Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Reading Ramblings – April 29, 2018

April 22, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YFA – April 22, 2018

April 22, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource

 

  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Sermon & Service
  • Monday – First Reading – Acts 8:26-40
    • Why might Luke have included the last part of v.26?
    • How does the last part of v.26 relate to v.27?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 John 4:1-11
    • Why must Christians be discerning about what and who they believe?
    • Are we to fear these false prophets?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 15:1-18
    • Why is it inevitable that followers of Jesus will bear fruit?
    • How is it that we are to abide in the love of Jesus?
  • Thursday Psalm 150
    • What is a lute?
    • Where is God to be praised?
  • Friday – Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer, 5th Petition
    • Read Matthew 18.  How does it relate to this petition?
    • According to Luther, does God answer prayer on the basis of our merit?
  • Saturday – Hymn – Listen, God Is Calling
    • What is the good news we are commanded to share (v.1)?
    • Who is the good news intended for (v.2)?

 

Looking for Angles

April 19, 2018

A curious read, this.

Noting the publication, it’s not surprising that the piece is critical of gun ownership and a congregation or pastor’s attempts to make sense of Second Amendment rights in a contemporary context.  And I believe I at least understand and can perhaps even sympathize with those who think that banning some or all guns will fix the problems in our culture that more and more regularly express themselves in violence.  And I can further understand an uneasiness with this particular congregation’s advertisement of guns on site.  The conversation about guns and the risks that gathering groups of Christians seem to increasingly face in our society is one being had in many congregations and gatherings of church leaders and workers.

I wouldn’t personally advocate for such a sign on site, even if I lived in a place where such a sign wouldn’t likely be legally challenged.  It reads too much like a challenge, a dare of sorts.  I could understand better an article that wanted to deal with the tone and the repercussions a sign like that might generate.

But the  article wants to be theological.  It wants to imply that this congregation, this pastor, is a lesser form of Christianity.  Unfaithful, even.  Specifically because of their stance on guns.  I think it would be more interesting if the author cast a wider net, addressing some of the other pastoral statements that the author refers to with a not-very-veiled derogatory perspective.

But the attempt to focus simply on gun control falls flat, theologically and otherwise.  The author wants to talk about Jesus and speculate on how He might have dealt with the issue, personally.  Without referring or offering an interpretation of Luke 22:36 (perhaps understandably, it is a very confusing statement!).  But also without referencing parables and other sayings of Jesus that seem to at least tacitly acknowledge the understanding of self defense (Luke 11:14-21, for instance).  Further, the author disregards passages in Scripture (such as Exodus 22:2-3) that do deal specifically with the issue of reasonable self-defense.  Not gun control per se, but what many opponents to revising or eliminating the Second Amendment point to – the right to protect themselves.

I often hear opponents to the Second Amendment claim that you can’t be Christian and support the Second Amendment.  I don’t often hear opponents of gun control arguing that it is unChristian to argue for gun control. But I do hear them arguing – along with non-Christian opponents of gun control – that gun controls or banning gun ownership is not wise.

As the author notes, things were already scary.  I don’t see a division between Christians and non-Christians as to whether things are scary these days.  I don’t see a division between gun control advocates and Second Amendment supporters as to whether things are scary today or not.  I’m pretty positive that most people would admit that there are some seriously scary things going on in our culture.

What we disagree on is firstly what those things are, and secondly how to deal with them.  I’d rather see pastors and theologians talking about that, rather than trying to vet another person’s faith through a political or social filter.  In the long run, changing our approaches is going to be a blessing to everyone.

Book Review – Searching for Jesus

April 18, 2018

Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth – and How They Confirm the Gospel Accounts by Robert J. Hutchinson

A member suggested (and loaned) this book to me a few months ago, complimenting it as a helpful and easy read.  This is a really good assessment of this book.  For the person who has been fed a rather unhelpful diet of the The History Channel or the National Geographic Channel, this book could be  very helpful glimpse into Biblical scholarship spanning the last 200 years or so, and how research and archaeology and historical inquiry have dealt serious blows to the circumstantial reasoning and absence-of-evidence arguments which defined liberal Biblical scholarship for the last century.

As such, it serves as an apologetic of sort.  It’s not a disinterested apologetic as Hutchinson definitely has a bias for a revision of the pop-theology academia of the last two centuries.  Hutchinson is not a professional theologian but he does a serviceable job of summarizing key perspectives both old and new, and prompting the reader to  honestly reconsider the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus in light of very compelling evidence.

But while it is apologetic, there has been some criticism that Hutchinson presents material in a way that leaves evaluation ultimately to the reader’s evaluation.   At times he is less effusive than I would like in his presentation of data.  But I also believe firmly that this is intentional on his part.  He is writing to present information to skeptics, as a skeptic himself.  A believing skeptic, but a skeptic all the same.  He is trying to speak from a common base, and allow the evidence to speak for itself.  I think he does a good job of this.

Of course, his research cannot be inclusive and exhaustive.  But he does deal with a lot of the names that make big splashes currently in Western culture as naysayers of the Bible and the Christian faith, names like Bart Ehrman.  At the very least, readers are challenged with information that, if they truly are skeptics willing to investigate further, will prompt further exploration that ultimately – as the purpose of apologetics can only be – might pave the way for someone to actually listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christians should also be interested to read books like this to counteract the effect of a constant cultural narrative that attempts to minimize, hide, or discount archaeology and historical records.  It is very readable and accessible, so you don’t need to be a scholar  or a theologian to benefit.  There are a lot of resources which contain the information this book does.  But this is a good book for what it attempts to do and who it intends to reach.

Book Review – Being Dad

April 17, 2018

Being Dad:  Father as a Picture of God’s Grace by Scott Keith

I purchased this book on a whim a few weeks ago at a conference.  I’ve met Scott a few times and was interested to hear what he has to say.

This book is encouraging in several ways.  Firstly, it stands rather starkly against the mainstream insistence that mothers and fathers are interchangeable and optional.  For those who are used to this steady stream of nonsense, and have perhaps begun to buy into it, this book will be a cold splash of water to the face.  Unexpected and perhaps unpleasant initially, but I argue ultimately refreshing.

As such, it is encouraging to both fathers and mothers.  To mothers, because they have to (get to?  should?) be partnering with their spouse and father of their children, but may be perplexed or frustrated by differences in subconscious parenting styles.  To fathers it should be encouraging because it is also a challenge to the notion that dad’s ultimate authority derives only from his strength and ability to enforce the Law.  Rather, Scott argues, father is a role of Gospel rather than Law.  He utilizes (loosely) the Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15).  But the book is far less a theological treatise than both a paean to an influential mentor and a celebration of the joy of fatherhood.  Towards these ends Scott enlists perspectives and inputs from moms and dads who also happen to be colleagues and friends.

This wasn’t the book I was expecting, but I think perhaps it is a book that I needed.  Knowing Scott’s interest in catechesis and faith transmission, I’m hoping that this first book (second edition) will serve as a launching pad for more in-depth study and struggle to regain the dignity and value of fatherhood in the Church as well as the larger culture.

 

 

YFA – August 8, 2018

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

 

Easter Hit-Pieces

April 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A&tCL Paused

April 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

YFA – March 18, 2018

March 18, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament Lesson – Zechariah 9:9-12
    • Who is the king referred to in v.9, based on v.10?
    • Why is this passage read on Palm Sunday?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – Philippians 2:5-11
    • What mind is it that you strive to have based on vs.5-7?
    • How is it possible for you to have this mind (v.5)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel Lesson – Mark 14:1-15:47
    • How long a Bible passage can you read before losing focus?
    • Why were people plotting to kill Jesus (vs.1-2)?
  • Thursday – Psalm – Psalm 118:19-29
    • Who do you think the speaker is in this section?
    • How will you rejoice and be glad in this day (v.24)?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer 1st Petition
    • How will you hallow  God’s name today?
    • Why does Luther link hallowing with obedience?
  • Saturday – Hymn – All Glory, Laud and Honor
    • How does Jesus come in the Lord’s name (v.1)?
    • How do you feel knowing you are worshiping with the angels (v.2)?

YFA – March 11, 2018

March 11, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday – Meditate on this morning’s service & sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament – Jeremiah 31:31-34
    • How is this new covenant created (Luke 22)?
    • How has God written his Law on our hearts?
  • Tuesday – Epistle – Hebrews 5:1-10
    • How does the role of priest/pastor differ from Jesus’ role today?
    • What was the ultimate nature of the Son’s obedience (v.8)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – Mark 10:32-45
    • How complete is Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal and death?
    • Why do you think the other disciples are indignant (v.41)?
  • Thursday – Psalm 119:9-16
    • How do you store up God’s Word in your heart (v.11)?
    • How do you meditate on God’s precepts (v.15)?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer Introduction
    • Who is this prayer addressed to?
    • What does it mean to say that God is in heaven?
  • Saturday – (LSB #436) – Go to Dark Gethsemane
    • How is Gethsemane a source of strength against temptation (v.1)?
    • What are we called to experience as his followers (v.2)?