Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Reading Ramblings – May 27, 2018

May 20, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Holy Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 3:1-17

Context: Traditional Western liturgy never accorded a place for such an observance through the first thousand years of Christianity on the grounds that the Trinity was honored and glorified every single Sunday. This is impressive given some of the early heresies of the Church that struck at Trinitarian doctrine (Arianism, most specifically). By the first millenia, Trinity-focused services may have started at various places, but it wasn’t until the 14th century that Pope John XXII ordered that the Trinity be specially honored on the first Sunday following Pentecost. The theology is that it is only after Pentecost that the disciples begin actively preaching and therefore sharing Trinitarian doctrine with the world. It is traditional on this Sunday in some circles, (the LC-MS included) to focus on the Athanasian Creed, which strongly articulates what we mean when we talk about one God in three Persons.

Isaiah 6:1-8 – Isaiah’s beautiful vision of the throne room of God seems like the logical place for his formal prophetic ministry to begin, yet it appears after five other chapters. Some scholars see this as proof of a lengthy editorial and authorial process that rearranged the material at a much later date than Isaiah’s lifetime in the late 8th and early 7th centuries. However we have no copies of Isaiah with any other order than the one we know, and I prefer to side with theologians who simply recognize that the Lord speaks and acts and reveals himself according to his perfect will and timing, not according to what we find literarily or vocationally reasonable or logical. God ensures that Isaiah understands that his words are indeed sanctioned by and even sourced in God himself in all of his glory. Perhaps Isaiah struggles with uncertainty over his legitimacy. Such a vision should surely set his mind at ease however that what He says is of divine agency rather than personal whim!

Psalm 29 – As we try to be clear about who we mean when we say God, we should not be distracted to the point where challenging theological criteria obscure God from our sight. God is the creator, the all-powerful and all-mighty. A perfect understanding of the Athanasian Creed is not necessary to have saving faith in this triune God, but certainly for those engaged in theology we need to be as accurate as we can when we speak, to help others speak well also. But it is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who share the glory that creation proclaims, whose power has made possible everything we know and don’t know. We dare not lose our awe of God as we try to dissect what we can or cannot say about him. At the end of the day we must remember that it is faith that saves, not theological acumen.

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 – Frankly, this should have been read last week with the first half of Peter’s sermon! The first half of Peter’s sermon is a defense and then an explanation for the bizarre thing that has caught people’s attention – the apostles speaking in various foreign languages and understandable to the myriad people gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. Now that Peter has their attention he proclaims the good news of Jesus the Christ. He draws on their own knowledge or at least familiarity with who Jesus is and why He is well-known. He then moves on to the amazing proclamation that Jesus is alive, quoting the Old Testament under the Holy Spirit’s direction to support his announcement. He ends with the strong pronouncement that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of God. Efforts to destroy his ministry through execution have failed in his resurrection, properly designating him as Lord and Messiah.

John 3:1-17 – Jesus articulates a Trinitarian definition of God, referring to the Spirit (vs. 5-8), the Son (vs. 13-17) and by implication, God the Father (vs 16-17). Each aspect of the Godhead is indicated in a unique fashion. By the Spirit one is born again in faith. By the Father’s design the Son is sent into creation in order that the Son might be a means of saving grace for creation. Each has a particular role and identity distinct from the other persons of the Godhead. Each executes a particular purpose – the Spirit in bringing a new creation into existence through baptism, the Son in offering himself on behalf of creation, and the Father in orchestrating these things according to a plan.

As such, we can’t simply speak of one God who changes hats or identities, appearing as the angry Father in the Old Testament, the huggy Jesus in the New Testament, and the invisible Holy Spirit here today. Rather, we must speak of one God wherein all three persons co-exist and cooperate in their various roles. Jesus speaks thus of the Godhead, and based on his resurrection, we presume his knowledge to be the best and the most appropriate language for us to adopt in talking about God.

But such details are secondary to the reality of the three aspects or persons of God united in a single purpose, which is to give life where death now reigns, to bring salvation to a creation lost in condemnation. Once again the theological specifics have a time and a place to hash out but far more often than not what should be stressed as we talk with others is the loving nature of God that works so perfectly in unison for our benefit, to reach out to us with both the will and the means of providing salvation to those who will not fight against it. We need to do far less talking about God and more time describing who God is for us.

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Your Family Altar – May 20, 2018

May 20, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Reflect on this Morning’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament Lesson – Isaiah 6:1-8
    • What specific descriptors of God are given?
    • Which person of the Trinity do you think Isaiah sees?
  • Tuesday – New Testament Reading – Acts 2:14b, 22-36
    • Does Peter assume his hearers already know something about Jesus (v.22)?
    • What is the specific reason for Peter’s conclusion in verse 36?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 3:1-17
    • Who is Nicodemus and where else is he mentioned in Scripture?
    • What is the basis of salvation (v.15, 16)?
  • Thursday Psalm 29
    • Who do you think the heavenly beings are in verse 1?
    • How does God turn his strength towards us so we don’t fear him (v.11)?
  • Friday Luther’s Small CatechismSacraments
    • Who is supposed to be teaching these lessons and to whom?
    • What is the definition of a sacrament?
  • Saturday – Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy
    • Why do you think  the saints adore God (v.2)?
    • What darkness can hide God (v.3)?

 

Reading Ramblings – May 20, 2018

May 13, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – May 20, 2018

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 139:1-16; Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:15

Context: Pentecost Sunday occurs during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, also known as the feast of weeks (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), a harvest celebration acknowledging God’s outpouring of grace and goodness in terms of ripening crops. It is a celebratory gathering of God’s people. It is during this festival that God pours out his grace and goodness in the form of the Holy Spirit, who comes first to the apostles in power, enabling them to speak in the foreign languages of all the myriad Jewish people gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. The term pentecost signifies that this festival falls 50 days after Passover. While we are apt to place ourselves at the center of these readings, the real center is the Word of God at work in the world, here embodied by the Holy Spirit of God.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – God is the key actor in this passage. He acts through his Word and through the Holy Spirit. He brings life from death, restores vigor to the exhausted. He is hope and power where no hope and no power remains. Where we can only stare mutely, God is active and speaking, and his power is irresistible. We are tempted to think that we can force these things ourselves. We make our decisions and choose our paths the best we can, but at the end of the day it is the Word of God that determines outcomes according to his plans, not ours. This is not to denigrate our choices, but rather to contextualize them, to set them in the proper perspective of God willing rather than My choosing. This is as true in our spiritual walk with God as it is in our hope of resurrection from the dead. While we might like to determine the depth and nature of our spiritual experience with God the Holy Spirit, we are not in control of these things, thereby being denied the glory when they are going well, and called to faith and trust when they are going poorly. God is not a puppy on a leash or a jinni in a bottle.

Psalm 139:1-16 – What would you hide from God? Your guilt? Your ulterior motives? Your fears? Your questions about him and his Word? Do you really think you can hide these things? More importantly, do you really think it is necessary? Many of us would answer yes. Ashamed or prideful makes no difference. But the psalmist sees the perfect and complete knowledge of God as, amazingly, a good thing (v.6). It does not engender perfect obedience by any means. Instead the psalmist contemplates escape options. Flee to the heights or the depths? Nope. Hide in the darkness? Hardly. There is no where we can go to escape the sight of God, the presence of God, or the promises of God. And we are called to acknowledge that God’s knowledge – as with everything else about God – is a good thing (v.14). It is good because He is the God who constantly pursues us with his promises and love, constantly seeks us out when we strive to be lost to him, constantly reassures us of his forgiveness and grace despite our fear that these can’t possibly be true, can’t possibly be for me. Such perfect knowledge of us by any other person would be a cause for fear, as there is always the possibility that knowledge would be used against us. But God only uses that knowledge for us.

Acts 2:1-21 – Naturally we imagine ourselves in this situation. Perhaps enviously, wishing we had this experience of wind and fire, of Spirit and tongues. Perhaps we are horrified at the thought, of being a public spectacle. But the only real actor in this entire section is, once again, God. The Holy Spirit of God is sent to the disciples and is the sole cause of all that happens. It is God who deserves the study and scrutiny and glory. Rather than leave either of his covenant people as standing statues of flesh and blood over recently bare bones, He fulfills the final portion of Ezekiel 33 by sending his Holy Spirit that they might truly have life. That they might move beyond the realm of comprehension and obedience and into relationship with source of all goodness and life. And as the source of such things, it is always the nature of God to extend, to search out and reach out to all people with the saving grace found only in the crucified, resurrected, ascended, and returning Son of God. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, connects the dots in Old Testament prophesy. The words of the past are not just words but the Word. And the Word is always a word for now as well as later.

John 15:26-16:15 – The official pericope excludes 16:1-4a, but I think this is a very important portion of the passage. If we presume that the abiding presence of God the Holy Spirit means we will never need to suffer, we are mistaken. This is not the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Rather we can expect to endure difficulties that might incline us to believe that God has forsaken us, or that our trust in him was mistaken or misplaced. This is not the case. The Holy Spirit comes to witness to the truth of God’s Word (15:26), and in so doing convict the world (16:7-11) as He guides us into truth (16:13) and glorifies the Father and the Son (16:14-15). Note the absence of any purpose in terms of our happiness, security, safety, etc. What we have of these things – by the grace of God – should be grounded ultimately in our knowledge of God the Father and God the Son and the abiding presence of God the Holy Spirit despite our circumstances. We are to give witness to these assurances in the midst of our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, so that these experiential states don’t define us.

We should also expect a consistency of thought and revelation between what God the Father has said, God the Son has said and what God the Holy Spirit reveals to us. So it is that when others claim to speak for God, or to have a new revelation from God, we can expect that it will in no ways contradict what God has already said. Thus God’s Word forms a reliable baseline – the only reliable baseline, in fact, for our interactions with others as well as our own thoughts and ideas. It becomes the one authority we can trust, against which we not only can but must measure all the wisdom the world claims to possess.

YFA – May 13, 2018

May 13, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource

 

  • Sunday – Reflect Upon this Morning’s Service and Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament – Ezekiel 37:1-14
    • Who is the one who restores flesh to the bones?
    • What is the final stage of life for these former bones (v.14)?
  • Tuesday – Second Reading – Acts 2:1-21
    • Who is the driving force in this passage?
    • Who is Peter quoting in vs. 17-21?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 15:26-16:15
    • Why does Jesus tell them about the Holy Spirit (16:1)?
    • What is the Holy Spirit’s purpose?
  • Thursday – Psalm 139
    • Is God’s knowledge of us a good or a bad thing (v.6)?
    • Why might we flee to God rather than from him?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – Lord’s Prayer Conclusion
    • Review Matthew 6:13 – is the conclusion recorded here?
    • What does the conclusion mean to you?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Holy Spirit, Light Divine
    • What shades of night might lie upon your heart (v.1)?
    • How can we best admire God’s beauty (v.2)?

 

You Don’t Say?

May 7, 2018

If you grew up in the Christian Church, how much do you remember of the sermons and Sunday Schools and Bible studies?  If you grew up in a tradition where there was a rite of Confirmation – a period of study culminating in a statement of faith – what do you remember of what you studied?

I don’t remember much of anything.  I was far more concerned with hanging out with friends and the shenanigans we might get into together than the Confirmation studies I hastily scribbled answers to as I sat down at in my seat before class.  I know I was not a good student, despite knowing the answers for the most part.  As with some clever kids (who are not so clever as they think) I abused my understanding to make more time for my own interests and pleasures.

Not everyone is so clever.  Or, more likely, they are more clever.  So I know that this essay doesn’t apply universally.  Just because some don’t pay as much attention as they should doesn’t mean nobody does.  And I’ve met more than a few octogenarians who still remember a great deal (at least comparably) of their Confirmation class and teachings.

But at the end of the day I know that I felt like a failure for my inability to keep my oaths, and that knowing that I was better than some (and worse than others) at doing so was no comfort.  At the end of the day, it was nearly five more years before I really had a grasp of the Gospel and the promises of Christ that I was to cling to, rather than my own promises.  And as I in turn now familiarize others with God’s Word in Confirmation (including my own children), I am far less inclined to assign memory work than I am to keep talking about the big picture, hopefully encouraging them not towards licentiousness but towards a freedom and wonder in a God who could love them so much when they are so unlovable at times even to themselves.

There’s a balance between the two I’m sure I’m missing, but I strive to keep aiming towards.

 

 

 

Reading Ramblings – May 13, 2018

May 6, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 13, 2018

Texts: Acts 1; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:1b-19

Context: This is the last Sunday in the liturgical season of Easter. It also follows the celebration of our Lord’s ascension (always on a Thursday). As such, technically the reading is only the second half of Acts 1 (12-26), but I like to include the ascension account. It is here that Luke overlaps his Gospel with the book of Acts. The ascension is described twice. The account in the Gospel of Luke is very succinct, while the account in Acts provides a bit more detail. I just finished reading an excellent theological paper from one of my former seminary professors on the book of Acts. He makes the point that we frequently err in referring to the book of Acts as primarily a history of the Church, or concerned with the Church’s actions after Christ’s ascension. Rather, he argues (as others have) that Acts is anchored around the subject of the Word of God that continues to be active in the world, through the Church. This shifts the focus from a story primarily about what the disciples and the Church did (and therefore might prompt us to erroneously presume that we are to be identical in all respects) to what God was doing in his wisdom and plan at that time (which may or may not look similar in some respects to what He chooses to do here and now in his wisdom and plan).

Acts 1 – Luke introduces the second section of his writings, which focus on what happened after Jesus’ ascension. The topic of the Gospel was all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up. Acts will continue from that moment of being taken up. However we are mistaken if we don’t see the power of God still very much at work in the world and through the disciples and the Church, even if the Word made flesh is no longer dwelling among them. As soon as Jesus can’t be seen any longer God is still using his Word to guide the disciples, brought first by angels (vs.10-11) and next by the Holy Spirit (vs. 24-26). The emphasis rightly belongs on the power of God still at work through his Word, rather than on the unique qualities of the disciples (aside from their singular proximity to the Incarnate Son of God).

Psalm 1 – The opening psalm sets the tone for all the rest of the psalms. Their focus and topic will be the Word of God. Why is this their focus? Because the Word separates the blessed from the foolish, who delights in God’s Word rather than the machinations of humanity. Oftentimes these blessings are obvious – a life that is fruitful and rewarding. But reading this as simply a promise of physical, material blessings seems rather shallow. Surely for the person who delights in God’s Word they are spiritually fruitful and do not wither regardless of the twists and turns of life and the efforts of our enemy Satan. And ultimately, the poorest Christian anchored in the Word of God receives eternal riches whereas the wealthy and successful person without Christ is shown to be eternally poor. A righteous and holy God will indeed punish wickedness, and those who reject God and his salvation in Jesus certainly will – by their own desire – be excluded from eternal fellowship with those for whom God and his Word are their central hope and joy.

1 John 5:9-15 – What is the Word that matters most, that has ultimate authority, that we must not only compare but submit our wisdom and knowledge to? God’s Word. God’s testimony is what matters most and finally. And that Word speaks most importantly and urgently not necessarily to the many things that occupy our thoughts and concerns and feelings (however transiently) but rather it speaks to the centrality of the Son of God. Whatever I am going through or dealing with, whatever thrills or terrifies me, whatever brings me joy or causes me pain, my relationship to the Son of God remains paramount. Nothing can displace the Son of God as the center of my life and identity. What I say about the Son of God ultimately says a great deal more about me. Our relationship to the Son of God is our soul source of life both here and now and eternally. This is the central matter of Scripture and the Christian faith. Not morality or ethics per se, not political or economic insight, not historical insight but rather the Son of God as the source of our eternal life. When the Church speaks on any issue separately and unrelated to this central topic, we ultimately speak falsely or at least inadequately.

John 17:1b-19 – Jesus’ high priestly prayer, his prayer for his people and most especially his disciples centers repeatedly on the concept of unity. It begins in his unity of will and purpose with God the Father, which results in a unity of glory between the two (vs.1-5). The next 14 verses deal with a unity of being in the persons of the apostles. While it is possible that Jesus is speaking of others who have followed him extensively (such as Justus and Matthias in Acts 1:23), and while in some sense He can be said to be speaking of all those who will eventually call him Lord, it is most natural to read this with the Twelve in mind. God the Father created them and entrusted them to the care and presence of the Incarnate God the Son. The Son entrusted to them the words of God the Father, words ultimately concerning himself and his purpose as the Son. A unity resulted – a unity of belief that Jesus was conveying the Words of God to them and should therefore be believed. He prays for their unity of presence after his departure, a unity of presence comprised at least in part by their physical preservation. He prays for their lives, for their safety, and for their continued unity together around the Words He has given them. The unity created between them by the Word of God will create a unity of opposition to them. The world – all of creation in some sense – will be united against them and the Word they carry and share. They need to remain unified in the face of overwhelming opposition and denial, unified not merely as brothers-in-arms, as the deepest of friends, but rather unified by the Word that will continue to dwell among them and through them continue to go out into the world.

Unity is something that the Church seems to have given up on in large part. And certainly from the world’s perspective, there is little unity, and talk of being brothers and sisters in Christ is compromised by what appears to be a competition-based approach with new congregations coming and going and old denominations entrenched in separate theological and physical spaces. Jesus indicates a few verses later that this unity is part of what will be convincing to the world of the truth of the Gospel, the truth of Jesus’ person and work. While theological differences seem inevitable, one can’t help but wonder if those differences should be considered of less importance than the greater goal of unity in Christ as a witness to the world.

YFA – May 6, 2018

May 6, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource

 

  • Sunday – Reflect on this morning’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – First Reading – Acts 1
    • Should we obsess about when Jesus is going to return (vs.7-8)?
    • How do you feel about how the apostles chose Judas’ replacement?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 John 5:9-17
    • What is the center of God’s Word to us (vs.11-12)?
    • What additional things do you wish Scripture had told us?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 17:1b-19
    • How would you summarize the major points of this prayer?
    • What comfort do you draw from this prayer?
  • Thursday Psalm 1
    • What two sources of wisdom are identified?
    • What comfort do you draw from verse 6?
  • Friday Luther’s Small CatechismThe Lord’s Prayer – 7th Petition
    • Does Luther’s explanation match how you think about these words?
    • What form or shape of evil do you most fear?
  • Saturday – Hymn – The Day of Resurrection
    • How is Easter our passover (v.1)
    • What is one of the effects of evil in us (v.2)?

 

Reading Ramblings – May 6, 2018

April 29, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday of Easter ~ May 6, 2018

Texts: Acts 10:34-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17

Context: We continue our exploration of the effects of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a little awkward to be reading from Acts and events that happen after the Ascension and Pentecost, without having dealt with those events yet. But thematically we are emphasizing the power of the Word of God – the Word made flesh who dwelt among us as well as the continued speaking of that Word by Jesus’ followers. Life-changing power comes from the Word of God. Peter speaks the Word and Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Those who hear and receive the Word also gain divine power in the struggle to both identify sin (last week’s reading from 1 John) as well as to resist sin. And what does abiding in the Word like branches to the vine (last week’s reading from John 15) look like? Jesus says it looks like obedience. Like the struggle and desire to be obedient to the Word and to take comfort in the Word made flesh.

Acts 10:34-48 – It is truly fascinating, this encounter between Peter and Cornelius. While Cornelius is certainly not some hedonistic pagan (10:1-2), neither is he a Jew. Peter, in obedience to the visionary Word of God he received in 10:9-23 is able to actually sit down with this man and his household. And what does Peter choose to say? He doesn’t begin with a condemnation of this man or his life, or exhort him to receive circumcision and fully convert to Judaism. He doesn’t talk about how wonderful he, Peter, is in coming to spend time with someone no other Jew would want to be seen associating closely with. The content of Peter’s message is praise to God that accurately summarizes God’s intent as expressed through Scripture for all of humanity (vs.34-35). And then he moves on to summarize the key events of Jesus’ life and ministry. Peter acknowledges that Cornelius has some knowledge of these things already, so Peter builds on what is there rather than denigrating Cornelius and trying to start from scratch in his proclamation. Peter simply talks about Jesus and the events that Peter and the other Apostles witnessed. And as the Word is spoken, the Holy Spirit is present and at work and Cornelius and everyone else listening received faith. Peter is stunned by this (vs. 44-46) but doesn’t let that keep him from following the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

Psalm 98 – Like Peter’s sermon to Cornelius, this psalm praises the works of God, things that are not only objectively impressive (creation, etc.) but rather subjectively impressive (salvation). God is never to be worshiped as some distant and uninvolved creative force (deism) but rather as the deeply personal Creator who remains committed to his rebellious and wayward creation with the goal of saving us from ourselves. It is this personal and involved nature of God that elicits true worship and praise in every form and from every direction possible. And lest we rely too heavily on our rationalistic conceptions, even nature is capable of and therefore exalted to praise God. What an amazing day it will be when our Lord returns and we watch in amazement as the seas and rivers and mountains lift up praise to their creator just as we will!

1 John 5:1-8 – John continues his explanation of what love for God means, and in doing so, elaborates on Jesus’ summary of the Commandments (Matthew 22:38-39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). Love seems straightforward enough, or perhaps it once did. Now we are presented with regular proclamations and reinterpretations about what constitutes love of neighbor and what doesn’t. Currently the basic formula is that to love your neighbor you need to completely affirm them in whatever it is they think or feel or do. Unless of course those things are bad or criminal, but those definitions are changing constantly and therefore complicated to say the least. John, echoing Jesus in the gospel reading this morning, understands that love of neighbor can in no way deviate from obedience to God. God the Creator alone knows what is best for each person, and therefore is uniquely equipped to tell us how to love our neighbor. If we want to love our neighbor in a way that contradicts how God has told us to be, then we aren’t really loving our neighbor, no matter if that’s our goal or if that’s how they perceive it. Love cannot be separated from obedience not to the fluctuating ideas and standards of the world but to God’s Word alone.

John 15:9-17 – We continue reading some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples at the Last Supper. The themes between 1 John and the Gospel are obvious. Further, Peter demonstrates obedience towards Jesus’ Great Commission in his interactions with Cornelius, despite tremendous cultural and cultic pressure to act otherwise. Abiding in Christ must mean obedience to him. And obedience to God will naturally result in love to our neighbor, love even that could lead us to sacrifice ourselves for them. Jesus presumes that this obedience is done willingly, not grudgingly. A servant or slave obeys out of the requirements of duty, but a friend or a family member obeys out of love for the master, out of a shared recognition of the true goodness and rightness of what is being commanded.

This is what God the Father does in God the Son, Jesus the Christ. He reconciles us to himself, and creates not slaves who chafe under his rule, but rather joyfully seek to obey him and in so doing expres love towards him and towards all of his creation. Certainly there will be times when obedience is difficult and we will struggle with it. Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, but He abided in the love of God the Father by committing himself to obedience, whatever that might mean for him. Likewise, despite our moments of doubt or fear or even irritation or anger, we are to constantly train and shape our thinking and speaking and doing to obedience to what God commands.

This is an active process, not something that simply magically appears in the lives of believers. We have an enemy whom we can expect to frustrate us and complicate things for us, who will use all of the weapons at his disposal to divert our eyes from Christ and therefore from obedience. But our Lord is stronger and greater, and we trust in his protection to shield us and restore our focus on him whenever we waver. The empty tomb is the evidence that Jesus has overcome the world and all temptation, all sin, and even death itself, and therefore can promise to us – and we can trust him! – that He will enable us to overcome these things as well. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Your Family Altar – April 29, 2018

April 29, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Reflect on This Morning’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – First Reading – Acts 10:34-48
    • What prompts Peter’s discourse (vs.30-33)?
    • What convinces Peter that the Holy Spirit is at work?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 John 5:1-8
    • What is the definition of love (v.2)?
    • What is our victory that overcomes the world (v.4)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 15:9-17
    • How does Jesus define love (v.10)?
    • What is the result of abiding in the love of God (v.11)?
  • Thursday Psalm 98
    • What marvelous things are specifically listed?
    • Are humans the only parts of creation capable of praising God?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer 6th Petition
    • Does God tempt anyone?
    • Why might God allow us to be tempted?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
    • Does this song seem to imply that Christians will be spared the tempests of life (v.1)?
    • On what basis should we trust and obey Jesus (v.2)?

 

Reading Ramblings – April 29, 2018

April 22, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

Texts: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 150; 1 John 4:1-11; John 15:1-8

Context: Listening seems to be a dying art. Without a doubt people have always been more inclined to speak rather than to listen, but it was once considered a social grace to temper this with a willingness (feigned if necessary) to listen. The readings for today emphasize the importance of listening. We need to listen to those around us for clues and indicators as to how best to share our faith in Jesus Christ in a way that is both helpful and loving (Acts 8). We need to listen to those purporting to know and love God to be sure that what they say is consistent with the witness to Jesus of Nazareth as both the Son of God and the Son of Mary/Eve. And of course we most need to listen to what God says to us, whether through his creation (Psalm 150) or through his Son (John 15). If we are not listening, what do we really have to say that is either helpful or truthful?

Acts 8:26-40 – We continue with readings from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles to see the continued effects of the resurrection in the lives of those closest to Jesus. The good news of Jesus resurrected from the dead as vindication of his identity and purpose as the incarnate Son of God continues to be preached. From the beginning it has been preached to people from a variety of places and backgrounds (Acts 2:1-13). Here we see yet another foreigner – albeit a foreigner who worships the one true God – struggling to understand the word of God in Scripture. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Philip seizes upon this as an opportunity. He hears the eunuch’s dilemma and is willing to engage with him on that topic, rather than changing the topic to something else. In a culture where listening continues to decline in respect, one of the greatest signs of love Christians can offer is to truly listen and hear another person, and then to respond to what has been expressed rather than trying to drive another agenda or topic into the picture. We can and should trust that God the Holy Spirit is willing and able to work in any and all of our interchanges with other people, whether we see that interchange as evangelistic or not. This is how we love our neighbors as ourselves – we listen to them and pray that God will direct our conversations towards his glory and the mutual blessing of all those speaking and hearing.

Psalm 150 – A raucous, rowdy call to praise and worship of God the creator. A call to praise God in as many different ways and means as God has gifted us with. Is this an exhaustive list of the appropriate instruments of praise (there are some who might claim this!)? Hardly! Rather it reads as a spur to creativity! Can you conceive of a way to praise God, whether through electric guitar or Gregorian chanting, through polka music (I know a congregation who does this!) or through guitars or an organ? God is to be praised! This is the point and purpose, the reason for which we were created, that we might praise God for and in and as his marvelous creation!

1 John 4:1-11 – Listening is hard work, but essential work. If we don’t listen, we’re apt to hear what we expect or want to hear rather than what is actually being said. And contrary to the popular self-improvement or self-image or self-validation or tolerance mantras of today, not everything said is either good or helpful or true, either for the person(s) saying it or the person(s) hearing it. Those Christians (and others) who demand that Christians not judge, not evaluate others as some sort of cardinal sin would do well to listen to the Apostle John in this passage. Just like St. Paul, he calls and warns his hearers and readers to do exactly what so many Christians think is unkind or unloving – judge. Evaluate. Listen. Hear. Decide. We are limited in our ability to perceive truth, but we can determine the basics. It is possible that St. John is dealing with the early appearance of what will later be called docetism – a heretical idea that Jesus was not truly the incarnate Son of God, but rather that He simply pretended to be truly human and physical. The name is based on the Greek word for seeming or appearing, and implies that what is seen is not true reality, or that what is seen is mistaken in its essence. Perhaps St. John is dealing with early instances of this in Christian communities (the term is first identified in a late 2nd century letter from Bishop Serapion of Antioch, but of course there might have been earlier references that have been lost to history). St. John’s point is that the essence of the Gospel – that Jesus of Nazareth is also the Messiah and the divine Son of God – cannot be compromised or tweaked. It is the reality experienced firsthand by John and the other apostles, and anyone who would prefer to alter that reality to suit their predisposed philosophical or theological preferences is not faithful in so doing and is actually speaking contrary to the Holy Spirit of God (regardless of their self-identified motivations). John furthermore exhorts Christians to practice love amongst themselves. If we are unable to love our brothers and sisters with whom we will share eternity, how can we truly say that we love our neighbor?

John 15:1-8 – It isn’t all about you and Jesus. It’s just about Jesus. Without Jesus, there is no you. Not really. Not in the most important of way – the eternal relationship with the God who created and died and rose again for you. Either you are connected with this God through faith and trust and obedience to the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ, or you have cut yourself off from the only source of life. You are either alive in Christ or not. And what makes us alive is not our personal piety or the approbations of those around us, but whether we have heard or the saving Word of God, the Word made flesh that dwelt among us (John 1:14). To hear and receive that Word is life. Anything else is not life, no matter how much we may like it or prefer it or wish it to be true. John’s strong warnings and admonitions in 1 John 4 stem from the very straightforward word of Jesus himself. Truth is truth. It is real and objective and not subject to our redefinition or our renegotiation of terms and conditions. We either receive truth as it is and in doing so, receive all of the attendant blessings that this reality confers, or we live outside that truth. And just as in every other aspect of our lives, when we try to create a reality that does not match the objective truth of reality around us, we are liable to hurt ourselves. If we say that the fire is not hot and will not burn us and that we can create and summon our own reality to this effect simply by wishing or thinking it so, we are going to get burned. Perhaps just a little or perhaps tremendously, corresponding to the amount of faith and trust and confidence we place in the lie rather than the truth. So it should not surprise us that in trusting our entire selves to the reality and truth of the Son of God, we benefit tremendously, eternally! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!