Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Reading Ramblings – June 25, 2017

June 18, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 25, 2017

Texts: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91:1-16; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Context: All of the texts except for the Romans reading deal with the servant of God standing fast in the midst of trial and persecution, awaiting vindication from God. It is our prayer that should we be required to stand up for our faith, to give an answer for our hope, to maintain our fealty to Christ when we are demanded to recant, that we would remain faithful and steadfast, regardless of the consequences, firm in the knowledge that perhaps not this day, but some day, our God will vindicate himself and we will receive honor rather than the shame of the moment.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Jeremiah was a prophet in the late 7th/early 6th centuries BC, speaking God’s word near Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, and then to God’s people in dispersion after the fall of Jerusalem. He is called upon to speak words of terror and judgment in Jerusalem, for which he is abused (20:1-2). The words for this morning’s reading convey the suffering of Jeremiah, recently physically abused and publicly humiliated for faithfully speaking God’s Word. He is unhappy with the lot God has called him to because people only mock and insult him for speaking it. If he attempts not to speak God’s Word, he cannot hold out for long – it bursts out of him almost violently. He calls for God’s vindication and judgment against his enemies, even as he worries about their plots against his life. Before continuing on to strong words of despair, Jeremiah breaks forth in praise to God, perhaps divinely mandated and ordained praise!

Psalm 91:1-16 – What a beautiful psalm of hope and promise, calling the faithful to trust always in God who has the power to save against all odds, and who has promised ultimately to save us to himself for eternity. The psalmist uses vivid imagery to portray both the predicament of the speaker as well as the power of God. The speaker is beset by myriad threats, like bird with a snare, or a warrior facing the sword, or the warrior facing a barrage of arrows, or the vulnerable person stalked in darkness. The odds may not look good, but we are to always put our hope and trust in God, rather than ourselves or some other alleged source of protection or hope. Doing so promises us that we will see God’s glorious vindication, and the sorrow of those who persecuted us. The latter half of the psalm is familiar as Satan quotes it to Jesus while tempting him in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-6). Satan omits one line which helps to clarify the context of the psalm, resulting in an interpretation which exaggerates the promise of physical protection in verse 12. The context is not so much physical protection (though the earlier verses of the psalm lend themselves well to this interpretation!), but rather protection in all the speakers ways, so that the speaker does not wander into areas of sin or danger to himself but rather remains guided and therefore protected by God’s Word.

Romans 6:12-23 – Last week’s reading from Romans 5 emphasized that Christ’s death saves us from our deepest and darkest moments of sin and helplessness. What does this mean for the one rescued in Christ? This week’s reading begins to explore this. First off, the one saved by Christ should flee from sin and not let it be the dominating force in her life (reining over her). This involves proactive choices – not presenting our bodies to opportunities for sin. This might mean the tongue and gossip or slander, or the hands with theft, or the eye with lust. Battling sin means taking steps to try and avoid it. The motivation for this is the knowledge of what God has made us through faith in Jesus Christ. We are his. We are bought with a price, and we do not exist simply for our own desires and self-gratification. We are now under the rule of grace, rather than the power of the law condemning us in our sin. We sin, but the result is no longer death because of faith in Jesus, but rather in forgiveness which creates a state of grace.

The wily hearer/reader might be inclined to think that this means we can sin more – all we want! – since it no longer leads to condemnation under the Law. Obviously this is not what Paul means. How we choose to utilize our bodies (all of our selves, not just our physical bodies) is indicative of who we desire to serve. If we continue to choose sin actively and consistently, we are showing that we really prefer the lordship of sin rather than the lordship of Christ. This is not the case for the one in Christ, because starting with our hearts, we are being made obedient to God’s teaching. Our heart strives for this and knows that it is best, even when our minds and our bodies betray us. Our heart is enslaved to righteousness in Christ, not to sin. This will work itself out from the heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit and our cooperation, so that the sin in our lives is weakened, reduced, and we find it no longer holds the power over us it used to. This is a difficult and painful process! Perhaps it was easier before we came to Christ! Certainly – but our ease and comfort in our sin was leading us only to death and destruction. The harder road of sanctification by the power of the living God within us leads us to life. It builds us up, rather than tearing us down to nothing.

Matthew 10:5a, 21-23 – Jesus continues to instruct his disciples regarding their mission trip that He is sending them on. His words mix in this chapter, referring at some points to their immediate, short-term mission trip, and in other areas to the larger mission work they will embark on after his death, resurrection and ascension. The words in this section indicate that He is speaking now in this latter sense.

What is the effect of the Gospel? It brings hope and life to those who hear it and accept it with gladness as the truth. But many will be unwilling or unable to hear and receive it as such. This creates tension and conflict which will unfortunately play out not just on the larger societal level but within individual families as well. One might easily think of Muslim converts to Christ who are discovered and prosecuted or killed by their families. But one might also easily think of loved ones closer to home who have rejected Christ and reject their families as well. Satan’s power and deception in this world inevitably will create conflict where the Gospel is preached, heard, and where the kingdom of God is thus established visibly. Those who dare to speak and cling to the Gospel will be hated, because they will refuse to embrace the standards the world insists on, refuse to compromise with evil, and will be persecuted even to death in order to keep them from speaking the hated Word of God which reveals truth and convicts sin.

Persecution will come to those who share the Gospel, and we see this readily in the Book of Acts as the apostles suffer for their faithfulness and desire to share the good news of the resurrected Son of God with others. They do indeed flee from town to town for their very lives! Their mission work will remain by and large to the lost sheep of Israel, even though they will also be spreading the Gospel beyond. Jesus seems to have in mind the personal evangelism of his disciples, indicating that before they are able to preach in all the Jewish towns and cities, they will see God’s judgment. Scholars almost universally see this as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD by the Romans. Jesus indicates in multiple places (such as Matthew 23:34-39) that something terrible is coming to Jerusalem. So Jesus’ words here in Matthew 10 speak to the disciples’ mission work in their lifetime (corporately not individually, since some of them are martyred prior to the destruction of Jerusalem).

Testing the Boundaries

June 12, 2017

Here is a great article about an important judicial case that you probably never heard about until now (at least I hadn’t).

Attempts to undo religious liberty via workplace laws will continue and intensify.  But so far, those efforts are not succeeding – at least in the case of clearly confessional religious bodies.  For smaller churches unaffiliated with a broader denomination or historic church I’m guessing the vulnerability is greater.

I really like how the article stresses that while accusers in such cases often try to portray the actions of a congregation who terminates an employee as unloving or hateful, this is deliberate misrepresentation.  Terminating someone for violating the fundamental tenets of faith is not a hateful act.  At it’s heart, it should ultimately be a call to repentance, a firm reminder that God has spoken through his Word and we need to be careful when we violate it and expect to be commended.  This is, in the best application, another form of church discipline intended to call someone back to repentance and the forgiveness and grace of God, rather than allowing them to live with the potentially damning misunderstanding that what they do is approvable by God, regardless of what society says.

It’s an unfortunate situation for both the congregation and the individual involved, but it is not likely to be the last such situation, or the last such lawsuit.  It will be fascinating to see how long the courts side with churches on this issue.

Reading Ramblings – June 18, 2017

June 11, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 18, 2017

Texts: Exodus 19:2-8; Psalm 100; Romans 5:6-15; Matthew 9:35-10:20

Context: We are in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time now. This means that the Gospel and Old Testament lesson will work together, but the Epistle lesson will follow the lectio continua tradition of moving through contiguous blocks of the New Testament. We’ll work our way in this fashion through a large section of Romans before moving on to sections of other New Testament books. We will also stay primarily within the Gospel of Matthew, since we are in Year A of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary (and revised further by the LC-MS and other protestant groups) system.

Ordinary Time explores the life of Christ through the given Gospel for that year. However some of the ways the sections of Matthew are divided up leave a lot to be desired. For example, this week’s reading officially stops at 10:8. However I’m using the fuller lesson because it makes no sense to stop at verse 8. Even still, it’s not an ideal treatment of the text. It is paired with Exodus 19, which describes how God claims his people as his own, calling them to faith in him based on the powerful works He did against the Egyptians, which resulted in their freedom from slavery and genocide. As God’s chosen Old Testament people would be his witness in the world, so now Jesus sends his disciples to bear witness to his identity and purpose. In both cases, the reception is going to be somewhat less than warm!

Exodus 19:2-8 – God gathers his people around Mt. Sinai. He has led them out of slavery in Egypt and brought them here where He reveals himself to them in power and glory, inviting them into the most unique arrangement in all of human history. He invites this group of former slaves to become not simply his people, but his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. God calls the Hebrews to this role for the purpose of fulfilling his promise to Abram in Genesis 12 – that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his descendants. They will be witnesses in their holy living to the other nations of the earth. God will fight for them and protect them. They will be unique among all of God’s creation. Their priesthood will entail the atonement for all of creation, a role they will never fulfill corporately, but only in the person and work of their descendant, Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God.

Psalm 100 – This psalm echoes the joyful confidence of a people who know who they are – they are the Lord’s! It is their duty and privilege to raise praises to him, to lead all of creation in a never-ending chorus of praise and worship. They enter into his presence not fearfully but with joy, knowing that God loves them and cares for them as a shepherd cares for his sheep. They can attest to the Lord’s goodness and worthiness of both worship and praise, because God is faithful to his people. He is not fickle or forgetful but rather faithful. So God’s people need never doubt his attitude towards them or their identity in him.

Romans 5:6-15 – God the Father summoned the Hebrews to himself in awe and majesty. Jesus called and commissioned his twelve disciples personally. How are you and I to know that we, too, are God’s people? Paul explains it beautifully. Jesus did not die just for his followers, but for all those who will accept what his death means. He did not die just for the worthy, but specifically because nobody is worthy, everyone is unworthy. His death has saved us from our sins and therefore from the wrath of God against sin (Romans 1:18). We are not simply spared, barely. Rather, we are fully reconciled. There is no issue between God the Father and us any more, because the death of God the Son on our behalf has paid the debt of our sin. And this is not an offer only for a select few, but for everyone who will receive it.

Matthew 9:35-10:20 – Jesus commissions his twelve disciples for a mission trip. Their work is to model the work of Jesus himself in vs.9:35-38. His disciples see firsthand the need for the good news and the power of God and Jesus clearly portrays this need to them as well. They are to pray for workers to go into the fields for the harvest that God has prepared ahead of time. Jesus then passes on to his disciples some of his power the power of God the Holy Spirit which He received at his baptism. He designates the limitations of their power, as well as the limitations of their mission. They are to speak only to Jewish communities (because this is the people that Jesus has come from and been sent to). Their message is that the kingdom of heaven as it hand (in the person and work of Jesus), and the signs and wonders that they perform are to act as testimonies to the truth of their words (just as Jesus’ own miracles are pointers to the truth of his words about himself).

They are not to expect a warm welcome everyplace. Those places that reject them and their message they are to leave. They are not to waste their time with people who refuse to hear and see. They should also expect active resistance and persecution. Jesus’ words here clearly point both to the mission trip they are leaving for as well as the greater mission work they will do after his ascension. While we are not aware of them suffering persecution at this time, almost every one of these twelve will eventually go to his death for the sake of the message they bear and the one who entrusted them with it.

Most of all they are to trust in the one who sent them (Jesus) and by extension the one who accompanies them (the Holy Spirit). It is not their strength or persuasiveness or public speaking skills that are at work. Rather, they will be inspired by God the Holy Spirit with them, and it is God the Holy Spirit whom their persecutors are rejecting.

As God’s people today we should expect persecution and rejection. While we experience this personally it is ultimately aimed at the one who has died for us and saved us and called us his own. It is ultimately God they reject, and ultimately God to whom they will answer for whatever they have done to us. This is to be our confidence even in the face of persecution, that God will be vindicated, and when his Holy name is shown to be righteous and true, all the voices of his persecuted people will rise up to praise him.

Meanwhile, in Michigan…

June 6, 2017

Just the latest instance in a rising tide of discriminatory moves aimed at silencing, shaming, and economically targeting people who have the nerve to actually act on their beliefs.  Or more specifically, people who act on beliefs that are contrary to the petulant demands of a tiny minority steamrolling cultural changes.  Or more specifically, Christians.  This time, a farmer is being banned from participating in a farmer’s market.

But, hey.  Tolerance is awesome, isn’t it?  Freedom of speech?  Freedom of religion?  Yeah.  If you have kids or grandkids, I hope you’re having conversations with them about how they choose their careers because if they intend to live as Biblical Christians, their range of options is going to grow narrower in the coming years.  I mean, a lot narrower.   I mean, incredibly narrower.  This is for real.  It’s happening now.  It will only become more and more institutionalized in a self-perpetuating cycle of compliance.  Ignoring this reality is going to be very, very costly for a lot of families and individuals.

Then again, that’s the point.  To make Biblical belief and practice unattractive and cost prohibitive.

Copying Jesus

June 5, 2017

One of the miraculous signs Jesus performed as evidence of his divine power, authority, and identity was bringing dead people back to life.  One such example is in Luke 7 He restores a young man to life as the funeral procession is carrying him to burial.  Death is our final and greatest enemy, the question mark that hangs over all people and their quest to understand both the purpose of this life and whether anything awaits beyond.

Scientists are trying to bring the dead back to life as well.  Or at least the brain dead.  I don’t envision their success in this effort, but neither do I think that failure will dissuade them – and others – from continuing to try.

Reading Ramblings – June 11, 2017

June 4, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Holy Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; Matthew 28:16-20

Context: The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most debated, most confusing articles of the Christian faith. Indeed, it is safest to say less rather than more when trying to explain and defend Trinitarian doctrine. The early Church had no special day to honor the Trinity, as Trinitarian liturgy was part of every worship. When major challenges to Trinitarian doctrine began to proliferate in the early 4th century (notably Arianism), worship liturgy became even more explicitly Trinitarian, and by the tenth century there are references to the first Sunday after Pentecost specifically given over to Trinitarian readings, songs, and teachings. It officially became part of Western liturgical practice in the 14th century under Pope John XXII. Ultimately, we can only confess what the Bible – and Jesus himself – tell us about the Trinity, and seek to keep from contradicting or omitting any of these references and teachings.

Genesis 1:1-2:4a – The account of creation is riddled with phrasings that hint at the reality that the One God is something more than One. The Spirit of God is referenced in verse 2, and in 1:26 God famously utilizes the first person plural (us, our) rather than the first person singular (I, my) when preparing to create humanity. While the Trinity is at heart a concept beyond our ability to describe or illustrate by analogy, it is not accidental, I think, that the idea is planted here in the first verses of the Bible, ready to be more fully explicated by the Son of God made flesh. Some argue that God is referring to an angelic audience, or utilizing the editorial or royal we here, but such arguments seem superfluous and spurious in the face of Jesus’ own teaching regarding the uniqueness yet oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity presents us with a God that we can accept, but we cannot envision, a God beyond our ability to rationalize and therefore a God beyond our ability to create. We remain forever made in his image, rather than visa versa.

Psalm 8 – This psalm pairs beautifully with the Old Testament reading, extolling and praising God in light of creation. It is also unique in that it is the only hymn in the entire Old Testament that is directed solely and completely and directly to God. Notice as well that this is a hymn to God as distinct from creation, rather than a pantheistic notion of God as creation. It is the Lord’s name that is to be praised because it is God who created nature. The most challenging part of the psalm is the second half of verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2. The challenge is determined by how the translator punctuates the two verses. Some translations rearrange the two statements, so that the glory of God is witnessed by babes and infants, but this is not a common or accurate translation. We are left with a God who is so impressive and mighty that by eliciting praises from children and infants He is able to defeat his enemies. The psalmist is awestruck that the God capable of such a vast creation should be so intimately concerned with humanity in the midst of it. Truly our God is an awesome and amazing God!

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 – Today we hear the second half of Peter’s first sermon. In the first half of the sermon Peter is prompted by the Holy Spirit to proclaim that the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy is occurring before the assembled masses very eyes. In this half of the sermon, Peter now explains how Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Messiah, the Christ, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy on a different level. He uses King David’s words and life as demonstration that David looked forward to a descendant who would actually be greater than he, someone that he would appropriately refer to as Lord. This would be an unusual and even unprecedented understanding for the Hebrews, as even the most famous or successful of sons or daughters would ultimately be considered as lower in prestige and honor than their ancestors. How is it that David could look forward to a descendant mightier and worthy of honor more than himself? Peter finishes by proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as proof of his role and identity. The reading ends and we actually never hear the crowd’s response! The lectionary simply stops here and moves on to Romans next week! Aaaauuugghhh!

Here’s the spoiler. The crowd is convicted by Peter’s sermon. They are also distraught – they have killed the prophesied, long-awaited Messiah of God. What possible hope can there be for them now? Peter responds – their hope is in the man they crucified, the man whom God raised from the dead. They are to repent and to receive baptism in Jesus’ name. This is what saves them. This is what removes their guilt. And as it was on that first Pentecost Sunday 2000 years ago or so, so it is today for you and I. Thanks be to God!

Matthew 28:16-20 – Those who wish to argue that Trinitarian doctrine is a later development in the Christian faith have to contend with the words of Jesus himself. While there are those who would try and write off these verses as a later gloss or addition, the textual support for such a theory is entirely lacking. Jesus indicates the threefold nature of the one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This much we can say safely. Unity in trinity and trinity in unity. Each distinct and unique and yet still one God. All three existing simultaneously and yet not three individual gods but one God. And this reality is not some minor esoteric issue for theologians to postulate on late at night after too much brandy. It is the defining element of Christian identity. We are marked by God – by this triune, threefold yet singular God. We are not free to identify that aspect of God we most prefer or are most comfortable with. We are not free to be generic or non-specific. God marks us with water and His Word in baptism, and He marks us with His identity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This baptism is combined with teaching, so that newly formed disciples understand to the best of their ability who it is that has marked them, and who that mark makes them. While we cannot say or know all that we would like about the Trinity, we can affirm that it is the unity of trinity and trinity in unity that has created us, redeemed us from our sins, and works within us to make us holy. God himself is fully and completely at work, and we are the recipients of his blessings and grace. To him alone is the glory!

Askewed Perspective

June 2, 2017

The news this week is hopelessly cluttered with rival articles about our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and the role of the Russians in the 2016 election.  Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about both of them.  I’d just like to point out two things.

Firstly, withdrawal of participation from the Paris Climate Agreement – participation that was never ratified by Congress as is required to make such participation legal, according to our Constitution – does not necessarily mean a rejection of reducing greenhouse gasses and other environmentally harmful emissions.  The assumption is that if we are not part of the Climate Agreement then we are not going to do anything to try and be more environmentally conscious.  That’s a rather major assumption.  The issue should not be so much whether we are or are not part of an international, non-binding commitment to being wiser about our environmental impact, but rather what are our actual intentions as a nation, as communities, and as individuals in this regard?  As usual, the hyper-focus of attention on the actions of a political leader (whether you like him or not) is an easy substitute for the question of how am I going to live my life and make choices that I believe are healthy for me and the world around me?

That’s a harder question, which is perhaps why so many people prefer to focus on somebody else.

Secondly, I find the outrage over Russian tampering hilarious.  First of all, what does tampering mean?  So far, what I understand it to mean is that the Russians might have helped hack and disclose unflattering information about one or more of the candidates for President.  Once again, this diverts the question from the information itself to how it was disclosed.  Does the potential for tampering matter?  Of course, but I find it ironic considering that we have made little effort to hide our tampering in the world around us (or at least some of our tampering).

The United States hasn’t simply made information available to foreign populations.  We’ve run guns to support rebels against leaders we didn’t like.  Or to support leaders we liked against rebels we didn’t.  We’ve actively assisted in trying to topple or sustain foreign governments.  We have attempted to assassinate political leaders we viewed as dangerous.  We actively engage in espionage around the world against both allies and enemies, perceived or otherwise.  Yet we express righteous indignation and outrage when someone potentially has attempted to influence the political landscape here at home?

The narrative we are taught is that we do these things on the behalf of good, or democracy, or freedom, but when others do it they are doing it for opposite reasons and motivations.  In other words, we are justified in doing these things, and not only justified, it is practically our moral obligation to do them.  But anyone who might try something against us is definitionally wrong.

Do the Russians think they were morally obligated to intervene in our elections?  Perhaps some of them do.  Might we consider such attitudes dangerous or erroneous?  Very likely.  Which ought to lead us to be suspect of our own motives at times.

Some will undoubtedly call me jaded, but frankly, I presume that every government that can is engaged in espionage and manipulation of other countries for its own interests on a regular basis.  Russia is not unique in this, and neither is the United States.  I presume that this has been going on basically since the beginning of human civilization.  We act to preserve our own best interests.  Cain understood this in Genesis 4 when God sentenced him to be a wanderer.  Cain knew that others would act to protect themselves from a perceived threat and so God blessed Cain with some sort of mark that would prevent others from trying to kill him.  Without a community of his own to offer protection, Cain would be vulnerable.

The instinct to protect and preserve by a variety of means both obvious and subtle is part of our sinful, fallen nature.  We should be on guard against how others might seek to subvert or dominate us for their own ends, but we should hardly be surprised at it.  Particularly when we take great pride in our own similar efforts with other peoples and communities.  We will struggle against – and participate in – these kinds of behaviors to various degrees until sin has finally been removed as an issue in our lives, something the Bible teaches me won’t happen until the Son of God returns.  That doesn’t mean I sit passively by until then.  But it also means that I should be critical and evaluative of my own motivations as well as the motivations of others.

Which in turn means that I should spend less time screaming at those who disagree with me on these or other issues.  I will stand up for what I believe, but I pray for the strength and wisdom and integrity not to stoop to the level of those who mistakenly think that their cause justifies their abuse, mistreatment and maligning of anyone who disagrees with them.

Reading Ramblings – June 4, 2017

May 28, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – June 4, 2017

Text: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 25:1-15; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

Context: Pentecost is the Greek word for 50th and indicates the 50th day after Passover. In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22). Pentecost was the second of three annual holidays which required all able-bodied Jewish men to come into the Lord’s presence, either outside the Tabernacle or the Temple. Pentecost was associated with the end of the grain harvest, and was a time for celebration after hard work. This was the reason for so many Jews from so many places in Acts 2. It was the perfect opportunity for the Holy Spirit to witness in power to a great many Jews, many of whom would have been present in Jerusalem for Passover and would be personally familiar with Jesus’ execution and the proclamation of the empty tomb. So it is that this crowd will be convicted of their sin and respond to Peter’s call for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (which isn’t technically part of today’s reading but is the highlight of his sermon that we begin to hear today!).

Numbers 11:24-30 – The Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost and ushers in a new era, in which God the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of all of God’s people, beginning with the apostles. Until this time, the Holy Spirit only came to some people, such as the elders of Israel in this reading. Moses expressed his desire that all God’s people should be blessed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, but it wouldn’t be until 1500 years or so later that his prayer would be granted. We are blessed in a way that many of God’s people through time could only imagine. Earlier in this segment, (v.17), God indicates that He will share his spirit so that Moses does not have to bear the burden of God’s people alone. So the Holy Spirit is a means of strengthening the people of God, allowing us to share one another’s burdens. Although the Spirit’s presence is manifest by prophecy in v.25, it is important to note that this was a temporary reaction, perhaps intended as a demonstration of the newly appointed authority of these leaders. While the Holy Spirit undoubtedly still does provide prophetic insight and wisdom to some people still, it is not something that we should expect of all God’s people. God provides his good gifts according to his good will, not our personal preferences or expectations!

Psalm 25:1-15 – The psalmist expresses hope and trust in the Lord’s provision, so that he will not be overwhelmed by adversaries (vs.1-2). He bolsters this confidence by confessing that God never allows his people to be put to shame for his sake (v.3). Rather than focus on his own ways of saving himself, the psalmist asks for God to teach him, and to help him focus on God’s Word (vs.4-5) so that he is patient for God’s timing. He encourages God to answer his request based on God’s steadfast faithfulness which He has demonstrated with his people from of old (v.6). He also asks that God would forgive his sins and not hold them against him (v.7), something that might cause God to refrain from responding to his prayer. He then begins to extol the virtues of God, affirming that God does indeed lead and guide his people who seek him, and that wisdom is to be found in following God’s leading (vs.8-10). Perhaps burdened by his sins, he once again asks for forgiveness (v.11) before affirming the wisdom of following God’s leading, and the blessings that are to be found in such obedience (vs.12-14). He concludes this section of the psalm with the assertion that God will indeed rescue him from the predicament alluded to in the opening verses.

Acts 2:1-21 – I wish that we would read through all of Peter’s Pentecost sermon instead of breaking it into pieces! The Holy Spirit’s presence is indicated in ways reminiscent of God’s presence in the Old Testament, particularly Exodus 19. Luke’s description indicates a real event, with real manifestations that were both audible and visible to those gathered in the room with the disciples. We aren’t sure how many believers are there. It could be interpreted as just the twelve, based on the end of Acts 1. Or it could mean a larger assembly of all those who had come to faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, though that seems like an unusually large number of people for a single gathering. There are more than a dozen different ethnicities mentioned in vs. 7-11 so perhaps it is more than just the twelve who are there and are gifted with the ability to speak in tongues. Verse 14 indicates only that Peter and the other eleven disciples stand up or are already standing, perhaps at the forefront of the group, during this event. As Jesus’ inner circle it would be most appropriate for them to stand in order to bear witness and answer the questions of the crowd. The main question to be answered is not how is it that the disciples can speak in these other languages, but rather, what is the meaning of this event? God’s people recognize that there must be a reason why these uneducated men are suddenly speaking in different languages, and it is this question that Peter seeks to address in his sermon.

John 7:37-39 – The presence of the Holy Spirit is indicative of life itself. This new life in Christ is not contained within the individual but naturally flows out as an expression of love towards God and towards others. The disciples, therefore, really don’t have an option. When the Spirit moves them, they respond. When people ask them what it means, Peter steps forward to speak. These are actions motivated by love for Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We often worry that we will be unprepared in the moment to give testimony to our faith, but we should trust that God the Holy Spirit himself will be there to give us the words!

What flows from us in faith is not simply evidence of our own life in Christ, but as we speak the Word of God and the Gospel to others, it is actually life-giving to them as well! The Word of God that goes out from us carries the power of the Holy Spirit to bring life to the one who hears. While we may find our words inadequate or awkward, the Holy Spirit can use them as the source of life.

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

May 24, 2017

I’ve wanted to see The Book of Eli for some time.  I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic films and on a long trans-Atlantic flight recently I had the opportunity to finally watch it.  Visually it’s impressive.  The fight scenes are brutal and sparse.   Characters are basic and two-dimensional, but the acting is fine if not exquisite.  I felt like Gary Oldman was re-channeling his Zorg character from The Fifth Element, but that’s fine as well.

My interest was piqued by the centrality of the Bible in the movie.  Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, possesses a very rare commodity – a Bible.  Most Bibles were wiped out after the nuclear holocaust, viewed widely as a leading contributor to the catastrophe.  Eli is on a mission to deliver the Bible to the West Coast for reasons not altogether clear even to himself.  Oldman’s character, Carnegie, is the tyrant of a small town and has been searching in vain for a Bible for some time.  Both men need and want the Bible, but their reasons differ.  Eli needs and wants the Bible to give it away, believing that in doing so, he is contributing to humanity.  Carnegie needs and wants the Bible as the ultimate tool of coercion and control of the masses.

Fascinating interplay, but I was disappointed but the very shallow treatment of Scripture in the movie.  Oh, don’t worry, there are a few verses scattered throughout .  But I mean the overall understanding of the importance of the Bible is lacking.  Both characters see the Bible as the single-most important book on earth.  But Carnegie sees it only as a means to control others, not understanding the source of this power which ultimately would undermine what he hoped to accomplish with it.  And Eli thinks the Bible basically says “to do more for others than you do for yourself”, without recognizing that such a message could hardly be responsible for nuclear annihlation.

The movie gets it right – the Bible is the single-most dangerous and subversive book in all of human history.  But it fails to really take this seriously and explore what that means and why.  It presents both Eli’s faith and Carnegie’s utilitarianism as relative equals.  One is nicer than the other, but both are viable responses to the book.  Both basically use the Bible for personal ends – one is more altruistic at first blush but Eli is just as ready to defend his faith – which he has barely any grasp of – and use of the book as Carnegie is.  Is that really altruism?

The Bible is dangerous and subversive to any institution of power or control as it removes all authority to God.  Both Eli and Carnegie can’t make sense of this beyond their own limited perceptions.  We are not free to do things as we see fit.  We are responsible to a Creator who will judge us, as Eli whispers to a thug he has just severely roughed up.  It’s phenomenal to me that the writers/directors could think that Eli could be wandering westward for 30 years, reading the Bible every single day, willing to defend it with his life, yet completely unaware of the true power and story it contains.  It’s baffling that someone could see the Bible as dangerous simply for saying be nice to each other.  The Bible goes well beyond that – to demonstrate that we can’t even do that one little thing, and that we are dying because of our failure, a failure we can’t overcome on our own no matter how much we might attempt to.

It’s an interesting post-apocalyptic movie but it had the potential to be so much more, and there were brief moments I thought it might succeed.

Reading Ramblings – Ascension Day (Observed) – May 28, 2017

May 21, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ascension Sunday ~ May 28, 2017

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Context: Technically this is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, and Ascension is actually Thursday May 25. But I’ve made it a habit in recent years to follow the readings for Ascension Day on Sunday. Otherwise, the Ascension of Christ gets omitted from the liturgical cycle completely. Rather than move directly from the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday, I think it’s critical to spend a Sunday contemplating the Ascension.

Ascension answers the question of where our Lord and Savior is now. Is He still roaming the earth resurrected, appearing to people unawares like the disciples on the road to Emmaus? No. He is at the right hand of the Father. Is Jesus in my heart? No, He is at the right hand of the Father. Has He abandoned us? No. He promised to send the Holy Spirit after his Ascension (John 14:15-31). It is the Holy Spirit who abides with me and makes my heart his home in a way I cannot begin to understand, but trust implicitly. As such I have two advocates on my behalf before God the Father – God the Holy Spirit within me and God the Son in the presence of God the Father. I don’t need Jesus’ mother or saints or dearly departed loved ones to pray to on my behalf – 2/3 of the Godhead are already doing this!

The Ascension also reminds me that I am waiting for something other than death – I await the return of my Lord. This is to be the anchor and focal point of my life. As He has gone, so He will return. Come Lord Jesus, come.

Acts 1:1-11 – Luke’s depiction of the Ascension is a slightly more detailed account than the one he provides in the 24th chapter of his gospel. Luke wrote a two-part account of the Christian people (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3), organizing it into one part detailing the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ and the other part detailing the history of the Christian church following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The Ascension becomes the logical break point and unifying point of these two distinct but inseparable stories.

Jesus’ disciples expect now that He has been miraculously raised from the dead, Jesus will usher in his kingdom in power immediately (v.6). But this is not the case. What He accomplished in overcoming death must be told to others, so that they might come to faith in him as well. This will be accomplished in stages – starting in Jerusalem, the center-point of God’s covenant people, then extending outwards to all the Promised Land and then to the world beyond. This is the task of the Church – to bear witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and to disciple people in the implications of this reality for their lives today.

Psalm 47 – A victory psalm that proclaims the sovereignty of God. Very appropriate as we continue to reflect upon our Lord’s victory over our ancient enemies of Satan, sin, and death! The Ascension is part of this victory. Jesus accomplished everything that He was sent to. He now awaits God the Father’s perfect timing to usher in the kingdom of heaven in power and glory throughout all of creation. Yet we, the faithful, already perceive this kingdom, already live within it, are already citizens of it through baptismal faith, and already sing the praises of our King! God does not reign at some indeterminate time in the future – He reigns now, and one day all of creation will see what we see by faith to be true as evidenced in the resurrection of the Son of God.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Paul beautifully elaborates on the reign of God celebrated in Psalm 47. The full glory of God is made evident in the resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus the Christ. Jesus already sits in glory, already exalted over every other principality and power of creation, already sovereign and supreme by virtue of his perfect obedience, even to death. Not everyone recognizes his authority or respects it, but this is a temporary state of affairs, indicative of rebellious arrogance or willful blindness. What we, the faithful already receive and experience will one day be made clear to everyone, even those who would prefer to remain blind to the reality of Jesus’ sovereignty.

Luke 24:44-53 – Luke summarizes Jesus’ final days with his disciples after his resurrection. Although Luke is not one of the twelve disciples, he knows at least some of them firsthand and therefore has access to their memory of events. Jesus provides his disciples with the ability to understand Scripture – meaning the Old Testament – as a preview and pointer to himself and his work. What the leaders of God’s people were unable to see or refused to see is made clear to these simple and relatively uneducated men. The substance of this revelation is not generic or non-specific, but particularly related to Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection on behalf of humanity for the forgiveness of sins. His disciples witnessed these events in his life but did not of their own accord understand them, certainly not within the context of Scripture.

The work of the Holy Spirit continues to be that of opening the minds of the faithful to the truthfulness of Scripture in regards to the accomplishment of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. So it is appropriate that faithful men and women continue to dedicate their lives to the study and interpretation of God’s Word. As well, it seems clear that we should expect the Holy Spirit’s revelatory work to continue to be directly linked to and centered upon Holy Scripture, rather than some sort of new and unprecedented revelation. The Holy Spirit needn’t reveal something new to us. What is necessary is contained in the Word of God referring to the Word of God made flesh. While there may be much that we would like to know, what we have is sufficient (John 20:30-31, 21:25).

As such, we should make the study of God’s Word an important aspect of the life of faith rather than relying on unsubstantiated and spurious leadings of the Holy Spirit – which might actually not be the Holy Spirit’s leadings or teachings. We should expect that what the Holy Spirit reveals to us will be directly related to the Word of God passed down to us, and certainly not in any contradiction to this Word.

Jesus is not merely risen, He is ascended. He is not simply ascended, He is returning. This is what we look forward to. This is the conclusion that we are to center our lives around, not the other miscellaneous events that so often cloud and complicate and clutter our horizons. It isn’t marriage or children or retirement or death that are the endpoints we anticipate, but rather our Lord’s return.