Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Quick Note

 I'm thinking about this sermon I'm writing on 1 John 4:7-19, and one of the key points in the passage is the affirmation that "No one has ever seen God". We have seen something though,  and what we've seen is important, and necessary.  Indeed,  the apostle appeals to what he has seen in the opening words of the epistle. If we haven't seen God, what then have we seen? 
1. We've seen the love Jesus gave all those around him. 
2. We've seen the love the Father had for us in that He has provided the atoning  sacrifice for our sins. 
3. We've seen the love of Christians for each other in the sharing of resources to meet physical and spiritual needs. 

Dear friends of the Lord,  and joint brothers and sisters in Christ,  to see God, people must first see love. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Wisdom and Instruction

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. -- Proverbs 1:7
The verse posted above is one of those "classic verses" everyone learned at some point in their walk with God, at least on the churches where I grew up. The thing about this verse that always stands out to me is how little we consider the word fear when we consider God.

Fear is something we associate we mostly associate with negativity. We should certainly be afraid of God if we we refuse to obey Him, but we if we love Him, doesn't "Perfect love cast out all fear" (1 John 4:8)?

We experience fear of the Lord for a variety of reasons:
  • Past judgement by God is seen as a garauntee of future condemnation
  • Fear losing salvation because of some unknown sin
just to name a couple.
We fear God because we understand that we don't understand Him. His ways are not our ways, and that causes fear because our questions can not be assured of an answer. Fear and faith are the twin internal reactions to understanding that when it comes to God, we must trust something claiming to be from Him, and as Christians, that is the Bible. We must trust that the Bible is true, that it is sufficient, and that it is instructive in our understanding of God. Let's turn our fear into faith by considering the following:
We fear judgement because of our sins: We have faith that God's plan for us is to be with Him (Revelation 21:1-4).
We fear impotence because we are finite: We have faith that we are immovable from the hand of God (John 10:27-30).

When we know the Bible, we know the fear of the LORD. It's our place for wisdom and instruction. As I become a better Believer and Servant, the more my fear becomes faith through the encouragement of the Word.

Monday, May 08, 2017

A Psalm to Consider

I am suddenly struck by a scripture, and I want to share it.
I'm always in the place this scripture describes, sometimes more than others.

Psalm 131English Standard Version (ESV)

I Have Calmed and Quieted My Soul

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

131 Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.
from: Bible Gateway
Three verses long, it cuts deep.
Some brief considerations:
Something has happened to the Psalmist, a trauma. He compares himself to a weaned child with its mother. I've been around children freshly weaned. Sometimes they don't take to leaving their mother's breast very kindly. There's much grief and tears, but if the child is to grow, they have to leave their mother's milk. From that point forward, the sustainance they get from their mother is different. Deeper than physical provision, they can be still, and know that even though what once was will never be again, there's better things, bigger hope, more comfort coming from the One who loves them.

When God takes the milk away, He's still there, as a mother with a weaned child. Holding us, comforting us, keeping our soul sustained.

Don't understand where your money will come from - calm yourself.
ISIS related terrorism got you worried - calm yourself.
Prexisting condition keeping you from getting healthcare - calm yourself.
God is still doing something even though you're not getting milk anymore.

Let your cares be carried by the Lord!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mostly Mealtimes...

Recently I asked a question on Facebook. My question was simple enough: How often do you think about a meal when you think about the last time you saw somebody? A lot of people responded that they did think of a meal when they last thought of someone. I grew up in a family who's week almost literally revolved around food. From Sunday morning dinner at Grandma's house, to the Wednesday night fish fry at Possum Hollow, our family was always looking for another meal.  The fish fry especially consumed my Grandpa and his brother's schedule. There was minnow trapping on Monday and Thursday. Then they had to fish on Tuesdays and Fridays, all so that on Wednesday night, between 40 and 60 people could gather and eat. People have to eat, so it figures that we would all eat together.

I'm lead then to believe that God does some things on purpose, directly because He knows people, and He knows we like to eat too. He knows we remember special occasions by the food we eat, so He gave the Children of Israel a collection of feasts to keep, each with their meaning, each occurring in their own time. This weekend the Jews celebrate Passover, and it's that feast that I want to look at if only briefly.

What if you were alive, as an Israelite, captive in Egypt when Moses came to lead the people out of Pharaoh's hand? What would you make of the commands to keep the Passover described in Exodus Chapter 12? First of all, it's a meal that is designed to separate the People of God from the Foreigner. God tells the people:
43 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. ... 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Exodus 12:43-45; 47-49. 

God intends for this meal to be a meal where there is a clear distinction between God's People, and those who are not God's people. Ponder this for a moment as we listen to another one of God's commands for this special meal: "10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn." This meal has a special time, limited in duration. There are no leftovers from God's Passover! The People of God are given clear instruction about the time that the Passover takes place. He tells them the month the feast is in, he tells them the day the feast starts, and then He tells them duration of the feast. Six days of unleavened bread, and then, one evening only, lamb with the bread, and bitter herbs. There's no accidents here. All of this is for a reason. Ponder as if you were one of the Children of Israel, waiting to be delivered from Egypt. Now listen to this and consider what it could mean: 

They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts...11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord's Passover. Exodus 12:8, 9, 11 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. Exodus 12:46
 God commanded the People of God to eat the meal in a certain manner. None of this is by accident. There's nothing here done by chance or haphazardly. God has a certain way for doing this, and it's for a certain reason. He's wanting these people to remember the meal. He's going to use it for something special. He's looking down the road 1500 years to a time when this meal will be celebrated in this manner for the last time before His Son dies.

We know that on the night Jesus was betrayed he was keeping the Passover meal. We also know that he gave a meal to remember him by on that night. I always try to consider what it must have been like for the disciples on that night. Like the Israelites that first night, they were probably a little confused by Jesus' new instructions. He takes the bread, and offers it to them, calling it his body. Then he lifts a glass, and calls it the blood of the new covenant. Just like the first Passover, though, this meal also has certain rules. Just like it was with the Israelites and the Passover: The Lord's Supper is only valid for certain people. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:29 "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." Our meal is for those who recognize that this bread and cup are given to us as the body and blood of Jesus. Also, like Passover: Our meal has a time. From early in its history, the Church has gathered on the first day of the week to celebrate the Lord in this manner. We gather for the same reason the early disciples gather: to devote ourselves to the Apostle's teachings, for fellowship, to break this bread together and for prayer. Thirdly, God has commanded us to eat this meal together in a certain manner. We're commanded to examine ourselves, to not use this as a time for overindulgence, and to recognize the body of the Lord. 

There's a lot of things about the Passover that can be studied in the Light of the identity of Jesus, and the salvation he offered to us. One thing that's worthy of another lesson is the direct symbolism between Jesus and the Passover lamb. There's a reason why the Passover lamb had to be unblemished. There's a reason why we call Jesus the Lamb of God, and why his bones weren't broken on the cross, even though the other two who were crucified with him had their legs broken. Most importantly, however, there's a reason why we're gathered here today; it's to eat a meal, and think about the Last Time Jesus was here, and to also think about the time when we'll see him in person!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Somethings are Very Hard to Do

It's hard to see outside of your own frame of reference. A book, written in 1884 as a bit of satire on Victorian English culture impressed this idea upon me. The book is called Flatland, and it tells the tale of A Square, and his struggles to bring the truth of the third dimension to his own society, one where only two dimensions are possible. One of the real major points of the book is to help you understand that trying to explain things that people haven't experienced is tricky, and mostly impossible. Gazing into eternity with our current bodies and minds is every bit as tricky as a sphere trying to tell a square what the third dimension is like. Of all the tricky things to grasp, the resurrection of Jesus is at the top. As Christians, we accept the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as truth, and the implication of that truth is that we too, will share in the same resurrection one day.
Paul addresses how difficult this is to understand in 1 Corinthians 15. It was true then, and it's true now, some people don't believe in the resurrection They don't believe because they don't see how our bodies could get any better after being dead. They paint a sacrilegious picture of the resurrection that has no spiritual element. In reality they don't understand the Gospel, so they mock it instead. Let's increase our understanding by reading the following scripture in 1 Corinthians 15, starting with verse 35 (ESV)
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

We're moving from a physical place, to a spiritual one. It makes sense then, that our physical bodies would have to be replaced with a spiritual one. This spiritual body, if we are to use Jesus as our example, is strange. Apparently, he was able to move quickly, appearing in the middle of a group of people, seemingly at once. One of the crazy things is that even though scripture promises us that there are no more tears or sickness once we get this body, some things linger with us, or else Thomas would not have seen the nail-marks on Jesus' body. It seems as if the pain is taken away, but the work done in our physical bodies was left! It seems that physical things and physical actions and communicate to us spiritual things, and have spiritual consequences. Just as the holes in Jesus' body convinced Thomas of the realness of the resurrection of Christ, the Lord's Supper convinces us of the covenant God has made with us through the sacrifice of his son. This meal is for us, a contract written in Jesus' blood and paid for with his broken body.

When we gather around the table, we gather to hopefully come to a fuller understanding of something that seems impossible to understand in this form of being. Let us take the cup and the loaf together, break it and share, and pray that the day we receive our spiritual body is hastened to us so that we can understand the universe as God sees it.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Notes for Ephesians 2:1-10

This is part of a "homework" assignment from small group leadership training at my home church. We'll be starting a small group next fall. The assignment is two fold
1. Observe a particular text, and discover the facts that are in that text.
2. Formulate factual questions related to that text


Notes for Ephesians 2:1-10.

Text:
EPHESIANS 2:1-10 (ESV)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

1. Facts: This text contrasts who a group is, before they were forgiven, and after they were forgiven. People who live in this world are ultimately following "The prince of the power of the air". Everyone once upon a time, followed this prince. God has loved us though. We have been raised! Grace has saved us through our faith. Works do not save us, but we are saved to be God's workmanship, doing God's work. This work was made for us to do.

2. Questions:
How many groups can humanity be divided into, and how could we describe them, according to this passage?

If we were once dead, what then made us alive? Who can be made alive?

What is God waiting to show us? 

What makes faith special in God's eyes, according to this passage?

If God doesn't save us by what we do, why is it important that we do good thing?

What's the good thing you'll be doing this week? (final question)

Sunday, March 08, 2015

PRAISE GOD!

This is the Communion meditation for Highlands Church of Christ, given March 08, 2015.

Usually Mr Peterson wore a sweater vest, with a tie underneath. He and his wife sat in the same pew every Sunday, about three rows from the front. It had to be an easy seat to get to, he couldn't move very well or very fast. When I knew Mr. Peterson, his left arm curled into a fist, and he held it close to his body. Sometime in the past, he'd had a stroke. He couldn't talk without a stutter, so he mainly communicated through facial expression, and usually there was a smile on his face. The struggle for Mr Peterson to talk, communicate, move, and interact was real. He also taught me an important lesson on thankfulness every Sunday he met with the church. He taught his lesson over time, and if things distracted you from the lesson, you might let out a snicker, or feel a little embarrassment, but slowly the lesson built. I'm going to share with you a lesson it took me six months, at least to learn.

The first Sunday I remember Mr Peterson in Church, I remember because when he received the cup to take the Lord's Supper, he spoke the word "Hallelujah". As far as I can remember, he said it every week he met with the church. The only time I ever heard him say something clearly and without stuttering was to say "hallelujah" right after taking the cup. He never said it with a hesitation. Sometimes he said it softly, but mostly, his voiced boomed in the silent time that we had after cocmmunion: "Hallelujah".

The word means "Praise God!" It's an expression given both as a command and declarative. "Praise God!" The Psalms especially use the phrase. When Mr Peterson said it, I knew I was learning something, but it took a while to really take. What I learned from him is that a thankful heart always finds a way to turn to God and thank Him for the blood of Christ. Let's read something from Hebrews 13:8-15 together:
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.  11 For *xlthe bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.  12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.  15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

When we take the cup of communion, we take the same cup that Jesus called his Blood. Together, we come to the place this passage describes. Let's praise God together, and with thankful hearts take the cup, and offer the sacrifice of praise to God. Let our fruitful lips acknowledge the name of Jesus.