Thursday, April 23, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Study of the Gospel of John, Chapter 18

The actual study begins at 12:08. I was unable to edit it from the video. I had gone on earlier in hopes of including some pictures and links in the comments but was unable to do so.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Study of the Gospel of John, Chapter 17

Of Wealth and Foolish Kings

Two passages struck me from today's appointed readings from The One Year Chronological Bible, as I had my daily quiet time with God.

First: Psalm 14:6, where David writes, "...evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge."

It reminds me of the parable Jesus tells of a poor man, Lazarus (not to be confused with his friend, Lazarus) and an unnamed rich man in Luke 16:19-31.

The rich man in Jesus' parable had everything he wanted in this world, the false idols of self and money that he craved...and worshiped. He passed poor Lazarus every time he went in or out through the gate of his home, evidently not giving him a second thought. Clearly, Lazarus was thwarted from enacting any plans he might have for improving his life or gaining healing by the care he might have received from the wealthy among whom he lived.

In the course of the parable, Lazarus dies and so does the rich man.

Lazarus, who has trusted in God despite his suffering, is taken by the angels to occupy an honored place next to Abraham, the patriarch of Israel who had believed in God and God's promises even though he couldn't see God.

The rich man, meanwhile, who had lived only for himself, his ambitions, and his desires, is tormented in the fires of Hades.

The rich man, evidently not much changed by the eternal condemnation under which he is living, calls out to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to serve him by giving him water. Abraham says that won't be possible: There is a chasm between God's heaven where those who have, in this lifetime, turned from sin and trusted in the God we now know in Jesus, on the one hand, and the place where those who have turned from God and trusted only in themselves or in the dying things of earth, on the other.

When the rich man finally thinks of someone other than himself, he asks that Lazarus (notice that once again, the rich man wants the beggar to serve his desires) be sent to his brothers to call them to repentance and faith in God so that the brothers won't suffer eternally as he is. The rich man figures that if they see a once-dead man in the flesh, they'll repent for their sin and believe in God. Abraham says that won't be possible either. Jesus, Who, of course, will die and be raised from the dead, says that Abraham tells the rich man, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:31)

This parable surely underscores what the Psalm teaches. Even if and when evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, evil need not be the last word over their lives. God promises that all who turn from sin and trust in Christ will be with Him for eternity.

But the parable also indicates that those who spurn the freely offered gift of new life for all who repent and believe in the God revealed in Jesus, face a horrifying, eternal, and permanent prospect of separation from God and the life that only Jesus can give. Meanwhile, those who trust in Jesus, God the Son, will live with God at their sides, both in the imperfections and difficulties of this world and in the eternal perfections of life beyond our own death and resurrections.

Every believer in Jesus will be interested in caring for the poor and building others up as a matter of course. When you know that by God's grace through faith in Christ, you belong to God forever, sharing the blessings God has given to you isn't odious, it's an involuntary act of gratitude for God's goodness given in the crucified and risen Jesus.

2. "Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly." (1 Samuel 26:21)

These are words spoken by Israel's first king, Saul. He has been trying to kill David, the man God clearly has in mind to be Saul's successor. Saul is consumed with murderous jealousy because he understands that while he has become, in an old phrase, "yesterday's man," David is "tomorrow's man."

Saul speaks the words cited above after David had spared Saul's life even though he could have killed the sleeping Saul with the king's own spear.

For a moment, Saul recognizes how foolishly he's acted. Consumed with himself and his desire for glory, he has sought to kill a virtuous man. (David wasn't always virtuous. But that's a story for another time.) More than that, Saul was seeking to thwart the plans of God to make David king. And so, Saul expresses regret for his foolishness and errant ways.

It's refreshing when leaders can say things like, "I'm sorry. I've been foolish. Please forgive me. I take the blame." In this moment of honest repentance and humility, Saul showed more greatness than he had at any other time in his life.

But it wasn't to last. Soon, he would be chasing after David again. Repentance and faith do not come naturally to we human beings; they only happen when, by the power of God's Holy Spirit and the Word of God working on us, we can lay aside our inborn aversion to God and trust in Him.

Father, help me to be a person humble enough to confess my foolishness and to know that having others' respect and esteem isn't important. All that matters is that I trust in You. Help me to do that today. And, God, in our world, grant us leaders who are humble enough to change course when they've gone wrong, who will listen to Your call to repentance, confess their sins, receive the forgiveness available to those who turn to Christ, and trust in You alone. In Jesus' name, I pray, Amen.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Tonight's Weeknight Study of the Gospel of John, Chapter 16

Monday, April 20, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Study of the Gospel of John, Chapter 15

I'm Praising God Anyway!

Psalm 57 is a strange and beautiful cry of David, the shepherd who would later become king of Israel. 

The superscription says that he composed it while hiding out in a cave from King Saul. Saul could see how God favored David: Saul had been faithless and there would come a time when God would displace him from the throne and give it to David. 

But David was unwilling to lay a finger on Saul, the Lord's anointed and so, despite his military prowess and popularity among the people, instead of defending himself against the king, David ran. And hid in caves.

David prays:
I cry out to God Most High,
    to God, who vindicates me.
 He sends from heaven and saves me,
    rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
    God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.
 I am in the midst of lions;
    I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
    whose tongues are sharp swords. (Psalm 57:2-4)
David knows his dire situation and prays for deliverance to the only One he believes can help.

It's here that David prays:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth. (Psalm 57:5)

Whatever God does, David is saying, he prays that God will be exalted and His glory seen by everyone. Yes, he wants to be delivered. Yes, he asks that God spare his life. But more than anything, he wants his God to be given glory. He wants the whole creation to give God the honor and praise that is God's due.

In verse 6 of the psalm, David again speaks of the plans for his destruction being hatched and implemented by his enemies. 

But then, David prays not only that God will be exalted by the nations of the world (he will pray that again in verse 11), he expresses his intention to himself sing God's praises, even in the midst of his distress:
My heart, O God, is steadfast,
    my heart is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music.
 Awake, my soul!
    Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;

    I will sing of you among the peoples.
 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
David is making no deals with God. He hasn't prayed, "God, deliver me and I will sing your praises." David has a confidence in God that no matter what happens, he will belong to God. And no matter what conditions prevail in his life, he will praise God. He will make music to God. He will praise God among all peoples and nations.

Last night, I was feeling down. No, bleak. Almost everything I've tried to accomplish in the past two weeks has ended in failure. Or at least that's how I felt. From technology (for work) to taxes (my daughter's), from giving myself a haircut that was a disaster to trying to record some of my songs on a new app, from an online Catechism lesson plan that didn't turn out as I'd hoped to the ongoing fear that all of us who are in at-risk categories feel in the midst of this coronavirus plague, I felt accosted by failure, even by death.

But as I prayed before going to bed last night, I realized how self-absorbed my thoughts had become.

My call is to praise God among the nations, when I succeed and when I fail. My call is to "sing" of God among the peoples.

David said that he was so intent on fulfilling this call that he would "awaken the dawn" with his songs of praise to God!

I went to bed with a different perspective. Then this morning, I woke to see this psalm appointed for my quiet time reading in The One Year Chronological Bible. The question is never whether I have succeeded or failed in my own eyes. It's not even whether I live or die. It's whether I'm following Jesus, the One Who gives life and peace and forgiveness to those who turn from the stupid, futile ways of thinking in this selfish, fallen world. No matter what, He is my Deliverer!

God, forgive my bellyaching and self-pity. Your Son Jesus died and rose from the grave, assuring us that all who turn from sin and follow Him have a share in His victory over sin, death, and the grave. And we live with You now and forever. In Jesus, I belong to You and You deserve my praise always. Help me today to praise You and sing Your praises by whatever means You give me to do so.In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen

[This song, composed and performed by Bruce Cockburn during his "Christian phase" in the 1980s, always reminds me of the last line in verse 8 of the psalm. At the time of the song's release, Cockburn called To Raise the Morning Dawn one of his "God songs." Like David, he seemed intent to wake up the day with praises of God. I pray that he will come again to his former love for Jesus and follow Him. He has more songs he could sing in praise of the God we know in Jesus Christ!]

Sunday, April 19, 2020

My Lord and My God (Sunday Worship, Living Water Lutheran Church)

Here's Sunday worship from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below the video is the manuscript for today's message. God bless you!

John 20:19-31
One day during seventh-grade English class, our teacher, Mrs. Biggs, told us that we were going to have a say in what book we would read together over the next six weeks. 

She gave us three choices. I can’t remember what the other two were. But I do remember the one I definitely didn’t want to read: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

I thought I would be bored out of my skull if we read that book. But the vote for the Holmes stories was nearly unanimous. 

Then I read the stories and got hooked. I read all twelve in the collection even before we were actually supposed to be reading them for class. I loved them for the puzzles they presented, the vivid characters, the strange plot twists, and the friendship of the brilliant Holmes and the sometimes clueless Watson. I couldn’t stop talking about the stories. And for Christmas that year, I received the complete Holmes collection: all fifty-six short stories and four novels. I still have that book!

Have you ever noticed how skeptics can become the biggest fans of something they once disdained? And it’s often these people who have what’s called “the zeal of a convert.” It’s often former skeptics who tell us the most about the things they once dismissed but have come to love.

Our gospel lesson for today, John 20:19-31, gives us a portrait of such a person. His name is Thomas. He was called to be an apostle of Jesus, one of the twelve Jesus would send into the world to witness that all who believe in the crucified and risen Savior will have eternal life with God and plant Christ's Church everywhere.

At the beginning of his gospel, John introduces us to Jesus, the Second Person of the Triune God, the one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Jesus, John said, is the Word, God the Son, Who spoke the universe into being. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” John says (John 1:1). 

Later in that same chapter, he says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) 

John spends the rest of his gospel recounting signs, sermons, and dialogs pointing out to those who dared to pay attention that Jesus was no ordinary man. They all demonstrated that Jesus was more even than the Messiah, the Christ, who God’s people had long-awaited. Jesus was God the Son in the flesh, the Creator becoming one of His creatures so that in His sinlessness, He could die for sinners and win eternity for all who believed in Him, their sins forgiven, made forever new.

Now, Thomas was with Jesus throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. He knew that there was something special about Jesus. That’s probably why he kept following Jesus. But he refused to give in to the enthusiasm of faith. (The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek phrase, en Theos, in God.) 

Thomas held back, determined not to get hoodwinked into giving his loyalty to anyone. Not even Jesus. 

Thomas was there to see Jesus bring sight to the blind man who, when Jesus identified Himself as the Son of Man had told Jesus, “Lord, I believe” and proceeded to worship Jesus as God (John 9:38). But while others exhibited faith in and devotion to Jesus, however imperfect, Thomas folded his arms

When Jesus announced His intention to go to Bethany after His friend Lazarus had died there, Thomas was less than enthusiastic. Bethany was in the heart of the territory from which Jesus and the twelve had just run for their lives. At Jesus’ announcement, Lazarus cynically told the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16) 

Even at the Last Supper, after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and after Thomas had heard Jesus speak repeatedly of how He was going to Jerusalem where God the Father would glorify Him, through His death, resurrection, and ascension, Thomas asks Jesus, Who had told the disciples that they knew the Way He was going, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) 

When Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” Thomas remained immune to Jesus’ Word (John 14:6).

After Jesus’ died and all hope of His being the Messiah seemed gone, the other disciples, grief-stricken and disappointed, nonetheless stayed together, probably drawing comfort from one another. Not Thomas. He was nowhere to be found on Easter Sunday morning. He had moved on. 

Nor was he around on Easter Sunday evening when Jesus entered a locked room to greet the disciples and show them that He had conquered sin, death, and the grave for all who believe in Him. When, a week later, Thomas was told about several encounters Jesus’ other disciples had with Jesus raised from the dead, Thomas refused to believe.

I have a confession to make. 

I can sometimes be a Thomas

I live on the Easter side of Jesus’ time on earth. 

I believe in Him as my Lord and King. 

But sometimes I act and live as though the Word never became flesh and dwelt among us, that He never died to destroy the power of sin and death over me, that He didn’t rise to make me a new creature to whom He wills an eternity of good

I can wake up and go through the next sixteen hours of my day like someone who never heard of Jesus. I can live like Jesus never died and rose for me. Like those who don’t know Jesus, I can stew over how things are going to turn out, forgetting that the Lord Who was raised by God the Father on Easter has believers and our ultimate destination in His strong grip, that Jesus has prepared a place for us with God in eternity and He will be with us every step of the way on this earth. 

How about you? 

Can you be a Thomas? 

Do you sometimes let unbelief, cynicism, skepticism, selfishness, or a kind of thoughtless, default atheism setting cloud your vision of Jesus, of Who He is, and of what He has done for you on the cross and from the empty tomb?

Today brings you (and me) good news! 

Like John, the beloved disciple, who saw the empty tomb on the first Easter Sunday morning and believed, Thomas got his chance to see the risen Jesus on the following Sunday. 

And when that happened, Thomas, the hardened skeptic, became the only person in the Gospel of John to make this ringing confession about Jesus: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)

No one had previously dared to say Who Jesus was (and is). 

Thomas confessed Jesus not just our Lord. Not just the Lord Who conquered sin and death and Satan. 

Thomas looked at Jesus and declared Jesus to be God! 

Jesus says of believers like you and me, who have received the Word about Jesus that would be shared by the lives and martyrdom of witnesses like Thomas, Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, and Paul, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

We are blessed. 

Although like Thomas, we can doubt or be disbelieving or forgetful, we are blessed. 

That’s because the truth of our faith in Christ is not measured either in how often we allow our human nature to get in the way of trusting in Jesus. It isn't measured in our imperfections. 

Our faith is truly seen in this: in how, when confronted by Jesus in His Word, in the Sacraments, and in the fellowship of the Church, we realize again that this Jesus, this One raised from the grave on the first Easter, is Lord and God and His Word has transformed us from sinners dead in their trespasses and given us the saving faith to say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

Friends, Jesus never tires of coming to us and always remains the Word made flesh, true God and true man, Whose desire above all else is to fellowship with us and make us His forever

May we who, by the power of God's Word about Jesus, give us the zeal of converts, people who sold out to Jesus that we can't keep from telling the world about Jesus and His gospel.

And when Jesus calls us, may we always hear His voice and may we always come to Him, our Lord and our God. Amen