It is finished." "Peace, be still." One little word can fell the tempter and accuser. Luther took refuge in this fact when in fear. He stood on Christ alone, and so do we! As a more contemporary example, the forerunners of the LCMS were in the midst of distressing changes, being uprooted into America, but they clung to the faith. This yielded Walther's Law and Gospel, Pieper's Dogmatics, Maier's "Lutheran Hour," Hoffman's preaching.

What remains? God's voice. Lutherans hold to this, even as the world turmoils, demographics change, people fall away. God still speaks through His people, the Church. Therefore the Reformation is a present reality, not merely church history. God is with us. Who can stand against us?

Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pentecost 22 (Proper 25)

Today's readings: Deuteronomy 15:1-11, 2 Corinthians 9:6-10, and Luke 12:13-21 (sermon text). Step 6: "We Follow Jesus' Example of Giving."

Money...how is one to divide his inheritance? Jesus deflected this challenge by warning of greed, the central issue. Greed has been defined as the desire for anything more than we need. Colossians 3:15 defines greed as idolatry, for its object is the greedy person's god. Not a petty sin. Jesus therefore focuses on it with a parable - the rich man who, though he is rich, brings nothing into and takes nothing out of the world.

What, then, is the heart of giving? It is not the amount, but the reason, the relationship behind it (John 3:16 being the prime example). It's possible to give without love, but impossible to love without giving; since we have been called to follow God, we give. Think of your attitude when you tithe - pray for it to be "love," not "how much?"

There is no doubt of God's love for you. Christ Jesus is love in action; He gave all because He loves. Whose footsteps are you following? Christ's footsteps are sharing, worshiping, serving, steeping in Scripture, being a friend, growing in Him, and giving because we love; love because He first loved us, proving it by giving us all we need and don't deserve. Follow (Matthew 16:24-27) in His footsteps.

What an opportunity! Think: Whose footsteps? It matters. Examine your heart (Psalm 51) - where is it, in which kingdom? Give freely as you have been blessed freely (Luke 12:22ff), not worrying. The LORD will provide because He walks with us.

Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"That the World May Know": Ancient Israel

This week's Bible study put into context, with the help of a Focus on the Family video (part of a series), two aspects of Old Testament imagery to help modern-day Christians understand the Word better.

Part 1: The LORD is my shepherd. Texts: Psalm 23 and John 10:1-18.
  • In OT and NT wilderness imagery, God is the chief Shepherd, prophets and kings are undershepherds, and the people are sheep.
  • Children would do shepherding work (as undershepherds) while a man supervised from an elevated spot. Parents are also undershepherds in this way - children listen to their voice and watch their feet for how to walk.
  • Goats wander while sheep follow. They do not recognize a stranger's voice; the shepherd walks ahead, expecting to be followed. The fire-pillar in the Exodus "walked ahead" of the people, while Revelation 1:15 compares Christ's feet to furnace-hot metal, a pillar of fire.
  • Food - the shepherd provides daily/immediate grass, so don't worry about today or tomorrow, since He will find grass for you when you need it. God is always our Shepherd!
  • Quiet waters are rare in the wilderness, so unguided sheep gravitate toward pools by wadis, but those can kill the drinker. Be thirsty, but let God lead you to safe water. Streams will not always be visible, but you know they are there by the size and maturity of the trees "planted by streams of water." So let it be with your faith.
Part 2: God with us. Texts: Genesis 15, Exodus 20:1-21, chs. 25-30, John 14:10-13, and 1 Corinthians 6:19.
  • The temple at Arad is modeled after the Jerusalem Temple; it was built to substitute for the high places. Hezekiah forbade worship outside Jerusalem, so Arad's inhabitants covered theirs because they could not bear to destroy it. Interestingly, it survived, unlike the one at Jerusalem!
  • Covenants were made by this ceremony: sacrificial animals were split from top to bottom into right and left halves; these halves were placed facing each other on sloping ground so that their blood would run into the V-shaped ditch. The greater party would walk barefoot through it, in effect saying that "if I break my word, you may kill me as these animals were killed." God walked through for BOTH parties, Abraham and Himself.
  • In sacrifices at the Temple, the lamb's throat was cut at 3pm. Jesus died at the ninth hour, the result of thousands of years of foreshadowing by His Father.
  • Other worship images - bread is the Word, feeding us. At the incense altar, the smoke of prayers sweetly ascended to God.
  • 10 Commandments - stone tablets recorded an abbreviated covenant; each party protected his copy in his most sacred place. God gave Moses BOTH copies - He lives with us! Jesus was even more tangible proof of this.
  • Read the covenant to be reminded of its purpose - e.g. marriage vows on one's anniversary. The Commandments mean that God comes close to you, and that you can spread His presence to the world around you. Paul tells us that we are God's temple! Bring His power to the culture.

Pentecost 21 (Proper 24)

Today's readings were Genesis 32:22-30, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (sermon text), and Luke 18:1-8. Theme: "Following to Grow the Church."

Paul is writing to train Pastor Timothy, warning and exhorting. Because of sin's rise in these last days, endurance of hardship is required of each Christian. To prepare the warriors God has entrusted to your keeping, train up your children in the faith at home so that they will not desert the house of God; this is important from their birth, required before age 18. Those around middle-school age especially ask difficult questions, so dig into the Word with them. Exhort them to great faith, not just good faith.

Go beyond comfort zones yourself. follow His steps, eat the Word as a community, grow the Church, never stagnate. Looking at Matthew 13:1-23, we see that growth is hard - Jacob, Timothy, and the persistent widow wrestled. Even with growth is invisible, Christ fertilizes and causes growth as we preach. Trust Him, following His steps. Look at the mustard seed: the tiniest, least promising seed will, in time and with patience, grow into a great and mighty tree. Look to eternity's harvest, not just the short term! Weeds will, in time, be sorted out. Look to the full net, not fearing the apparent emptiness. Keep going with Christ's Cross and kingdom as your focus.

Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Angels: part 3

What an amazing conclusion to this study! For my classmate-readers, I do have a hard copy of each week's outline.

The work of good angels is to...
  • serve God (Matthew 18:10 as representatives of God's little ones before His presence; Luke 2:13 as praisers of God to announce Jesus' birth; Psalm 103:20-21 as all-around helpers; Luke 15:10 as those who rejoice over repentant sinners)
  • serve Christians (guarding little children - Matthew 18:10; protecting believers - Psalm 91:11-12, Acts 12:7-11, and Acts 27:23-25)
  • assist Christ in the final judgment (1 Chronicles 21:16, Matthew 24:31 and 25:31, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
The angels' message throughout the ages has been to...
  • announce the birth of Christ the Savior! They brought God's presence (Luke 2:8-14) as "the glory of the LORD."
  • announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ! They reminded the women of His words (Luke 24:1-8).
  • herald the return of Christ as King of Kings! This is foreshadowed in Acts 1:11 and described vividly in Revelation 22:12-16.
  • In each of the above cases, the angels also redirect our attention to where it should be.
Summary: Angels are created messengers ONLY; created to serve God and us, bringing God's presence where they go; to fight against the evil ones. They are not to be worshiped, but they worship God continually. In worship, we join the angels and archangels in this praise!

Pentecost 20 (Proper 23)

Today's readings were Ruth 1:1-19a (sermon text), 2 Timothy 2:1-13, and Luke 17:11-19.

What is a friend? Loving father, doting mother, obedient child, protective neighbor, best-constructer, faithful spouse, good Samaritan, thankful leper, inviter to church, someone willing to give his life for another. Ruth was a friend; her story begins in Bethlehem (!). God blessed Naomi and her husband Elimelech with good land and two sons. Then He took away - prosperity (necessitating a move to Moab), Elimelech's life, and (after marriage) the two sons.

However, the story isn't about all three widows. Naomi returned to Judah, and Orpah would have stayed with her but was dissuaded by her mother-in-law's advice. Ruth was an even truer daughter-in-law - "where you go, I will go..." What a friend! What love and concern! Her demonstration of friendship involved sacrifice, dislocation, resignation to widowhood at an early point in her life.

But Ruth kept Naomi rather than discarding her. Use her example. Don't throw away people, particularly friends by any definition! Seek them out. Thank them. Be a friend as faithful as man's best Friend, Jesus.

Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Angels: part 2

Tidbits from today - more next week!

Good angels...
  • are "very good" (Genesis 1:31), particularly during Creation week!
  • are frightening and possibly ugly (Ezekiel 10 describes cherubim as a conglomeration of wheels, eyes, and wings - how's that for a Valentine's Day card?)

Evil angels...
  • are under God's control (Jude 6) and have hell reserved for them (Matthew 25:41)
  • are prideful (Lucifer wanted to be like God - Isaiah 14:12-14 esp. KJV and Ezekiel 28:12-17); Lucifer disguises himself as a light bearer (2 Corinthians 11:14)
  • rule earth with Satan until Christ returns (Revelation 12:4-10)
  • serve God's purposes by punishing the wicked (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12) and testing His children (Job; 2 Corinthians 12:7)
  • will be punished forever in hell (2 Peter 2:4, Revelation 14:10-11)

Evil angels' work...
  • is to oppose God's will (Zechariah 3:1, John 8:44, Revelation 9:11)
  • is to try to harm / slander God's people (Genesis 3:1ff, 1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:10)
  • is well-organized and powerful (Ephesians 6:10-12 lists ranks)
  • is to possess people spiritually (2 Corinthians 4:4, John 8:43-48) and bodily (Luke 8:26-39). Side note: One author has made a flowchart of possession from regression (lacking growth) --> repression (excusing sin) --> suppression (searing conscience) --> depression (avoiding God - critical point) --> oppression (Satan attacks) --> obsession (seeking Satan) --> possession (controlled by Satan).
  • is especially to destroy the Christian church by preventing hearing of the Gospel (Luke 8:12) and spreading false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

Christians cannot be possessed...
  • Luke 10:19 - Satan shall not hurt the 72 (though note the specificity)
  • Romans 8:35-39 nothing shall separate us from Christ's conquering love!
  • 1 Corinthians 3:17 - we are the temple of God, which He has promised to protect
  • 1 John 4:4 - Christ, in us, has overcome Satan who is in the world!
  • Luke 11:24-26 (caution) - fill the house with Christ once Satan has been cast out

Pentecost 19 (Proper 22)

Step 4 of Following Jesus (sermon series theme): Following in the Word. Today's readings: Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 10:14-17 (sermon text), and John 17:13-21.

In your devotional life, walk through the New Testament, watching Christ work. Matthew 4 - after fasting, He uses Scripture to rebuke the twister, Satan. Luke 4 - while reading a prophecy in the synagogue, He makes clear that the Word is about the Word! He speaks with authority! Emmaus - He walks with the disciples while showing what the Old Testament has to say about Himself. Scripture is fit for convicting, healing, rebuking, and giving peace.

But don't merely spectate! Dig into it yourself. Examples that show how Scripture guides the study of itself:
  • Hebrews 11 - the topic is faith, and the goal is to fortify you in the faith. Herein are introductions of brothers and sisters in the faith. Their witness is permanent, from Genesis till after Revelation.
  • Galatians 3:15 - Christ was promised through the entire Old Testament! See Abraham in a new light.
  • Matthew 1 - the saint's goal is to show you Christ, building on Old Testament history. The genealogy shows our forefathers in the faith - know them, know Scripture thoroughly. Fill in gaps while helping others in their walk to do so.
  • John 17 (Gospel text) - we will be protected / sanctified / sent by God, the Word made flesh to dwell among us.

Soli Deo gloria.