Saturday, January 11, 2014


Friends, I haven't posted the Reading the Bible in a Year lessons for the past two days. I apologize. I will try to get back on the horse tomorrow. God bless!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Good, Evil, and God

"If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that. You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.’ The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’ For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again."

From Mere Christianity
Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity. Copyright © 1952, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1980, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

If that recession we had felt like a depression...

...there may be good reason for the feeling.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Read the Bible in a Year (Day 3)

Today's Readings:
Genesis 7-9 TNIV ESV TEV

1. Genesis 7: According to the editors of the Life Application Bible, up to 45,000 animals could have fit into the ark, given its dimensions.

2. Of course, Noah didn't gather the animals. They came at the behest of God. The main actor in Scripture is God. The creation is the object of His actions, including His action of taking on human flesh and dying and rising so that all who believe in Christ may be saved by His grace. We can't confuse ourselves for God.

3. 7:2-4: Here we're told that seven pairs of clean animals were brought to the ark. This is a foreign concept to most of us. But for centuries, people in the Near East regarded some animals as being "clean" for sacrifice and others not. The Hebrew list of clean animals was, though, unique in that region.

The clean animals were probably not for use as sacrifices during the time in the ark. Seven pairs (seven implying perfection or completion, as in the seven days it took God to create the universe) would be a good start for breeding animals for use in sacrifices after the flood.

4. 8:7: Ravens historically have been used by sailors to determine where land may be. Once ravens find a spot to land, they won't return to the place from which they're released.

5. 8:9: The above point and this one come from The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Old Testament):
The dove and the pigeon have a limited ability for sustained flight. Thus navigators use them to determine the location of landing sites. As long as they return, no landing is in close range. The dove lives at lower elevations and requires plants for food.
6. 9:1-7: God makes clear that the murder of human beings, a consequence of the fall into sin, strikes at the very core of His intentions for His creation and for human beings, made to live in relationships of love for God and love for neighbor. Human beings are not to murder other human beings. Instead, human life is to be cherished and is to be allowed to flourish.

7. 9:8-17: God makes a covenant with the human race, promising never again to destroy it or its habitation in a flood. He makes the rainbow the sign and seal of this promise. The rainbow should remind us of this promise from God and of His desire that all people should know Him, believe in Him, and have life from Him.

8. 9:18-29. Scholars have disagreed as to what it means for Ham to have seen the nakedness of his father. At the least, it means that he saw his father in the same naked vulnerability that made Adam and Eve so self-conscious in the presence of God. The body was regarded with modesty.

9. The incident underscores a stubborn fact about humanity which brackets the narrative of the great flood. Genesis 6:5 tells us:
The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
This was God's verdict on the human race and the sinful inclination with which we are born before the flood.

But even after the flood, God renders the same verdict on the remains of the human race, those saved by His grace from the flood waters, Noah and his family. Genesis 8:21:
...[the Lord] said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood...
Nothing had changed about the human race. Real change comes to us only as we turn to the God we know in Jesus Christ. Even then, we are, until we die, saints and sinners, forgiven sinners, who struggle to endure in following Christ despite ourselves.  

Points to Ponder:
1. How might we protect others from having their vulnerabilities exposed or exploited? Why might this be a Christian thing to do?

2. If God could communicate to the animals to go to the ark, not to mention Noah, how might He communicate with us? Are we responsive? Why or why not? (Book recommendation: The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond by Bill Hybels.)

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Read the Bible in a Year (Day 2)

Today's readings from Genesis start out with a murder, then proceed with a dry genealogy...then get extremely wet!

January 8
Genesis 4: TNIV ESV TEV
Genesis 5: TNIV ESV TEV
Genesis 6: TNIV ESV TEV

1. Genesis 4:1-16. The Hebrew word usually translated as "offering" in verse 3, is associated most of the time with grain offerings and with thankofferings. Offerings of thanks are to be given from the heart, not begrudgingly. According to Jesus, God has little concern about the size of our offerings to Him, though its authenticity is seen in heaven's eyes in the sacrifice involved in proportion to our incomes. (The Bible holds up the tithe, an offering of the first 10% of our income, as an appropriate response to God's goodness and grace.) What is important in God's eyes is the authenticity of our motives, the genuineness of the thanks behind the offering.

Apparently, Cain had a less than cheerful heart. When God received his brother's offering with apparently more delight, he resented it. (To learn more about Cain and Abel, see The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament.)

2. God told Cain that Abel's blood was crying out. The Bible understands that blood is life. This is why the blood of a lamb was smeared on doorposts by the Hebrews when the the angel of death passed over their homes, as commanded by God in the event we know as the Passover. On the Day of Atonement, the blood of unblemished lambs was sacrificed at the Temple for the sins of the people, the blood spattered on them as parts of the sacrifice. The blood covered then life and forgiveness against death and sin. And Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Today, Christians receive life and forgiveness when they receive the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion.

3. The answer to Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper?," is simple: Yes. We are all our brothers' and sisters' keepers. The great commandment, seen in the Ten Commandments, as well as in Jesus' words in Matthew 22:34-40, is that we are to live in a fellowship of love for God and neighbor. (This is shalom.) The point of Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan is that we are all the keepers of others.

Because of the condition of sin, this love doesn't come naturally to us. The Christian's life on earth is marked by daily repentance and renewal so that as we submit to Christ, the Holy Spirit will help us manifest the love for which we were made.

Points to Ponder:

1. Genesis 6:22 says that Noah did everything just as God commanded. What does command you in His Word that you find difficult to accept? Does Noah's example help you or not?

2. In Genesis 4:15, God marks Cain. Scholars don't believe this was a physical marking. Nonetheless, how is this marking an example of both condemnation and grace? Have you ever felt yourself to be "marked" by God in a similar way?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Light of the World! (AUDIO)

I promise this message is only about thirty-two minutes long despite what you see when you first click on this link.

Read the Bible in a Year (Day 1)

It's been your New Year's resolution for years, maybe. You've started with Genesis and gotten stuck in the "begat" mud and have never been able to move on.

Help is on the way!

We're starting your new year today!

Beginning today, I'll have a series of posts that will, by the grace of God, appear for the next 365 days. There will be a few notes and questions to ponder on the Bible passages for the day.

You can read the entire Bible in one calendar year by reading little more than three chapters a day. A friend suggested that a good format would be to read three chapters and a Psalm. I thought that was a great idea. The Psalms are the Old Testament's hymnal and book of prayer and they still speak powerfully in so many ways. (Sometimes we'll use a portion of a Psalm.)

Each day, I'll have hyperlinks to the chapters appointed and give you the option of reading them in three different renderings: The New International Version (TNIV); the English Standard Version (ESV); and Today's English Version (TEV, also known as the Good News Bible).

One brief word about the nature and authority of Scripture. The writers of the Bible saw themselves as conduits of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit has, through the centuries, led the Church to believe and experience that the Old Testament is God's Word for the human race, not human attempts to understand God.

As we'll have time to discuss in the coming year, historically, the Church, including the denomination of which I am now a part, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), has held that the Bible is the authoritative source and norm of our life, faith, and practice.

There are things in the Bible we can't fully explain or understand. But its overall theme and story is of the God Who created and loves the human race and Who ultimately became one of us in Jesus Christ in order to offer His life as the pure sacrifice for our sins and then died and rose in order to open up new and everlasting life to those who turn from sin (repent) and believe in Christ as their only God and Savior...their only hope.

(And yes, that story is even told in the parts of Scripture that tell us about God sending His people into wars and such.)

The Christian view of Scripture is put well in 2 Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness...

January 7:
Genesis 1: TNIV ESV TEV
Genesis 2: TNIV ESV TEV
Genesis 3: TNIV ESV TEV

1. Genesis 1-2: The interest of Genesis in the universe's creation focuses on two basic questions: Who created the universe, especially its life, and why? Who, of course, is God. Why appears to be that God, self-sufficient yet filled with love and life, must, by His nature, give of His life and of His love. God is giving by His very nature.

2. Genesis 1:27-30: These verses demonstrate the special place humanity has in God's creation. First, God makes us in His image. We bear a special resemblance and relationship with God in our essence, not in our physical appearance because "God is spirit." The image of God has become distorted in us because of the condition of sin. Christ came into the world to restore the image of God to those who trust in Him. Death is the consequence of sin and even believers in Christ die. But like the Savior to Whom they surrender, they will rise to live with God eternally. Second, humanity is put in charge of the world God creates.

3. Genesis 2: The Hebrew names of Adam (man) and Eve (life) sound similar: ish and ishah. There are many such word plays throughout the Old Testament, written in Hebrew.

4. Genesis 3: Notice that the serpent told Eve the truth in a lying way. That's how subtle he was. In fact, Adam and Eve didn't immediately die. But death, which was never intended for them or their descendants--you and me--became part of the human condition when they transgressed God's will for them.

5. The Bible speaks of sin in two different ways. (1) First, as a condition of separation from God and from others. We see this in that Adam hid from God after he and Eve sinned. We see it too, in that Adam and Eve, so close a few verses earlier, blame each other for their common sin against God. Psalm 51:5, among other passages, affirm that we are born into the condition of sin we have inherited from our parents and, ultimately, the first humans.

(2) Second as those things we do, sins, that we do because we are sinners.

6. The grace (or undeserved charity) of God can be seen in several ways in Genesis 3: (1) First, God didn't do away with Adam and Eve as a good project gone bad as soon as they rebelled. He reached out to them.

(2) Second, God sewed clothing for them. Adam and Eve had been naked and ashamed. But once they had sinned, they became aware of how they could misuse their bodies and their lives. Mark Twain once said that man is the only animal that blushes...or needs to. Even today, God provides the world with "daily bread." The fact that millions go hungry is not a problem of God's provision, but of human selfishness...It's a sin issue.

(3) Third, God banished them from the Garden of Eden. It may seem cruel for the first human beings to have been barred from paradise. But the reason it had to be was simple: Had the two remained there, they would have gained access to the tree of life, but done so while still alienated from God and in sin. They would have been eternally separated from God and others. This is exactly how the Bible describes hell!

God has better plans in mind for Adam and Eve and their descendants. It's only when sin's power over our lives is eliminated that we can take eternal life as God intends for us from Him. That's why Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, was crucified. The cross is, for all who turn from sin and trust in Christ alone, the tree of life. (See this more literal rendering of Acts 5:30, from the New Revised Standard Version's translation of the Bible.) We submit to its verdict on our lives and to the crucifixion of our old selves so that our new selves can rise with Christ!

Points to Ponder:

1. How much of yourself do you see in Adam and Eve?

2. In light of the phrase, "her husband, who was with her," why have some believers pinned the blame for sin more onto Eve than Adam, do you suppose? What are the implications of this blame game?

3. Historically, New Testament scholars have seen the promise of Christ in Genesis 3:15. Can you see why this might be so? (Think about that before taking a gander here, if you like.)

Sunday, January 05, 2014

"Because, who is perfect?"

"But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.'" (1 Samuel 6:7)

To watch the sense of being affirmed seen in the people featured in this video, despite how the world might view them, is so moving.

Thank you, Tyler Burkum for sharing this!

Song for Epiphany #2

Song for Epiphany #1

This wonderful song by Randy Stonehill, a pioneer of Christian contemporary music who is still going strong, is from his Equator LP,  released in 1983. The whole album still stands up remarkably well. Jesus is the Light of the world!

The Light of the World!

[This was the prepared for sermon for worship this morning with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Matthew 2:1-12
To begin this morning, I ask you to turn to Isaiah 49:5-6 (page 508 in the pew Bibles). We're told:
“And now the LORD says-- he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength--he says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’"
The speaker in this passage of prophecy written many hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, has often been believed by Christians to be the Messiah, the Christ, revealed later to be Jesus.

And in verse 6, Messiah, the Anointed King Who God promised would come to set things right in Israel--bringing people back to the right worship of God, granting forgiveness to those who repent and trust in Him alone--quotes God the Father.

Here, God the Father tells God the Son, the Messiah, in effect, “It’s much too small a project for You to usher in the Kingdom of heaven for the descendants of Abraham. I want every human being on the planet to have the opportunity for salvation from sin and death. All people. You will bring light into a world darkened by sin and death!” 

On the first Christmas, Jesus came into the world to be a light to all nations.

The passionate desire of God for relationship with people isn’t confined to one ethnic group, race, or nation.

He wants to give all people the light they need to first, see their sins and vulnerabilities--and therefore see their need of God’s offered hand of forgiveness--and second, He wants to give all people the ability to see Jesus Christ as their hope for lives made eternally new by God Himself.

God doesn’t force the Light of the world on us. The spiritually blind will only be given sight if they want the Messiah.

But He shines still today in the witness of Scripture, in the Sacraments, in the fellowship and service of the Church, in the witness of Christians who prepare themselves always to account for the hope that Jesus the Messiah has given them.

Please turn to John 1:9-13 (page 739). Here, John writes about the Messiah after Jesus’ death and resurrection, at least seven hundred years after the prophecy from Isaiah we just read.

John writes: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.”

Jesus, the Light of the world, scours the nations not just to show us our sins, but also to enlighten the hearts and minds of every person to know that...
  • those holes in our hearts with which we all are born,
  • that gnawing need for meaning and significance,
  • that canyon of separation between God and us

They can be filled by the Messiah Jesus.

That’s what the New Testament is talking about when it says that all people can be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. (See here, here, and here, among other places.)

We see God’s passionate desire to draw all people to Himself through Christ in today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 2:1-10 (page 668). Please turn to it now.

This lesson records the event we call the Epiphany, from the Greek word epiphaneo, which means to shine upon. On the first Epiphany, a bright star led men called Magi, often called wise men, to the Light of the world, the Messiah.

And throughout this season of the Church Year called Epiphany, we will read Gospel lessons in which people had epiphanies, aha moments when someone recognized that when they came into the presence of Jesus, they were doing much more than meeting a man. They were in the presence of God in the flesh!

To our lesson, now. Verses 1 and 2: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’"

The Magi were practitioners of both astronomy, a useful science, and astrology, quackery that believes the stars control the destinies of human beings.

You wouldn’t expect these guys to be among the first people to care about or seek out Jesus.

In Deuteronomy 18:10-11, God forbids relying on superstitions or mediums of any kind. Such practices are called abominations because they're expressions of the human desire to "be like God." Superstitions like astrology appeal to our human impulse to be control freaks, to take control for ourselves instead of submitting to the will and control of the Creator of the universe.

So, the Magis weren’t believers in God. Whatever knowledge they may have had of Hebrew Scripture would have merely been the result of human curiosity, not faith.

And they were also foreigners, Gentiles likely from Persia, modern day Iran.

Yet, when the Messiah was born into the world, God, in His sovereignty, chose to reveal the birth to the Magi through the very stars they superstitiously followed.

Folks, the Light of the world can use any means He chooses to invite people to worship Him, to lead us to grace and new life in His Name, to pull us to His Word of truth.

And the Light of the world wants to call even the most notorious sinners, people good Christians might think are hopelessly separated from God, into a relationship with Him.

In God's eyes, there are no hopeless cases! As long as human beings draw breath on this planet, there is a chance they can come to know Jesus and His grace and forgiveness and be saved from sin and death. That's why the mission of Christ's Church is critically important!

Verses 3 and 4: “When King Herod heard [the Magi’s belief that Messiah had been born] he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law [Herod had to get all his key advisors together in the Situation Room to face this crisis], he asked them where the Christ was to be born.”

Herod himself wasn’t Jewish and he wasn’t a descendant of David, which Israel’s kings were supposed to be.

He had been given his throne by the Romans.

In the later years of his life--and Jesus was born sometime not too long before Herod’s death--the paranoid Herod killed off potential rivals.

The news of a newborn King of the Jews disturbed him.

But Matthew says Jerusalem was in an uproar too, people in their pious religious moments would have insisted that they were pining for the coming of the Messiah who would bring God's kingdom to people in need of Him.

Why? Maybe because sometimes God gets too close for comfort. We resist Him.

I shared my faith in Christ with a friend once. Nothing pushy. “That’s fine for you, Mark,” he told me. “But I really don’t need God right now.”

Another guy told me his plan: He would wait to let Christ into his life until he was on his deathbed. Until then, he intended to do without Him. Guess no one ever told him, death isn’t always that tidy or predictable.

Neither are all the other unplanned events where we need the God of the universe and Redeemer of our souls by our sides!

But, isn’t ironic that the Magi were more excited about the birth of the King of the Jews than “Jerusalem,” by which I think Matthew meant official Jerusalem, was.

They were comfortable with their perks and power and ease.

They didn’t want the Messiah messing things up.

This should remind us to never get too comfortable with the things of this world. If we’re not careful they can become so important to us that we gain the world but lose our souls!

In verses 5 and 6, the scribes and chief teachers of God’s Law cited Old Testament passages--Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2--to show that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the hometown of Israel’s greatest king, David.

Verses 7 and 8: “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’" 

The Magi followed the star to the house where Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Matthew says the Magi “were overjoyed.”

Do you remember how it felt when you first realized that the God of the universe loved you, then died for you and rose for you, so that you could turn from the death and sin of this world and receive life with God as a free gift?

Maybe it wasn’t a realization that came upon you all at once.

And hopefully, it’s a realization that hits you at deeper and deeper levels as you grow and mature in your relationship with Christ.

But this must have been something of what the Magi felt at that moment.

God’s unseen hand, His Holy Spirit, had used the star to lead them to the Child and they reacted  as we do when we realize for the first time or once again the depths of God’s commitment to us despite our faults and sins.

Verse 11: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”

The gifts they brought were ones commonly brought to kings. But what strikes me is that they bowed down and worshiped Jesus.

The Magi, never identified by Matthew as kings, were nonetheless, as their gifts attest, wealthy men. They were important in their society. They might well have seen themselves as important people deigning to give their approval to Jesus, in effect legitimizing Him by their gifts.

Sometimes, you know, we can get caught up in thinking what wonderful people we are and how lucky God is to have us on His side. If thoughts anything like that ever cross our minds, we should look at the Magi.

The word translated as worship here is in the Greek in which Matthew wrote, proskuneo. It can be translated as give homage or honor, like you might give to a queen or a president. We stand when presidents enter the room because they represent the sovereignty of our nation. People bow to royalty for the same reason. The Magi may have simply been acknowledging their belief that this Child, living in the home of an impoverished couple, was, despite all appearances, a king.

But virtually every time Matthew uses this word, proskuneo, he means more than simply paying honor. It’s almost always the gesture of people who realize that when they come into the presence of Jesus, they come into the presence of God. They worship Jesus.

This, of course, is precisely the claim Jesus makes for Himself.

“I and the Father are one,” Jesus says in John 10:30.

And in John 14:6-7, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”

That must have been what the Magi saw when they looked at the Child with awe and gratitude.

Two things I hope you and I will take away from Epiphany Day, 2014:

One, God’s love knows no bounds. God wants all people to know  Jesus, the Light of the world.

And two, God wants to use you and me to extend His invitation to others, not to come to Church, but to know Jesus.

In 2014, may we learn to know Jesus better and learn to rely on the Holy Spirit more, so that when we have the chance, like the star, to lead others to the Light that darkness could not snuff out, we will be ready.

As we begin this new year, let’s make it our common prayer to seek God’s help in growing not as church members, but as disciples of Jesus Christ, so that call all who don’t yet know the Messiah or the life God gives in His Name to join us in following Him.

Listen: The brightest light that shone on the first Epiphany wasn’t in the sky; it was on the earth beneath, where “the Word made flesh” brought the way of salvation to all peoples!

God be praised!