Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Reading Ramblings – August 27, 2017

August 20, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 27, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-12:8; Matthew 16:13-20

Context: The texts for today emphasize the Lord’s working in our lives. All too often we are inclined to think that it is we who pursue and find God. But it is God who pursues us, who raises us from spiritual death to life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 51:1-6 – What begins as though a summons to the wise and spiritual and godly ends up with an emphasis on the saving work of God. Abraham and Sarah are invoked not because of their piety but because of God’s decision to work through them, particularly through their shortcomings (no children) in order to show his power and bestow his blessings. Verse three particularly seems to emphasize the Lord’s ability to grant bounty in the place of barrenness, a thinly veiled reference to his granting Sarah and Abraham a child despite their advanced ages. Verses 4-6 call us to turn our attention from ourselves and fix our eyes on God – on his righteousness, his salvation, his judgment, and his mighty arm. We are not the main characters in the story of our life. We are part of God’s story, and it is the story of him accomplishing all these things on our behalf. Our efforts amount to nothing but smoke, but the promises of God are eternal and reliable.

Psalm 138 – This three-part psalm praises God for his love and faithfulness, moving from a personal account of God’s saving hand to a general exhortation and expectation of praise to God from all the rulers of the earth, before moving back to a personal statement of confidence in God’s continued blessing and protection. The personal reasons for praise act as a spur, a reason for the more general expectation of praise. God’s care for the individual is the demonstration of his worthiness for praise by even the kings of the earth, who He expects to approach him in humility. The psalmist emphasizes God’s steadfastness – He is committed to his creation.

Romans 11:33-12:8 – Paul concludes his inspirations on the relationship of Gentile Christians to their Jewish brethren with an explosion of praise to God. Paul draws on Isaiah 40:13 in part to express his praise in the Lord’s inscrutable wisdom and ways. While we can’t imagine how the Gentiles will be used to reconcile the Jewish people in faith to Jesus Christ, the Lord has figured this out. It is this very omnipotence and omniscience of God, applied to the well-being of his creation, that should spur the faithful in Jesus Christ to obedience. God knows what is best and we would do well to conform to his wisdom in all things, thereby attaining to holiness and acceptableness in his sight. The world can only lead us away from God and his wisdom, but careful attention to his Word will draw us closer to him and closer to who He intends for us to be.

It is God’s wisdom which leads us to be all that we can be, but we are inclined to lean on our own estimations and understandings, imagining ourselves to be more faithful, more resolute in our faith than we actually are. We might consider Peter’s confidence at the last supper, assuring Jesus he would follow him even to death when Jesus knew full well that Peter would deny him three times that very same night.

God has indeed blessed us with gifts, however! And we should endeavor to embrace them and put them to use inasfar as He has equipped us to do so. The expectation is that we should see this diversity of gifts as a good thing – to our benefit – rather than an opportunity for judgment or determining who is more important or valuable than another. By focusing on utilizing our gifts, we will have less time to compare ourselves to others.

Matthew 16:13-20 – The pharisees have recently demanded that Jesus perform additional signs and wonders so that they might determine who He is and whether they should place their faith in him. It can be assumed that the Pharisees have been keeping an eye on Jesus, and while not privy to all of his miracles (such as walking on the water in Chapter 14), they undoubtedly have witnessed other miracles, such as feeding the 5000 in Chapter 14 as well as his healings (such as Chapter 12). Jesus refuses their demands that He perform for them. So Jesus’ questions to his disciples in 16:13 and 16:15 are well timed. Having seen and experienced what they have with him, what are the conclusions they are drawn to? The crowds presume Jesus is a prophetic figure, but Peter is able to confess the amazing reality that Jesus is not just a prophet, but the Messiah and the Son of God.

We take this confession so lightly. Well of course that’s who He is! But we have the benefit of a great deal of hindsight! The Jewish people have been hearing about a Messiah for hundreds of years – for Peter to make the assertion that the Messiah has arrived here and now is amazing indeed. Impossible indeed. Rather, it is revealed to Peter by the Holy Spirit as directed by God the Father. Peter could have rejected this revelation, insisted that it could not be. But he seems to accept it and speak it aloud. Does it imply perfect understanding? Clearly this is not the case for Peter or any of the disciples. They have much still to learn and they don’t know nearly as much as they will after Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost Sunday.

But Peter’s confession is a start. But it isn’t just a personal confession, or even the confession of the twelve. It is the foundational confession of all who will follow after. We the Church find Jesus’ words perfectly understandable, but how could Peter and the disciples? What is the Church? How does it relate to the synagogue and the Temple? Jesus commands silence but He might hardly have needed to, as they certainly wouldn’t have understood the implications of his words until after Pentecost when they were free to proclaim them!

The Church still bears the authority that Jesus entrusted to his followers. And while our understanding may be deeper, we remain followers of Jesus who understand far less than we think we do, and have fewer answers to our questions than we would like to have. But like Peter and the twelve, we are called to be faithful to the truth revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

Reading Ramblings – August 20, 2017

August 13, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Context: The readings for today all focus on God’s eternal purpose of reaching all peoples with his saving love and grace, brought into the world through his Incarnate Son Jesus Christ as a descendant of the Hebrews, God’s chosen children of Abraham. This balance between the blessedness of being part of God’s family, and the blessedness that through being part of God’s family, God the Holy Spirit continues to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others can be difficult to maintain. It can be hindered by obsessive personal piety, or by congregational rigidity and inflexibility. It is hindered by seeing the world as an us vs. them arrangement. The blessings of God are intended for all of his creation, and we as his people should be the first to rejoice in this and in the part we have to play in sharing this good news with others.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 – For those who might see inclusiveness as a new thing with the ministry of Jesus the Christ, Isaiah is a good reminder that God has always intended his blessings to extend to everyone in creation, not just his chosen people. It is not genetics or genealogy that determines our place in God’s family, but rather love and obedience to his way of salvation through his Son Jesus. As God’s people it is paramount that we keep this perspective in mind. We are led in nearly every other aspect of our lives to see different groups of people as the enemy or as threats or as competitors. But we are called in Christ to see them as brothers and sisters (potential or realized) in Christ, and this identity should never be lost regardless of the political or social or economic issues that seek to separate and divide us. Rather, by keeping our eyes fixed on Christ’s love for us, we should be better able to extend his love to others – even those we radically disagree with or who actively struggle against us. Our prayer is that regardless of whatever divides us now, we will be united for eternity in common worship and praise of our common heavenly Father.

Psalm 67 – The notation of selah appears 71 times in the psalms, but we are uncertain as to its exact meaning and purpose. The assumption is that it is some sort of liturgical or musical direction or notation, perhaps indicating a musical interlude, or calling for a pause in the reading to allow for reflection. This psalm utilizes the notation twice, and as a whole is a call to both praise God and to pray for all peoples to be brought together in praise to God. This is on the basis of the righteousness and equality which God alone is capable and willing to give to his peoples. Through these aspects of God creation is continually renewed and continues to provide sustenance to all peoples, evidence of the Lord’s blessing.

Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32 – In Chapters 9-11 Paul deals with the issue of the Jewish people – namely, why is it that those who should have been first to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah did not, and are in fact active persecutors of Christians (as Paul himself once was). The assigned readings for the past few weeks have danced around this theme in order to highlight the broader theme of God’s intentions towards all peoples. But here we finally address the central topic. While the grace of God is extended to all peoples, we should be careful not to think of ourselves too highly in this respect. The grace extended to us has come by means of God’s chosen people, through whom the Messiah was brought into creation. God’s intention is that his chosen people will indeed, in the fullness of time and by his grace, be brought into the same grace in which the non-Jews in Christ now stand. God is at work even in this detail of his plan of salvation.

Matthew 15:21-28 – Jesus has limited time in his mission to God’s chosen people and his own race, the Jews. He has directed his disciples to focus their efforts on God’s people (Matthew 10:5-6), as they should be prepared to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah the Old Testament prophets pointed them towards. But as Jesus has consistently responded with compassion towards the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 9:36, 14:14), He now responds with compassion towards a foreigner. However not immediately so.

Jesus has left areas of Jewish influence and withdrawn to pagan, non-Jewish areas on the upper coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He has sought time and space to be alone with his disciples since word of John the Baptist’s death came to him (14:12-13). Now He encounters a woman who has heard of his healings and miracle workings. She acknowledges him as the Son of David, at least indicating an awareness of his possible identity as the Messiah. How she should know this we are not told. But in her desperation, she acts on this knowledge of Jewish Scripture and Jesus’ reputation to plead for her daughter. Her refusal to be put off by Jesus’ silence leads his disciples to ask that He send her away, just as they did with the crowds who sought him earlier (14:15). Once again, Jesus has a point to make to his disciples.

As He responded to the Jewish crowds in Galilee, Jesus now responds to this Canaanite woman. First He reminds her the scope of his work and mission. He is not sent to all the earth, but rather to the people of God in Israel. She persists. He once again asserts that He is not sent to do signs and wonders among the Gentiles. But the woman is persistent as well. Surely the Lord is bountiful in his mercy and grace! Surely there is enough power and grace in Jesus to spare a bit for someone beyond the boundaries of Israel. Surely Jesus will not deny her plea, now that she is there in front of him!

And He does not. Her pleas are answered. Does she acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God? Not within the scope of the text. Yet the Son of God still answers the prayer that she raises to him. God’s grace is truly abundant, and we should direct all people towards prayer and supplication to him in time of need. It may be that He will answer their prayer as a means of leading them towards faith in him through Jesus Christ. It is also fitting that we his people should lift prayers to him on behalf of those outside the faith, trusting in his grace and mercy and his desire to change lives both now and eternally.

Reading Ramblings – August 13, 2017

August 6, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 13, 2017

Texts: Job 38:1-18; Psalm 18:1-16; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

Context: The life of faith is one of obedience, of trust in God rather than in ourselves. But this is hard, isn’t it? Trust is much more difficult than knowing. Obedience is much less glamorous that determining our own fate. Faithfulness in our vocations doesn’t necessarily deliver us from boredom or the envy of others who seem to live more exciting lives. The passages for this Sunday deal with the challenge of being faithful where and as we are called, rather than on the terms we would prefer to set for ourselves.

Job 38:1-18 – I’m adding the first three verses of this chapter to the reading, because they provide good context for what follows. We’ve been commiserating with Job for a long time. We’ve heard his well-intentioned friends advising him on how to placate God so that his wrath is removed. We’ve heard his wife suggest that he should just curse God and die. Job has remained steadfast and resolute. He is convinced that personal sin/guilt is not the root cause for his suffering. He insists that God alone is responsible – as nothing can happen apart from his will or permission. And now God finally arrives and we settle back for a comforting ending, an explanation that will satisfy Job – and us. Instead, we get God in his anger and indignation. God is not about to explain or defend himself to Job – or to you and I. Job – like you and I – is not in a position to demand such an accounting. Job is a creation. Creations obey. Creations trust. Creations worship and praise. Creations do not stamp their feet and demand explanations from the almighty. While uncomfortable, these verses and those that follow remind us that we are not God, and if we expect to be, or expect God to accommodate our personal whims and preferences, our God is not likely the God of Scripture, but rather ourselves.

Psalm 18:1-16 – I’m using the longer reading for this psalm. It’s a beautiful picture of the wrath of God directed against anyone and anything that threatens and antagonizes his beloved creation. This is the God of judgment who will vindicate and redeem his people and his creation from the evil power and deceit of Satan and his followers. This is righteousness driving evil from all of creation, restoring the freedom and peace of Eden once again to creation. This is God sending his Son to conquer sin and death and Satan not with bolts of lightning but with obedience, faithfulness, trust, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. This is where my hope lies. I am going to die. I may well suffer in some respect or another beforehand. But I know that my redeemer lives and therefore my suffering and death will not be the final word in my life. My tombstone epitaph is not the last word in my life, but rather Jesus’ final word is, and that word is LIVE!

Romans 10:5-17 – Paul’s earnest desire that the Jews would come to see the truth of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah promised in their own Scriptures is real and true. And he recognizes that this is not a truth that we can come to of our own reason or devices (though at times it may seem that way!). Rather, it is a faith that we must receive, and to receive it, it must be brought to us, and that requires people to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard it – either literally or actually. The importance of evangelism is that all might hear, and in hearing, trust. Righteousness is not fulfillment of the Law; it consists in believing God when He makes a promise. – Martin Luther –

Matthew 14:22-33 – You know this passage. And you probably have heard one or two sermons on it to the effect of – What amazing faith Peter had! Too bad he didn’t have enough faith! Be bold like Peter, and keep your faith rather than doubting! I guarantee that if I preach on this passage Sunday, this isn’t going to be my sermon!

What the heck is Peter thinking? Why does he ask to walk across the water to Jesus? On what basis does he think this is a reasonable thing to do? How is his walking on the water a test of Jesus’ identity? Everything in this passage screams against Peter and what he is doing, not for him. Why is it that we idolize Peter in this passage, then?

I think such idolatry is common in our age where recognition, celebrity and fame seem to be the goal of so many, and where technology makes such hopes actually achievable – at least for short periods of time. How many people harbor the secret (or not-so-secret) desire to go viral and become Internet famous? It’s easy to make Peter into a role model for the extravagant, wild life of faith. The super-hero kind of faith. Not the ordinary, boring kind of faith. Not the faithfulness to wife and children kind of faith. Not the go-to-church-every-Sunday-and-find-ways-to-serve-each-week kind of faithfulness. Not the faithfulness of nose to the grindstone even when it isn’t exciting or even particularly enjoyable. Not the faithfulness of plodding along day after day. No, we want super hero faith. We want walking on water, we want miracle healings, we want to be admired for our faithfulness.

Jesus calls Peter to him, but why? Is it to show Peter all the amazing things he can do if he puts his faith into action? Is it to show him the weakness of his faith? Is it to embolden and strengthen Peter’s faith for greater miracles in the future? If Peter’s faith was weak, was it his faith in himself? Or was it his faith that Jesus could save him from his own folly?

Peter had no business on the water. Jesus knew this, and so did Peter, I think. Jesus indulged his bizarre request in order not that Peter might be the focus of the story, but that Jesus might. It was Jesus who walked across the water, who had calmed the winds that were battering the ship earlier in the night. It is not Peter’s place to be the miracle worker. Not yet! And even when that time comes, it won’t be for Peter’s glory! Hardly! It will be the source of problems and arrests and persecutions (Acts 3-4). The life of faith is not ordinarily one of glamour and prestige. It is following the calling of our Lord – not telling our Lord how to call us (perhaps Job sounds a bit familiar here?). It is obedience even to death, even death in the most ignoble and shameful manner, so long as it is faithfulness to our Lord that brings us to that point.

Peter did not have to cry out to Jesus to save him. That was why Jesus had come! To save Peter. And to save you and I. Not from boredom or ennui, but rather from our very real enemies of Satan, sin, and death. For this it is Jesus that receives the glory, not us. It is Jesus who walks on water as the Son of God and author of creation, not you and I as mere creatures. This is not our place, and it’s best if we learn it, come to peace with it, and ultimately take joy and satisfaction in it!

Reading Ramblings – August 6, 2017

July 30, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 6, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26; Romans 9:1-13; Matthew 14:13-21

Context: God provides body and soul for his people, desiring their good both now and eternally.

Isaiah 55:1-5 – The Lord extends his goodness to his people through is Word. In Chapter 54 the Lord extols the love that is now available to his people because of the guilt offering of his chosen one as detailed in Chapter 53. Chapter 55 has the Lord continuing to offer goodness to his people, before He begins extending that goodness to all peoples, which was his intent from the beginning. The short reading for this morning emphasizes the peace and prosperity that will come to the Lord’s people. While the language makes us think of food, throughout these verses the implication is that it is the Lord’s Word that is the food and drink. By listening (v.2), the hearer is able to receive what is good – rich food. By listening to God’s word (v.3), the hearer receives more than just physical sustenance but eternal, spiritual nourishment. As God raised up David from obscurity to make everlasting promises to him, so all those who are faithful in revering God’s Word will be lifted up from obscurity to honor and the glory that only God can bestow.

Psalm 136:1-9 (23-26) – This psalm is a call and response format – the leader chants the differing call, and the congregants respond by repeating for his steadfast love endures forever. The repetition is intended to focus attention, to give people time to really consider what is being said and what the appropriate response should be. God is to be given thanks (vs.1-3) because He alone is god, and because his steadfast love endures forever. What greater reason could there be to give thanks and praise to God? Verses 4-9 invite the congregation to give praise to God for his creative acts, with many of the verses echoing the days of creation in Genesis 1. Verses 10-22 are skipped in the assigned reading in the interest of brevity, but recount the Lord’s specific works of salvation and rescue throughout the Old Testament. Verses 23-26 conclude the hymn with more generic references to the Lord’s mercy and grace and his sustaining of his creation.

Romans 9:1-5 (6-13) – Paul takes a marked turn in his focus of the letter. Launching from his words of praise and thanksgiving at the end of Chapter 8, he addresses a terrible situation – many of God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham – refuse to accept Jesus the Christ as the ultimate expression of God’s love towards his creation (8:39). How can this be? Paul feels the need to deal with this issue now. Undoubtedly more than a few of the Roman Christians were Jewish, and likely disturbed that so many of their kinsmen refused to see what the Word of God plainly pointed towards in the person and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

It isn’t that God’s chosen people have lacked for any divine providence and guiding. Quite the opposite! Adoption, glory, covenants, the Law, worship and promises – the Jews of all people in creation have a unique relationship with and knowledge of God! They are the descendants of his chosen man, Abraham, and from their ranks God brought forth his messiah, the fulfillment of his promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 They of all peoples should have been the first to acclaim and welcome Jesus – certainly after his resurrection from the dead if not beforehand! Paul would be willing to sacrifice himself, to be eternally rejected if only it would mean that the fullness of God’s people would receive salvation in Jesus Christ!

Verses 6-13 begin to address the elephant in the room. If Paul is so confident of how God the Father is working through God the Holy Spirit to draw all people to salvation through God the Son, how is it that God’s chosen people are missing out? Is God somehow shortchanging them? Is He sneaking something by them? Does their rejection of the Messiah somehow reflect poorly on God himself? Not at all. He begins his analysis by noting that physical heredity is not the sole determinant of being recipients of God’s promises. In other words, throughout the Old Testament and particularly in the time of the patriarchs, God was very selective in who He included in his promises. Isaac was included but not Ishmael. Jacob was chosen but not Esau. All shared the proper lineage – they all descended from Abraham – but not all received the promise. His argument is that a similar thing is happening now – only some are open to the truth of Jesus Christ as the promised messiah. God who knows all things has foreseen this as well, and it continues his means of bringing glory to himself by determining who continues within his promises and who does not.

This is NOT the same as predestination. It is simply the recognition that God is God and does things how and as He pleases for his purposes. This does not remove our moral responsibility to obedience and faith (vs.19ff). But it is an unavoidable reality which helps to explain why many of God’s chosen people are rejecting the Christ.

Matthew 14:13-21 – Jesus seeks solitude to deal with his grief at hearing of his relative John the Baptist’s execution. However the crowds, likely unaware or John’s death, or perhaps not thinking of how it would impact Jesus, or perhaps simply overwhelmed by their own need and hunger for the words and ministry of Jesus, seek him out. Jesus responds with compassion (similar to his response in the Gospel from a few weeks back – 9:36). Instead of removing himself, He comes to shore again to heal their sick. We can imagine Jesus seeing person after person, speaking to them, laying his hands on them. We can imagine the joy and celebration among the people to have their loved ones restored. Who could leave when such amazing things were happening? Is anyone going to leave and not receive healing just because it’s getting dark? Hardly! So impressive was this day and evening that all four Gospels record it (Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6).

The disciples expect Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can get food, since the disciples clearly are not able to either provide or purchase food for them. Jesus gives compassion by healing, the disciples (perhaps?) exhibit compassion by saying it’s time for people to leave and eat (and so they themselves can eat as well?). It’s curious that all the Gospel writers except Luke specifically note that it was grassy (and green grass as well) where the people were to sit down to be fed.

John’s account tells us that this is near the Passover, and that along with how Jesus prays a blessing, breaks the food, and gives it to his disciples provide strong links to his later giving of the bread and wine at the Last Supper, instituting the Lord’s Supper. That the people are not close at hand to a town or a source of easy food might evoke memories of God’s people wandering in the wilderness in Exodus. In that wilderness God provided for the physical needs of his people through Moses. But here, one greater than Moses is at hand. Jesus provides the miraculous multiplication of the food – taking, breaking, handing to his disciples, who hand to the people, who eat until they are full. Unlike the wilderness, where the manna could not be saved, here there are 12 baskets of leftovers! Such abundance! Such provision! It might be easy to conceive of God as only concerned about our spiritual lives, but time and time again He demonstrates his love and care for his creation physically as well as spiritually. He takes the time to create, to heal, to feed, and ultimately to redeem us body and soul through the incarnate Son of God, Jesus. God is not only God at the time of our death, but at every moment from our conception to our entry into glory.

Reading Ramblings – July 30, 2017

July 23, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 30, 2017

Texts: Deuteronomy 7:6-9; Psalm 125; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52

Context: The readings today focus on God’s love and care for his people. This is love and care not based on population size or meritorious conduct, but solely on the love and grace of God. This love of God’s far surpasses our own capacity to love, and our deepest commitments pale in comparison to the sacrificial commitment of God to his creation.

Deuteronomy 7:6-9 – The reading starts with the declaration that God’s people are holy in the sight of God. We might expect that this would then proceed to a declaration of how good they have been or the particular actions and qualities that merit them this holiness in God’s eyes. Instead, the passage emphasizes not the people but rather God. It is God who has decided to make his people holy, based solely on his love and graciousness rather than on their merit. While much of contemporary worship seems focused on repetitious declarations of love and adoration for God, what makes us his people is not our love for him but rather his love for us. We more rightly emphasize his steadfastness rather than our own, his commitment rather than our own, and his glory rather than our own.

Psalm 125 – Those who put their faith in God oftentimes seem weak by the world’s standards. In the face of violent opposition, Christians have often gone to their deaths, been imprisoned, and suffered myriad smaller-scale persecutions. After all, our kingdom is not of this world, and those who are intent on claiming this world in the short term are apt to look at Christians as easy targets. But the reality is far different. God is always with his people. And while his people may be allowed to suffer and die, these things are only temporary inconveniences compared to the eternal joy we are promised in the grace of God. As such, God’s protection is not temporary but eternal (v.2), and evil will not be allowed to rule indefinitely over God’s people or they may be tempted to think that evil has won and there is nothing left to do but give in and participate in evil. While evil may hold the day – may hold the day for months and years and even decades at a time, it is not permanent, and its rule is always held in check by the power of God and his love for his people. It is in this assurance that we are to find our peace. Oftentimes peace on our own terms – financial, political, cultural dominance – is impossible. But our peace is in God who created us, redeems us, and has promised to bring us to his kingdom eternally.

Romans 8:28-39 – We come to the end of this section of Romans. In last week’s section, Paul had laid out the first two of three reasons why the Christian can endure the suffering of this world. The first is that the suffering of this world is momentary compared to the vast expanse of eternity. The second is that the Holy Spirit of God within us intercedes on our behalf in the midst of our suffering, even when we ourselves aren’t consciously able to find the words to pray. The last of his three reasons is that God works all things for good for those who love him (v.28). This is not saying that suffering is not real, or that there is not actual evil in the world. Rather, it says that while there is suffering and evil in the world, the Christian rests in the assurance that they are God’s, and as we have already received reconciliation and grace through the sacrifice of the Son of God, we know that our eternal condition has been declared. We might have to suffer here and now, but that suffering is for a limited amount of time (v.18), and we do not suffer alone (v.26). The Christian does not seek out suffering, but if and when it comes we don’t simply endure it but we look for God to be at work in, through, and despite it. Paul has already touched on this topic in 5:1-5. God can make us better and stronger through our suffering if we will trust in him and allow him to. This is working towards our good both here and now, as his children and as witnesses to his love and glory, and as we are shaped more and more, molded and prepared for the eternal weight of glory that we are promised through faith in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 13:44-52 – Throughout this chapter Jesus has been describing the kingdom of God, showing how it differs from our understanding of power and dominion. As this section of Matthew draws to a close Jesus concludes with three very brief metaphors for the kingdom of heaven – far briefer than the previous ones in this chapter.

It is tempting to hear these as descriptions of how we are to be about the kingdom of heaven, as though we are the active characters in each. However the last of the three parables makes it clear that this is mistaken. These are parables about the kingdom and rule of God and how He goes about things. In each case God is shown to be unlike any other king we might ever have heard about on earth.

In the first parable, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a field with a treasure buried in it. The confusion comes in when we presume that the kingdom of heaven is being described as something hidden in a field, waiting to be discovered by you and I who are glad to sacrifice everything in exchange for it. Traditionally this parable has been turned into an exhortation about what kind of disciple we are to be – what sort of citizen is worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Only the one who gives up everything else in order to possess that citizenship.

But this is problematic, in that in our sinful nature we are incapable of giving up everything else and wholeheartedly embracing the kingdom of God. We can never be deserving of citizenship there if that is what the parable is saying. But I side with those scholars (few in number) who interpret this parable in reverse. It is we who are the buried ones (as in death), that God gives up everything (his Son) in order to possess us forever. In this way, the parable really is about the kingdom of God and the sacrificial love of our God for us. Some object that we would be compared with a treasure, but isn’t this how God sees us? Isn’t this why He sends his Son to die on our behalf, because He loves us and his love is what conveys value?

Similarly in the next parable, it is God seeking out valuable pearls and selling everything in order to possess it. In both cases the parable is not literal – God does not give up everything, but He did give up a great deal to cause his Son to become one with us and to suffer and die.

The final parable makes it clear that these interpretations of the previous two are reasonable, if not historically popular. It clearly describes the active work of God and his angels in sorting through humanity like fish, keeping the righteous ones and casting out the evil ones. What determines righteousness vs. evil? Whether we recognize how God has sought us out and died in order to claim us as his own forever.

Unlike earlier parables, Jesus’ disciples are able to understand these. Jesus seems pleased, as it is his job – and will be their job – to continue to share truths both known and unknown. This continues to be the role of the Church in the world – witnessing to the outrageous love of God for each person as attested to by his Word to us in the Old and New Testaments.

Reading Ramblings – July 23, 2017

July 16, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 23, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 119:57-64; Romans 8:18-27; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Context: If last week the theme was the reliability of God’s Word as something that we can thoroughly and completely trust, this week that reliability is contrasted with the foolishness with which we often neglect God for other sources of comfort and hope. We so easily find ourselves devoting great amounts of time to planning and arranging the aspects of our lives to our satisfaction, often times leaving God on the margins. Yet as we soak in his Word He is able to guide and lead us, his Word forming the path we walk both consciously and subconsciously. And in his Word we are able to better contextualize and make sense of the difficulties of life. Difficulties that are not evidence of God’s absence or lack of care, but which are opportunities to see God’s strength and love sustaining and nurturing us in the midst of our pain.

Isaiah 44:6-8 – Back in Chapter 41, the Lord calls his people to task over the issue of idolatry. He then goes on in the ensuing chapters to describe his people’s unfaithfulness and his own faithfulness, interspersed with promises of what He will yet do on their behalf. But now He comes back to the topic of idols, beginning with these verses questioning his people as to what other gods they think there are. God invites any other gods that might exist to step forward and make themselves known. He invites them to prophesy and tell of things yet to be as God has. The question is rhetorical. There are no other gods. Silence answers his invitation, leading God to give a detailed description of the ridiculousness of worshiping an image made by human hands in vs. 9-20.

Psalm 119:57-64 – The great acrostic psalm, each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and each line in that section begins with a word that starts with that letter. The overarching theme of all of the sections of the psalm is the blessedness and beauty of God’s Word. Here the psalmist acknowledges that God’s Word is sufficient for our needs. In v.59 the psalmist acknowledges that his steps are not naturally aligned as they should be – he needs God’s Word to guide his steps. Of course not everyone is so inclined, and at times the plots and schemes of the wicked try to waylay and throw him off course. Even in the midst of such struggles God’s Word is foremost in his thoughts, and there is no time of the day when it is not appropriate to dwell on God’s Word, allowing it to fill him and guide him. This perseverance creates a community – a community of those faithful and trusting in God’s Word. We who spend so much time listening to the news or reading papers and magazines should consider the beauty and promise of allowing God’s Word to fill us each day, providing us with a steady and secure peace in the midst of whatever joys or struggles we encounter!

Romans 8:18-27 – Moving the major theme and subject of his letter to a close, Paul stops to deal with the issue of suffering. If we are the heirs of such eternal and divine blessings in Christ, are our lives perfect and beautiful? No. Firstly, we continue to struggle against the sin inside of us as Paul explained in Chapter 7. Secondly, we struggle in the midst of a broken and sinful world. We face real struggles like sickness and disease, old age and death, not to mention the possibility of persecution and ridicule on account of our hope in Christ.

However Paul gives three reasons why such trials and struggles can be endured. First, the struggles we face in life are small in comparison to the eternal joy and glory we look forward to. We carry within us new life in Christ, but that life is not fully revealed yet. We await it’s full revelation – indeed all of creation waits for that day along with us! And oh, how wonderful that day will be! In that day the struggles of this life will melt away like a bad dream that dissipates by the time we reach the breakfast table!

Secondly, we have the Holy Spirit of God himself within us interceding on our behalf. When we don’t know what to say to God, what to pray, what to ask. When we are exhausted emotionally or physically we are not cut off from God, but rather the Holy Spirit of God speaks on our behalf.

Thirdly, you have to wait until next week’s reading for the third reason and the conclusion of this section of Romans!

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 – Jesus tells another parable and then explains it to his disciples. For those who question the existence of evil, this isn’t a bad parable to take them to. Does God have the power and wisdom to take out evil? Yes, He does. But in the process, apparently his faithful might be endangered. Some on their way to faith might never reach that safe harbor. The problem of evil is not one to be laid at God’s doorstep but rather at Satan’s. It is he that tempted Adam and Eve to sin, knowing that if he succeeded untold suffering would ensue. It’s like an enemy that hides behind civilians to avoid being targeted. Ultimately, it isn’t that Satan won’t be brought to account. It isn’t that evil won’t be reckoned with and judged appropriately. God is not delaying out of some perverse joy in our suffering. Rather, in his perfect knowledge and wisdom, He waits so that as many people as possible can respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and be reconciled to him. He is intent on depriving Satan of as many people as possible, to the glory of God and our benefit and salvation.

Book Review – When Skeptics Ask

July 11, 2017

When Skeptics Ask by Norman L. Geisler & Ronald M. Brooks

I have the original edition of this book, which was published in 1990.

This is a great book – a handy compendium of philosophical, literary, historical, moral and scientific arguments helpful when engaging someone under the impression that any or all of these fields have somehow disproved the existence or necessity of a divine being.  The purpose of these arguments and any apologetic exercise is to help clear away misunderstanding or bad logic in order that the Gospel might be proclaimed and heard.

The book is wide ranging, and for that reason it lacks depth and a fuller treatment of complex topics.  At times the argumentation is too brief and will require multiple read-throughs for clarity.  Because I read the older edition I can’t vouch for how some of the scientific sections stand up against current scholarship.  The reader will hopefully be inspired to do further research in areas of particular concern or helpfulness.  A suggested reading list is provided at the back of the book, along with a topical index for quick reference.

This is a great resource for the intelligent Christian interested in how to respond to the objections or doubts of those around them.  Hopefully, these arguments will be utilized with love and prayer not for personal pride or the sake of argument, but so that the Gospel of Jesus can truly be heard and considered fully.

Reading Ramblings – July 16, 2017

July 9, 2017

Reading Ramblings

 

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 16, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:1-13; Romans 8:1-17; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

Context: I’ve opted to include the first 11 verses of Romans 8 with this week’s reading.  I think they provide good context to the moral exhortation of vs. 12-17, which are the officially assigned verses.  I think all of the verses this week emphasize the reliability of God in terms of his Word.  It isn’t difficult to say something, and all of us have had experiences where expectations that were set through others’ words were not met.  You and I fail to keep our word, regardless of how hard we try.  Being finite, there are limitations to what we can do and accomplish and sometimes those limitations are much closer and realer than we expected.  But for God who is eternal and all-powerful, his Word is trustworthy.  There is no set of external conditions that can foil God’s intentions.  And God does not contradict, lie, or change his mind.  Therefore, we can and should trust what He tells us!

 

Isaiah 55:10-13 – In the preceding verses God has painted a beautiful picture for his people.  Now He assures them that what He intends, He accomplishes.  We needn’t doubt.  These promises are for us.  Not simply here and now (and perhaps not here and now), but certainly in the larger, eternal sense.  We strut and fret for our limited spans upon this mortal stage, convinced all-too easily that what we do or don’t experience here and now is what is most important.  But God’s promises are not restricted to the here and now.  We will know peace and joy, and therefore we wait anxiously for God to bring this about.  First as hope in our heart that sustains us when present circumstances are unpleasant, and then finally and completely when our Lord returns.

 

Psalm 65:1-13 – This psalm praises God for what He does for his people.  We come to him and prayer and He responds!  He brings us forgiveness for our sins – our greatest and most primal need (vs.1-4).  He demonstrates his righteousness and power through creation itself which demonstrates these attributes daily (vs.5-8).  God provides for his creation so that we are blessed.  He gives us everything we need to survive (vs.9-13).  If there is want and need, it is not because God’s provision is inadequate but because our distribution and use of these gifts is sinful and broken, necessitating repentance and receiving the forgiveness that the psalm began with.  There is never lack of a reason to praise God so long as we have breath and hold fast to his promises.

 

Romans 8:1-17 – Having just dealt with the reality of ongoing sin in the Christian life, Paul returns to first of all assure us that despite our sin, we are indeed in Christ and therefore forgiven.  It isn’t our behavior that has necessarily changed (certainly not completely!).  Rather, it is our identity.  We are no longer selling ourselves into the slavery of sin.  At the very least/beginning, there is now a conflict, a disquiet and unease that we did not know before as sin prowls our hearts and minds and bodies.  We know what right is.  And we want to do it!  All this is possible only through God the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  If our identity has not changed to people who are now in Christ, then no amount of good works will ever make any difference.  Paul answers a common assertion today – it is not what we do that makes us good.  It is who we are, and whose we are, that makes us good.  As such, we begin or continue the fight against sin.  It is not who we are any more, so how can we not find it abhorrent and seek to weaken its hold on our lives?  How can we, who have been bought from slavery to Satan by the Son of God’s blood, desire anything more than to live lives of gratitude and joy as defined by our obedience?  We are no longer enemies of God, no longer rebels, but beloved children who can come to our heavenly Father knowing that we are loved above all creation, and therefore can expect our Father’s love now and for all eternity, to our benefit and his glory.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – The Word of God is the active power of God.  He who spoke creation into existence declares us his children by his Word.  His Word creates our new identity in his Son, Jesus.  Without God’s Word, no life is possible, let alone growth.  His Word carries life within it, is itself life and power and vibrancy.

 

How is it then that if God desires  all should be saved (Ezekiel 33:11) that apparently all will not be saved?  It is not a matter of God’s Word, but rather of our receptivity to it.  We continue the careful balancing of divine power and authority with the ability to reject the Word of God.

 

Matthew positions this discourse following several disparate reactions to Jesus’ preaching and teaching in Chapter 12.  Jesus is followed by crowds (12:15) that include both admirers and detractors.  Some think that Jesus is diabolically motivated and empowered.  Others demand further proofs and evidences that they might be convinced about what He says.  And presuming that 12:46-49 is referring to the same event as Mark 3 (likely given the demonic accusations in both passages as well as reference to a familial delegation), then his own family thinks that He’s crazy.  Why such varied responses to the Word?

 

Different soil conditions.  But note that while the soil conditions vary, the sower does not adjust himself to take this into account.  Seed is scattered.  It is scattered widely and generously.  Promising soil might turn out to be problematic.  Soil that looks inadequate might result in growth.  The sower sows – he or she is not a soil analyst.  That is God’s job alone!

 

But with the right conditions, the Word of God does what the Word of God has always done – it creates life.  Not just temporarily and not just barely, but eternally and abundantly!

 

 

This week I dealt with several questions about both the origins of the Old and New Testament as well as the necessity of accepting the Old Testament entirely – including difficult things such as a world-wide flood or people living to amazingly old ages.  It struck me (in retrospect), that to the seeker or the skeptic, the claims of Scripture seem fantastical, and no more verifiable than any other allegedly sacred scripture.  Why should someone take seriously the Bible rather than the Qu’ran or the Vedas or the Book of Mormon?

 

It’s all wrapped up in Jesus.  It isn’t necessary (and perhaps it is impossible!) to convince someone of the historicity of Adam and Eve or the Flood or Methuselah.  But it is much easier to bring them to the Gospels and introduce them to Jesus.  It is much easier to walk them through the Gospels and ask them whether they read more like the mythologies of the Greeks or like eye-witness testimony and description.  It is much simpler to confront them with the Resurrection.  This is the first decision that needs to be reached – who is Jesus?  Is Jesus who He said He was, or was He a charlatan or a lunatic? That decision hinges on whether the Resurrection is a reality attested to by historically reliable witnesses and documentation.  If you come to the conclusion that – as unlikely as it sounds – Jesus did indeed rise from the grave after three days, then you need to take seriously everything He said.  And Jesus repeatedly and consistently quoted the Old Testament as truth and treated it as such.

 

You have no such test for the Qu’ran or the Book of Mormon or the Vedas or any other sacred text.  No such obviously historical and considerable event as the Resurrection.  Every other Scripture says trust me.  The Bible says trust Jesus, based on the fact that He predicted his death and resurrection and both things happened.

Contradictions – Jehoiachin’s Age

July 6, 2017

Here’s a bonus contradiction – not just Jehoiachin’s age but also Ahaziah have variant ages at which they are said to have become king.  2 Kings 24:8 claims Jehoiachin was 18 years old, but 2 Chronicles 36:9 says he was eight (depending on the translation you’re using).  2 Kings 8:26 claims that Ahaziah was 22 years old when he took the throne, but 2 Chronicles 22:2 claims that he was 42.

Once again, the likely culprit is a copyist error in both cases.  The Bible itself provides enough information in other places to make it clear what the correct answer is – 18 for Jehoiachin and 22 for Ahaziah.  The fact that a copyist made a mistake in these two cases is not an actual contradiction.  Many modern translations have realized this and adjusted their translation to use the correct information.  This is in part based on a variety of sources for the Old Testament including Syriac, Aramaic, some Septuagint (Greek) copies, and at least one Hebrew copy – each of which avoids the variant confusion (eight for Jehoiachin and 42 for Ahaziah).

Within the Bible (2 Kings 8:17-18), we are told that Ahaziah’s father, Jereboam, was 32 when he became king and reigned for eight years.  It is highly unlikely that Jereboam’s son was older than Jereboam himself, so clearly the age of 42 given in some versions of 2 Chronicles 22:2 is incorrect.  Assuming that Ezekiel 19:5-9 is referring to Jehoiachin, the description of him as a man of war and conquest make little sense in reference to a boy of eight, but are quite reasonably ascribed to a man of 18.

The key takeaway is that this is not a true contradiction in any real sense of the word, and can easily be resolved both from within other Scripture passages as well as through the attestation of ancient copies of the Old Testament with the correct ages in all places.

Contradictions – Michal’s Children?

July 4, 2017

Next up – did Michal have children or not?  2 Samuel 6:23 says she did not, while 2 Samuel 21:8 seems to give the impression that she did.  Which is right?  How can we trust the Bible when it contradicts itself like this (that’s one implication that might raise this question)?

Michal was King Saul’s youngest daughter (of two) – 1 Samuel 14:49.  As King Saul’s relationship with David deteriorated, he sought to marry David to his oldest daughter, Merab, perhaps to eliminate a potential rival or to co-opt some of David’s popularity for himself.  But David humbly declines.  When Saul finds out that his younger daughter Michal is in love with David, he decides to marry her to David instead.  He sets a bride-price for her that will tempt David to try and win her hand, but which could get him killed in the process.  Either would appear to Saul as a good outcome, but David is able to pay the bride price and is married to Michal (all of this is in 1 Samuel 18).

Eventually Saul and David’s relationship is so toxic that Saul wants to kill him and David has to flee for his life, leaving his wife Michal behind.  Michal actually helps David escape, but tells her father that David would have killed her if she hadn’t helped him (1 Samuel 19:17).  In David’s absence, Saul marries Michal off to a man by the name of Palti (1 Samuel 25:44).  During the war that erupts between David and Saul, David’s strength and popularity reach a point where he is able to demand that Michal be returned to him (2 Samuel 3).  Nothing more is said at this point about Michal’s opinion about this, and she likely had no choice in the matter.  It is clear that her husband, Palti, loved her deeply though, and mourned her departure bitterly.  It might be that their marriage was a very good one, and that she did not return to David happily.

This might explain her disgust with David in 2 Samuel 6.  She mocks and taunts David for making a fool of himself before the people, dancing and worshiping God as the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem.  It is implied in 2 Samuel 6 that Michal’s contemptuous treatment of her husband is divinely judged by her not being given the honor of bearing children.

All of which would be fine if it didn’t say in 2 Samuel 21:8 that David atones for Sauls’ slaughter of the Gibeonites by putting to death Michal’s five sons.  There is further confusion in that this verse says that Michal bore these sons not to David or to Palti, but rather to a man named Adriel.  Adriel is the name of the man that Merab (Michal’s older sister) was married to after David declined to wed her.  (If your translation of 2 Samuel 21:8 says Merab rather than Michal, don’t worry – I’ll explain that in a moment!).

Proof that the Bible is not inerrant after all?  Probably not.  There are a couple of different ways that we can approach an explanation for this apparent contradiction.

Perhaps the most common approach is to say that rather than the original manuscripts being wrong (which we don’t have), what likely happened was that someone copying the text a very long time ago accidentally wrote Michal instead of Merab in 2 Samuel 21:8.  Many very reliable modern translations therefore simply render 2 Samuel 21:8 as Merab rather than Michal, since that is most likely the correct reading.   Nowhere are we told that Michal is married off to anybody else, let alone her sister’s husband!

The second explanation is that the Hebrew word translated as “bore” can have several different meanings.  It can mean give birth to, but it can also mean act as a midwife for, or even to rear/bring up.  It is possible that because of Michal’s status, she brought up her sister’s children when her sister was unable to.

It might be argued that deferring to an original text that we don’t have is cheating, that we could make the original text say anything we wanted, any way we wanted in order to solve problems.  However I don’t think that’s a reasonable objection in this case.  I tend to prefer the second explanation – the related but different uses of the Hebrew verb, but I don’t think that the first explanation of a copyist error is outrageous either.