Archive for April, 2018

YFA – August 8, 2018

April 8, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Sermon and Service
  • Monday – First Reading – Acts 3:11-21
    • What is the main emphasis of Peter’s response in vs. 11-16?
    • What is the main emphasis of vs. 17-21?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 John 3:1-7
    • What matters most – God’s love for us or our love for God?
    • What do the faithful do now, in anticipation of eternity (v.3)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – Luke 24:36-49
    • What is the source of the disciples’ initial fear (v.37)?
    • How does Jesus prove to them He’s not a ghost (vs.39-43)?
  • Thursday – Psalm – Psalm 4
    • Why does David expect the Lord to respond to his cries (v.1)?
    • What is the best response when facing trouble (vs.4-5)?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer, 4th Petition
    • Why do we pray only for daily bread?
    • Does God provide for all his creation?  Then why are some in need of daily bread?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing
    • Is it possible for non-Christians to rejoice in the resurrection?
    • What are three responses we might have to Christ’s resurrection?

 

Just Another Archaeological Discovery Conflicting with Scripture. Not.

April 5, 2018

Once again, very real possible proof of a Biblical figure living in the place and the time that the Bible describes him living.  Amazing.  Well, not really amazing, if you assume that the Bible might actually be reliable about these sorts of things.  Which might lead one to wonder whether the Bible might not also be true about some of the other amazing things it says.

Hmmmmm….

 

Easter Hit-Pieces

April 4, 2018

It’s that time of year again, when the smell of lily’s is in the air and a barrage of articles attacking the Christian faith or the Bible or the Church emerge just in time for Easter.  This is the one I was directed to this year.

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with people about authority.  What is the authority in your life?  In mine, it’s the Bible.  Which means that to the best of my ability and despite my frequent failures, I acknowledge that what it has to say to me about my life trumps whatever ideas I might have about my life.  Whatever Scripture has to say about the world around me and my place and function in it gets priority over whatever the world says or whatever I come up with.  Every assertion, every idea has to run through the filter of Scripture first.

There are places where personal interpretation is necessary, of course.  And Christians have, of course, disagreed over a those areas over time.  But that’s different than discarding something the Bible says wholesale simply because you’d rather think about things or act on things or speak about things differently.

And that’s ultimately what’s at play here in the article.  It sounds sympathetic but it’s anything but.  This person who refuses to grant her fellow worshipers forgiveness, and would rather remove herself than have to deal with their obvious (by her definition) sinfulness.   A sinfulness she doesn’t apparently share and therefore can hold herself aloof and separate.  Despite Jesus’ rather pointed directive in Matthew 18:35, after an entire chapter devoted to radically reorienting our ideas about forgiveness.  I wonder if this author has read Matthew 18.

Perhaps not, as she admits that her issues with the Church have been long-standing.  And again, on issues that at least to some degree or spoken to be Scripture, and therefore need to be addressed in that light if you’re going to claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, the ostensible Lord of your life.  And how do you get to enlarge your idea of God beyond what God himself has told you?  How can you do so reliably?  On what basis?  I’d argue that the Church is indeed necessary, but in a culture of plenty where you find others willing to agree with you it’s easy to forego worship and the Church – along with (God-willing) the teaching and training and study that helps to inform your understanding of God’s Word and ultimately your lived out life of faith.  But then if you don’t really want to listen to what the Bible says, then I can see how going to Church would get a bit frustrating.

I find the third paragraph from the end to be very interesting.  First off, she quotes Emily Dickinson as a way of defending her idea about not going to Church (interestingly, she doesn’t quote Hebrews 10:24-25 on the topic).  While I’m not an expert on Dickinson, I’d argue that despite human tradition (which may or may not be on target), observing the Sabbath and gathering for corporate Christian worship are two different (though historically related) things.  Frankly, I’m  all for worshiping the Sabbath at home or in the woods.  But that means going to church on a different day, since God’s original statements about the Sabbath don’t mention anything about mandatory church attendance.  I can agree with Dickinson and still say the author is misguided in avoiding worship.

Secondly, is Church primarily intended to summon awe and gratitude?  Is that the function of Church?  Since when?  Is that what Acts 4:32-37 is describing?  I don’t think so.  Certainly I personally find the Tetons a better source of awe, and time spent with my family a better source of gratitude.  I don’t assume the Church is trying to compete with those.  It isn’t.  Rather, Church and worship is an opportunity to inform me about how to receive these gifts of God and interact with them responsibly and appreciate them faithfully.  It’s there to teach and act as a resource to my life of faith, a place where I am mentored in the faith as I mentor others.  A place that challenges the ideas I’ve come up with at work or in college or in grad school and demands that I place those up against the Word of God to ensure that I’m not being led astray with allegedly good intentions.  Church is necessary to teach me that the proper response to God’s creation is not only awe, but awe to  the God who created them and who has placed his Word and his Spirit and, very specifically, his Son into creation in order that I might learn and live both now and forever.

No mention in the article is made of what Easter is.  The idea that Jesus was willing to die for a bunch of people who vehemently disagreed with him and were willing to utilize hate and violence to try and silence him.  That He was willing to die so that they might be forgiven.  That He could even say as they raised his cross into place, Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).  No mention is made of what God has done for the author, or that the author is in very real need of the same forgiveness from God that all those people at Church she disagrees with are.  No mention is made of the possibility that repentance, not arrogance, is the center of the Christian life, and that as we realize our own sins and shortcomings (instead of obsessing over the sins and shortcomings of other people) that we are changed in the process into people who are certainly willing to stand for what is right, but who are (ideally) also full of humility and grace and the willingness to admit that they might be wrong, but that the one place where that can best be sorted out is in Christian community gathered first and foremost in and around and obedient to the Word of God.

Authority matters.  And what (or who) our authority is ultimately is lived out and demonstrated in our lives and our decisions and the way we are with those around us. I’m glad the author was going to be at Mass on Easter morning.  And I pray that what she heard there reminded her of her own need for forgiveness and humility, as well as her duty to engage her voice in wrestling with Scripture as well as the ideas of the world to see how they work together or not.  I pray that she’ll be back again this week as well.  And the week after.  Forever and ever Amen.

Acknowledging Mistakes

April 3, 2018

One of the hardest things for people to do is acknowledge that mistakes have been made.  It seems so harsh and judgmental.  So in the interest of avoiding pointing fingers (especially at ourselves!), we often times continue down a path that was started years ago simply because the idea of changing course seems too depressing or offensive.  The result is that there are times when we end up someplace we never wanted to be, yet claim that there can’t possibly any alternative options that might begin to lead us where we’d prefer to be.

The Church is like that sometimes, just like families and cities and nations and PTA boards and any other gathering of people can be.  But it’s vitally important to be able to say This isn’t working and move down a different path that might lead us to different outcomes.

I agree completely with this brief essay, and the conclusion that separating children from their parents in worship is – while aimed at a good goal – a big mistake.  Parents do need breaks, but there are a variety of ways that breaks can be given without removing children from worship until they’re 18, at which point they are expected to become adult members and proponents of the congregation, to be involved in something they’ve actually been excluded from all of their life.

There are other ways to help parents without removing the children.  Parenting is hard work, to be sure.  But it’s work that has to be done and it has to be done in Church just like it has to be done at the grocery store and restaurants and everywhere else we take our children.  Church as a community should be able to find all sorts of ways to assist parents in receiving the message and worshiping without breaking up the family to do so.

This essay has apparently sparked a lot of controversy.  But we need to remember that we can decide that something wasn’t a good idea without demonizing the people who initiated it – with good intentions and towards good goals.  We just have to be able to say that it was a mistake and we need to change direction.  Too much is at stake not to.

 

A&tCL Paused

April 2, 2018

Regular readers will be aware of the challenge raised to me early in the year by a handful of individuals concerned that I, as a minister of the Gospel, a pastor, and one from whom a higher standard of behavior is expected (James 3:1) should serve – and broadcast that I serve – alcoholic beverages to those (of age) interested in sharing one as part of an attempt to reach a particular demographic (current university students and recently graduated ones).  Although all claimed to be in agreement that responsibly enjoying an alcoholic drink is not a sin, they nevertheless insisted that it was essentially sinful for me to offer one to another person, and furthermore that it was inappropriate for a Christian church to be engaged in providing alcohol in any function other than a strictly sacramental sense (Holy Communion).

Taking to heart their concerns, I said I would engage in a search of God’s Word to ensure that we understood what the Bible has to say about alcoholic beverages, in addition to looking to the broad witness of Christian history and practice in such regard.  I had hoped for this to be an opportunity to engage in a mutual study and growth in God’s Word leading ultimately not merely to greater understanding, but also unanimity and solidarity in how to move forward in such matters.

So I undertook that Biblical study, and I’ve posted the results as I’ve progressed here on this blog for all to see and benefit from if possible.  Unfortunately, none of the decisions made by any of the involved parties in the past four months have taken such studies into account.  Decisions have been made on a personal and corporate basis not on the basis of the study of God’s Word but rather on personal convictions and preferences.  And while a stasis of sorts has been reached in the process, it has not been without a significant toll.  To me personally, to certain people in my congregation, and to at least one person who has left the congregation.

So I’m a bit done – understandably, I think – with this topic.  Yet I’ve been burdened with the need to complete it, to see through what I began.  Not because anybody cares, but simply because I’m an idiot who doesn’t like to half-ass things.

Having made it only through roughly half of the Old Testament, it hasn’t changed my understanding of how God’s people are to responsibly enjoy this particular aspect of his creation.  Perhaps I’ll feel more like pursuing it in the future, but for now, I’m sick of it.  Sick of the memories and experiences that it brings to mind.  Sick of the frustration.  So I’m moving on, officially relinquishing the onus and burden of finishing this project that I’ve carried for four months and that has stifled both my desire and joy in writing and sharing here.

Hopefully both of my readers will understand, knowing they are always free to touch base with me directly if they have a desire to see it finished.

Reading Ramblings – April 8, 2018

April 1, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter, April 8, 2018

Texts: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 148; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Context: The benefits of the resurrection are personal, but are celebrated and lived out in community. The early Church would likely not understand American Christianity’s heavy emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus. While we are transformed individually, we benefit from and are a benefit to each other in Christian community, which comforts, strengthens, protects, and encourages us in our walk of faith.

Acts 4:32-35 – The first description of the early Church is not a spotlight on any one particular apostle or believer, but rather on the community of faith and how followers of Jesus ordered their lives. They were open-handed with their belongings, sharing with one another rather than hoarding for themselves. As such, all were taken care of and nobody among them was in want. All of this is linked to the ongoing proclamation of the resurrection by the apostles, and the work of the Holy Spirit among them. Even their homes and properties were considered as gifts from God to benefit others. Care for one another is a hallmark of faith in Jesus Christ. When we properly recognize what we have received in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, we begin to see everything – and everyone – in our lives through that recognition. And naturally the place where this should be easiest to begin living out is with others of a similar faith.

Psalm 148 – This psalm of praise exhorts the citizens of heaven first to praise God, as they would be in the best position to do so based on their proximity to the presence of God. Nature is next enlisted to join in worship, with the highest and most beautiful aspects of creation – the heavenly bodies – mentioned. Focus moves downwards to aspects of earth – the oceans, the seasons, geographical terrain, creatures, and finally human beings, starting with the highest (kings) and progressing to those least esteemed (the elderly and the very young). All, however, are capable of giving praise to God, and such praise is appropriate to all people and all of creation. God the Father, the Creator of the Universe is to be held in universal acclaim and worship.

1 John 1:1-2:2 – John begins his letter with an affirmation of his first-hand witness to the events now associated with his youth. It is the life of Jesus – both before and after resurrection – that has formed the center of John’s preaching, the one message he never tires of repeating. He exhorts his hearers and readers to holiness, calling them from darkness, the shadows where sin hides and where we might learn to protect and encourage it, into the light which shows sin for what it is while at the same time offering forgiveness and life. Only in confession can sin be brought into the light for examination. Only in the light can we be assured of the forgiveness of our sins and encouraged towards holiness. When we refuse the light, we are at risk of removing ourselves from the grace of God, preferring our sin and shadows to his holiness and light. The net result of our new life in Christ is that sin should lose it’s attractiveness. There will be moments, of course, when we give in to sin or even seek it out. But even as we do so we know it for what it is – sin, death, the antithesis of our new identity in Christ. And where before there may have been no struggle, now there is a struggle. A struggle made possible by the Holy Spirit of God living within us, made possible only through the death and resurrection of the perfect and holy Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

John 20:19-31 – A familiar story of Jesus’ first appearance to the group of his disciples. Jesus does not wait for them to return to Galilee. It’s as though He can’t bear to leave them in sorrow or confusion. They need to be brought into the good news, the good news He tried to tell them about beforehand but which they couldn’t understand. They would need to see it firsthand to truly believe and begin to understand.

Thomas isn’t present for whatever reason. And while he gets a bad rap, I can’t think that I would have said differently. Would I accept so easily an assurance that Jesus was alive? Might I not suspect a joke? Might I not suspect some sort of mistaken identity, some confusion of the eyes, even a specter or some other entity? I think Thomas is much like us. Skeptical, preferring his own validation to the assurances of others.

Jesus grants this validation. He does not rebuke Thomas for his doubt. Rather He addresses it directly, as it were. The others have proved it true for themselves, but He now offers Thomas the opportunity to do so. But no further proof is needed. This is no specter. No mistaken identity. This is not the result of too much wine or wishful thinking or hallucination. Here is Jesus, whom Thomas has lived with day in and day out for three years. Here is his voice, his visage, even some of the wounds from his ordeal. Could it be anyone else?

Thomas calls out in faith, confessing Jesus as Lord and God himself. Who else could explain such a miraculous event? Who else but God can raise the dead, and hadn’t Jesus reiterated over and over again his relationship with the Father, his unity with him even in his distinction as the Son?

The Easter message is miraculous indeed – unbelievable many would say. But on what basis? On the basis of no personal experience? How much of the world do we hear and read about but never see with our own eyes, yet we trust that the events we are told about it are true? Or perhaps the doubt is based on the fact that the dead do not come back to life. True enough, this is a very rare thing and therefore the basis of great proclamation regarding Jesus, who did come back from the dead. But should we doubt the eye-witness accounts of those who saw him alive again after his death and burial? On what account? On the incredible nature of the assertion? Isn’t it amazing to think that 50 years ago man walked on the moon, and yet most people don’t doubt that this is true! Is it because it is impossible to believe that anyone could rise from the dead? On what basis? Here we enter the realm of philosophy and world-view, and most of us in the US have been taught from early ages in public schools that such things are impossible. Life is life and death is death and death cannot be undone. On what basis is this assertion made? How can such an assertion stand when there are accounts of someone who was raised from the dead? Do we allow our presuppositions about the nature of reality to dictate that we must ignore any evidence that contradicts it?

Or do we study the word, study the accounts, the witnesses, and see whether or not, after all, they have the ring of truth, the ring of honest and simple descriptions of real events, rather than flights of fancy or imagination, no matter how well intentioned?

YFA – April 1, 2018

April 1, 2018
A Weekly Devotional
  • Sunday – Reflect on this Morning’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – First Reading – Acts 4:32-35
    • What was the substance of the apostolic preaching (v.33)?
    • How did this proclamation affect people’s view of property?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Reading – 1 John 1:1-2:2
    • What – or who – is John referring to in verses 1-4?
    • Does faith lead to isolation or community (v.7)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 20:19-31
    • What does Jesus do to give his disciples peace (v.20)?
    • What power are his disciples given (vs.22-23)?
  • Thursday Psalm 148
    • What is the basis for praise of God the Father (vs.5-6)?
    • What – or who – is the horn referred to in v.14?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition
    • What are alternatives to God’s will?
    • What are three sources that tempt us against God’s will?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Now All the Vault of  Heaven Resounds
    • How does verse 1 line up with Psalm 148?
    • How does verse 3 line up with 1 John 1?