Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 12

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That's what I call this doodle from a recent meeting. I think the block on the right was inspired by a friend's Facebook Live home studio set. But the whole thing isn't meant to be a picture of anything, really. It's just a doodle.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Tonight's Weeknight Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11

Some Good News for Monday

"[Jesus declared] Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (John 11:29-30)

The world, religion, society, our families, and even our own internal expectations place all sorts of demands on us. We're told to "Do this to be worthy, successful, happy, accepted." All these demands weigh us down like the yokes used on pack animals.

Jesus says, "Turn from all that weighs you down and be set free forever as you follow Me." Through Jesus, God gives us His righteousness. Jesus has met all the legitimate demands of God's moral law and covers all who believe in Him with His righteousness. In Him, we're accepted by God with nothing to prove and set free to be all that God made us to be. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)

That's what the Bible calls "gospel," good news! Turn to Jesus as He calls and it's yours...every single day.

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

Claiming Our Savior

Today is the Third Sunday after Pentecost on the Church calendar and it's also Father's Day. Join us here for worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio. Below the video, you'll find the complete text of the morning's message. Have a good week!

Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
As many of you know, I came to faith in Christ in my twenties. Ann and I were married when this happened and in those early days, we spent a lot of time with a couple we’ve known since we were all in junior high school. The guy and I also hung out together, playing in rec sports leagues and endless games of ping pong. John and Beth--not the real names--are still two of my favorite people.

But over time, I became concerned about our friends’ marriage. They seemed to be drifting apart. As I prayed for them, I became convinced that if they could begin to know and follow Jesus, He could help them to forgive and love each other in ways that might save their marriage. Besides that, I just wanted them to come to trust in Jesus so that they could have eternal life with God.

I became impressed by the words Jesus addressed to His disciples of every time in Matthew 5: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15) “Lord,” I prayed, “help me to shine the light of new life through Jesus with our friends.”

John and I planned to watch a game on TV together one Saturday afternoon. I thought that might be a good time to share my faith in Jesus with him. We watched the game. The whole time, concealed under my left leg on John's and Beth’s couch, was a Christian paperback book I wanted to talk about and share with them. But no matter how much I prayed, I never worked up the courage to have the conversation with John I wanted to have. I was afraid of failure and rejection. I tried to compromise with God: I wouldn’t say anything; but I’d leave the book on the couch for John to find after I'd gone. A day or so later, John and I spoke on the phone. “Thanks for the book,” he said. But I’m sure that neither he nor Beth ever read it because, even in sharing it with them, I’d hid the light of Jesus under a bowl of fear. I have always regretted my inaction on that day! 

At the conclusion of today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 10: 5a, 21-33, Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

These words likely had a deep impact on those to whom He first addressed them. He was talking to the twelve people He had called out from His fledgling Church to be His apostles, His sent ones. Jesus was sending these twelve with the authority to replicate His ministry among the people of Israel who had wandered away from God and lacking faith in God, faced an eternity of condemnation. Going throughout the villages and hamlets of their Jewish homeland, the apostles were to preach the gospel--the good news--of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and believe in God the Son, Jesus; teach this message in synagogues; and demonstrate the power of Jesus to deliver on the promise of the Gospel by healing the sick and casting demons from the afflicted. Just before speaking these words, Jesus tells the apostles that, when they show the light of Jesus’ loving gospel to the world, they will face opposition. Disciples of Jesus always face the possibility of rejection, marginalization, persecution, and even death because of their belief in Jesus.

But are the words Jesus speaks at the end of our lesson Law, the demand of a righteous God on unrighteous people, or Gospel, the promise of God to give righteousness and new life to all who believe in Jesus? The answer to that question is, I think, YES! There are both Law and Gospel in Jesus’ words.

Take a look at them again. Jesus says: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Jesus does proclaim law here. The forgiveness of our sins, the restoration of our broken relationship with God, and eternal life with God are a possibility for every person who believes in Jesus. He says elsewhere, of course, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) But Jesus doesn’t force God’s forgiveness and new and everlasting life on anyone. These are gifts appropriated by faith. If we refuse to be connected with Jesus in this world, Jesus won’t force us to be connected with Him in this world...or the next. As Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” (John 3:18)

But Jesus also makes a gospel promise in the last lines of our lesson from Matthew. If, in our everyday lives in this world, among our family members, co-workers, friends, and those we encounter each day, we own our faith in Jesus, Jesus will be willing to own that we are forever His. That's because who we are in the world, who we are publicly is really who we are privately. If our faith is authentically seen in how we live our lives, in the God we praise, in the hope we share, it all reflects what we believe deep down in our souls. The apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Belief--faith, trust--in Jesus is more than mere intellectual assent to the propositions that Jesus is God in the flesh, that He rose from the dead, and that He saves those who repent and believe in Him. “You believe that there is one God,” the New Testament book of James says, “Even the demons believe that--and shudder.” (James 2:19) Faith in Jesus is a gift from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3) which, if it’s real, is seen in how we live, in our willingness to confess publicly what we believe privately. Jesus gives life as a free gift to those who believe in Him and believers learn to do what I had not yet learned that Saturday I spent with my friend John, a lesson I am still learning: Jesus enables us to get over ourselves so that we can share the best and most important relationship we have in our lives, our relationship with the God known only through Jesus Christ. Faith left unshared dies. Faith shared may encounter opposition, persecution, even death. But the One in Whom we place our faith has conquered death. And faith that is shared despite rejection and fear is never killed off, any more than the person with faith in Jesus dies off. Jesus gives life that never ends to all who believe in Him. As Jesus told His grieving friend Martha, "“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)

Folks, the more we dare to confess our faith in Jesus, the more we learn to trust Jesus and the more we understand how worthy He is to be trusted. He’s our Savior, God, and King. This week, ask God to help you live your faith in Jesus openly and lovingly and watch your faith grow. Amen