Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Our Busy August

I want to give an update since my output has dwindled significantly because of our busy August.  First is an extended weekend camping requiring preparation, then there de-cluttering at the end.  When you own a travel trailer there is less of this work than when pulling a folding camper, but one cannot get away from it.  The day following our camping weekend, I began a two-week scoring project down at Pearson.  This will carry me through Friday, and the next assignment does not begin until September 10.  (As an aside, I have had two interviews for a full-time position in town, but the soonest a decision can be made is September 8).

I was offered a chance to preach at our home assembly in August, to which I agreed and accepted the final Sunday (30th).  I took as my texts the Three-Year Lectionary readings for that date as used by Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  The main reason I bring up that fact is because I was later asked if I could speak August 23 instead because of scheduling difficulties filling the Sunday slots.  I now needed to concentrate on preparation.  Tuesday, I received a request for the Bible text(s), title, and outline to prepare the bulletin the next day.  Panic now sets in.  I was able to partially deliver with texts and title Thursday during lunch

Friday I began coming down down with a sore throat, which was not a real concern, but it should have been.  Saturday morning I was miserable and when to an urgent care facility.  They told me it was a viral infection and just suffer through it for a day or two.  Except I had to preach the next morning and had little voice with which to work.  Swallowing was painful.  Ibuprofen, herbal tea, and vitamin  water became my constant friends.  (As an update, I went to my family doctor, who immediately prescribed Z-Pak, and I feel much better though still not 100%.)

Sunday morning I preached two services, and it was a challenge.  People could tell I was struggling, and those sitting to my right were able to see the pained faces I made when trying to drink what I had on hand.  If you are interested in hearing the raspy-voiced message, you can go to the Sermon page.  Mine is entitled It's Worse than You Imagined and Better than You Hoped.

Hopefully, I can get more on track now that we are beyond that zaniness.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Even Creation Was Confused

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.… And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  (Matthew 27:45, 51)

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  (Luke 23:44-45)

Cease in your ignorance to receive such great deeds with abusive language, which will in no wise injure Him who did them, but which will bring danger to yourselves—danger, I say, by no means small, but one dealing with matters of great, yes, even the greatest importance, since beyond a doubt the soul is a precious thing, and nothing can be found dearer to a man than himself.  There was nothing magical, as you suppose, nothing human, deceitful, or crafty in Christ; no deception lurked in Him, although you smile in derision, as usual, and though you split with roars of laughter.  He was God on high, God in His inmost nature, God from unknown realms, and was sent by God the Ruler of all as a Savior, whom neither the sun itself, nor any stars, if they have powers of perception, nor the rulers and princes of the world, nor the great gods, or those who, feigning themselves so, terrify the whole human race, were able to know or to guess whence and who He was.  And rightly so.  But when, freed from the body, which He carried about as but a very small part of Himself, He allowed Himself to be seen, and let it be known how great He was, all the elements of the universe bewildered by the strange events were thrown into confusion.  An earthquake shook the world, the sea was heaved up from its depths, the heaven was shrouded in darkness, the sun’s fiery blaze was checked, and his heat became moderate.   For what else could occur when He who before now was reckoned to be one of us was recognized to be God?

Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Pagans I.53

Monday, August 10, 2015

Got Rest?

Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery.  And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land.  And I said to you, “I am the Lᴏʀᴅ your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.”  But you have not obeyed my voice.  (Judges 6:8-10)

Midianites and Amalekites were having their way raiding Israel.  For seven years bands of invaders swept through the country from east to west and back again, leaving a wasteland via plunder and pillage.  God allowed this because the people of Israel had returned to doing evil: a lesson needed to be given.  After enough time the people of Israel “were brought low” and in the midst of their affliction “cried out for help to the Lᴏʀᴅ.”

We know nothing of the man who came with the message of the Lord.  In fact, I would say we might likely be surprised there were any prophets in Israel considering their spiritual state.  Should we be?  Reading enough of the Bible, especially the sections we call the Major and Minor Prophets, we see that their historical settings are generally when governmental leaders are self-serving, encouraging rapid decline, while spiritual shepherds are leading people astray.  The prophet is sent with the message of condemnation to elicit confession and repentance. 

The prophet gave a blistering message.  Notice the opening sentence: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery.”  While the encouragement may be self-evident, the rebuke is scathing as it reminds the people of a time on Sinai when the Lord spoke those same words to Moses to introduce the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:2).  The people would know immediately where the rest of the message was going.  The Lord then uses the prophet to heap more on their heads by reminding them of His work on their behalf in driving out the nations, giving the Promised Land, and assuring them that He was their God with nothing to fear of any other so-called god.  But Israel had not obeyed.  What a stinging rebuke.  The Almighty Creator of heaven and earth delivered a people and fought for them to secure what He had promised, and they neglected Him.

Yet within the biting and stinging rebuke was encouragement the people needed.  God had made promises.  He had delivered them.  He had fought for them.  He was (and is) a God that is close and not far off.  He is still their God, and they are still His people.  What comfort!  Though there is not an explicit word of good news, this has prepared the people for the deliverance to come, as about this time the angel of the Lord comes to Gideon with the most shocking of pronouncements, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is with you, O mighty man of valor.”  A people who had been beaten down and broken to the point of hiding out in caves and other holes in the ground were to be delivered by a man who could only see the circumstance and not the God of grace and promise.  That same God still delivers today.

We live in a world beaten down and broken by our own hand.  Since the day Satan tempted Eve and both ate of the forbidden tree, sin ran rampant throughout mankind, and we look upon the devastation millennia later.  Rather than the marauding hordes absconding with physical goods, Satan perpetrated a master stroke through deception and subtlety: the first couple would willingly hand over their very souls.  From that time onward, we have continued on that path, eschewing what satisfies the soul and replacing it with that which can not.  The pursuit to fill the emptiness drives our cravings for that which drains further.  Whether or not we believe the attempts are are a noble goal of reconnecting with the divine—whoever or whatever that might be—each person is trying to fill a void that cannot be filled by human means.

In the aftermath of the Fall, God made a promise to crush the head of the serpent.  There would come a time when this great wrong would be made right.  Choosing a people for His own possession, God entered into a covenant with them, showcasing how He was different from all other gods and bestowing on them the privilege of being His witness to the world.  This covenant contained not just promises and blessings, but also warnings and consequences.   The relationship between the Lord and His people was one based on God’s attributes and character and was therefore entirely holy in nature.  God and His people were set apart for each other, therefore what came between (i.e., sin) had to be put away.  While there were temporary remedies through the shedding of blood, nothing was sufficient for the ultimate task.  God had to give Himself to be the final sacrifice and did so as the Son, second person of the Godhead, came into this world, put on humanity.  In so doing, He crushed the serpent’s head: sin no more had dominion.  What does this mean for today?

We still live in brokenness caused by sin.  We still seek for what cannot satisfy.  One can expect this behavior from the world.  Satan has so deluded them that the pursuit of vain things is considered the purpose of life with wealth or notoriety the pinnacle achievement; or discovering those things to be out of reach, they simply grasp for any fleeting bits of meaning.  Sadly, many in the Church act the same way.  Either they try to continue justifying themselves thinking to add to the work already completed in Christ for their salvation or to work fervently to prove myself as worthy of having received salvation.  They fail to understand that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant just that.  God’s favor is gained by believing on the Son, not engaging in a flurry of “spiritual” activity at home or the local assembly, nor engaging in so-called meditative and contemplative practices masking as Christianity.  Jesus calls us to rest in Him.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  (Matt 11:28-30)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Keep It Real

Real is the cross: the cross of life in our fallen, broken, corrupted, and dying world, as well as the cross of Jesus Christ, the world’s only hope and the one thing in this life that is truly real in the sense of carrying us to salvation and everlasting life.

Sometimes I think our plastic and narcissistic culture has placed us into a kind of delusional “matrix” along the lines of the film of that name.  The job of the Church and her ministers is to rouse people from their slumber, from their contentment to medicate and play and entertain their way out of facing the reality that the wages of sin is death—so that we can then lead them to Christ, who is the real solution to the real problem.  We are dealing with people who no longer understand what is real and what is not real, a culture that presumes that posed people from stock photos are real, while considering that which is truly real, life under the cross of Jesus, to be somehow unreal.  Once people understand the eternal reality of our fallen world and the reality of the incarnation, atonement, and the eternal kingdom of our Lord, it is much harder to fall back into the lie, the satanic delusion that all is well.… To be real in this day and age is to be countercultural, to stand out against the dull hum of phony conformity and soul-numbing mediocrity.

The one real Person who is making a real difference is Christ.

Larry Beane, Gottesdienst, Vol. 22.4

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ordinary People Used by an Extraordinary God

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  (Ac 1:8)

To complete his teaching on the book of Acts, our pastor mentioned something he heard from J. D. Greear: the gospel was spread primarily through ordinary people.  In a blog post Greear writes:
Luke goes out his way to show that the biggest advances of the gospel happen through ordinary people.
I know enough about the New Testament to affirm that conclusion.  Consider how unnamed or seldom named men and women from different regions took home the Gospel with them:
  • •  Various regions in the Roman empire  (Ac 2:9-11)
  • •  Samaria  (Ac 8:4-8)
  • •  Ethiopia  (Ac 8:35-39)
  • •  Ephesus  (Ac 18:18-21, 19:1)
  • •  Central Italy and Rome  (Ac 28:14-15)
Most people look to the work of men like Paul, Silas, Barnabas, etc. as the catalyst for the spread of redemption in Christ; however, as can be seen by the short list, the message went out, not because of the untiring work of the apostles, but rather through common believers engaged in the mundanity of life.  This is remarkable for at least two reasons.

First, fine rhetoric and oratory are unnecessary.  One may or may not be gifted or trained in the finer points of effective communication, but that skill is not required.  The effective witness simply tells of Christ and Him crucified for sin (1 Co 2:1-2, 15:3-4).  Second, the power of the words do not lie within the individual, but within the Word of God (Ro 1:16; He 4:12).  By staying with what Scripture tells of our Lord’s redeeming work in the way it is revealed, the message does its own work, because it is divinely empowered.  It cannot be improved on through "lofty speech wisdom" (1 Co 2:1) in order to win an argument, so much as clearly give a reason for the hope within you (1 Pe 3:14-16).

The spread of the Gospel was effected by ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.  We each do not need to be a trained clergyman or teaching professional to share Christ; nor do we share expecting something wonderful to happen for God in sharing.  We should neither think of the work as out of reach to do, nor dependent on me alone: both attitudes are incorrect.  The work of the Gospel belongs to God alone.  We have the privilege, as His children, to be part of the work and tell forth the saving message of Jesus.  He sends us into our workaday world (i.e., our stations of life or vocations) to make Jesus known from God’s Word in the strength He supplies (1 Pe 4:11-12).