January 24, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 13-14; Psalm 24; Matthew 24; 1 Corinthians 8

Things are sure getting interesting, aren’t they?

Over the past 30 years, we’ve lived through an onslaught of events around the world. Many people have used these events to point to the coming of Jesus Christ.

When I was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, I remember that many were claiming Christ was coming during the first Gulf War.  Some even proclaimed that Armageddon had begun.

Then there was the year 2000 prophecies.  I remember watching one televangelist proclaim that God worked in two thousand year increments.  2000 years from Adam to the flood, 2000 years from the flood to Abraham, 2000 years from Abraham to David, 2000 years from David to Jesus and now 2000 years to the second coming.  Yep, he had it timed perfectly.

9/11 brought a whole new breed of doomsdayer’s.    Osama Bin Laden was the new anti-christ, Shia terrorists were his army, and Christ was coming soon.

Then there was the second war in Iraq.  Prophecy “experts” ran wild with that one once again.

Now the confrontation with Iran that appears to be brewing has started things over again.

In Matthew 24, Jesus tells us that times like these will come and go.  At a time appointed by God, that only God the Father knows, Jesus will come back.  I realize that it’s fun to theorize the second coming of Christ.  I also understand that you can sell a ton of books by claiming you know the details.  The overarching message that Jesus leaves us with is as follows:

  1. Don’t be fooled
    • There are a ton of people out there who want to make money off of Jesus’ return.  They love to pawn themselves off as experts on the subject of prophecy.  They puff out their chests and tell us things that are just vague enough to slip out of when things don’t happen the way they predicted.  I remember the turn of the century that individuals were claiming that Christ was coming. These individuals were able to convince people to sell their homes and all their possessions. They then convinced them to give that money to the church. On New Year’s Eve, they were all praying for Jesus’ return.  Do you think they ever got their money back?
  2. Keep watch
    • It’s Ok to pay attention and wonder.  Keeping watch is not in itself a bad thing.  However, it shouldn’t consume your every waking moment.  You shouldn’t lose sleep over it.  You should look forward to it.  The thought of Jesus coming back should bring a smile to your face.
    • Looking forward to Jesus’ return is not only OK; it’s what we should be doing.  But I don’t think Jesus wanted our lives to be consumed with anxiety about his return.
  3. Stay Faithful
    • This one is critical.  If we truly believe that Christ is coming soon, then we need to get off our rear ends and reach out to people with the Gospel.  We need to tell people that God loves them!  Our goal must be to reach as many people with the love of Jesus Christ as is humanly possible.  Honestly, the Church has one mission.  That mission is to spread the message of hope, forgiveness, and grace to a lost and hurting world.  If we focus on doing our job, then the rest will take care of itself.
  4. Jesus Words will never pass away!
    • Finally, God’s word will never cease.  His message of hope will never change.  His mercy will live forever!

We have no idea when Jesus will return.  So let’s get to work!

January 23, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 11-12; Psalm 23; Matthew 23; 1 Corinthians 7

Jesus goes after the most powerful religious leaders in Israel.  He pulls out condemnation that will leave a gaping hole in the two groups.  Jesus does not hold back.  The Scribes and Pharisees were arrogant, self-righteous, and did more harm than good.  As a group, these men would put law after law on the backs of ordinary people.

Both groups of men would then declare that they had kept the whole law but the others had not.  Jesus knew that the Pharisees showed no mercy to sinful people.  They were only interested in those who strictly followed the law.

Yet in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had told them that they too were missing the mark.

Jesus taught that following the law was more than the outward appearance of following the law.  No, following the law was introspective as well.

It was understanding that following the letter of the law had to be followed by following the intent of the law.

More importantly, the law was never intended to be used to build ourselves up at the expense of someone else.  No, the law was to be used as a mirror for our souls.  A mirror that would show us our need for Jesus.  But the Pharisees and Scribes missed the intent at every step.

I went to a church once where the Pastor would gather the Board of Elders and discuss individuals who attended the Church.  He was fixated on the private lives of his Church members.  If he suspected that someone was “living in sin” he would demand the Elder responsible for that person’s family go and investigate the situation.  Every time some strand of Gossip would surround someone, rather than doing what the Bible commands and putting a match to the Gossip, he would spring into action and demand we investigate.

He wanted us to become the “Church Police.”  What was even sadder was that he encouraged an environment of Gossip.  People started acting like they were in grade school running to the teacher tattling.

There was a woman who attended a church where I ran the youth programs.  Her children stopped coming to the Youth Group I ran.  She disappeared from the church altogether. When her three kids had stopped coming to the Youth Group for some time, I went to see the woman.  I told her that I was worried about her kids and wanted to know what I could do to help.  She then told me the reason she stopped coming to church.

You see she was humiliated by a rumor that had been spread by a teenage boy who had fallen out of friendship with her two sons.  As teenage friendships go, it was all in the normal process of growing up.  Now, normally these things are ignored by most.  However, the Pastor of the church had heard the rumors and ran with them.  It all came to a head when the minister in question began to go to every church committee he could and demand this sinful behavior be investigated.

In spite of his outrage, he never took the time to speak to the women in question. The woman was humiliated.

My co-leader of the youth group and I confronted the Pastor.  He attempted to justify himself.  In the end, he was forced to issue an apology to the woman and her family from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.  But things were never the same.

I left a few months later.

I have a question for you.  Do you look down on those who are living in sin?  Do you look away at those who’ve done horrible things?  Do you compare yourself to those people?  If you do you could be in danger of becoming what Jesus condemned.

In Matthew 23 vs. 23, Jesus calls us to be people of “Justice and Mercy and Faith.”  In the above story how different would things have been if the Pastor would have just walked away from the rumors or even defended the woman instead of joining in.  Instead of activating the Church Police, what would her response have been if the Pastor or someone else would have talked to her about the rumor and warned her of what was being said by the teenage boy?  Or how about confronting the teenage boy about spreading rumors?

In his large catechism, Martin Luther writes these words about the eighth commandment, “Knowing about a sin, does not involve the right to sit in judgment on it.  I am of course able to see and hear my neighbor sinning.  But I have no business reporting it all around town.  If I poke my nose in and judge and condemn,  then I fall into a worse sin than his, let your ear become a grave and shovel the dirt in on top of it and do not resurrect it until the day you are appointed judge and thus have the duty to administer punishment by virtue of your office.  Those are to be labeled scandalmongers who are not content with that they know but rush forward to pass sentence.” Martin Luther Large Catechism.

I think he does a good job of summarizing what Jesus is saying in Matthew 23.  The church’s job is to preach the word, disciple people and love people.  Rather than running for a TV camera, our Twitter or Facebook feeds,  every time people do something we object to, we should start showing the mercy and grace that God commands us to show!

 

January 22, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 9-10; Psalm 22; Matthew 22; 1 Corinthians 6

Since the 1980s, it has become a tradition that the winner of major sports championships visits the White House.  For nearly 30 years, winners of the World Series, SuperBowl, NBA Championships, Stanley Cup, and NCAA champions would head to the White House for a time of celebration with the President.  For years it was considered a high honor.  Politics was left at the door.  It was a moment in time to celebrate great achievements.

Over the years, several athletes didn’t attend the visits for various reasons.  But usually, the majority of the team would attend.

However, as the 2000s have gone on, the number of athletes refusing to attend for political reasons has continued to grow until it reached a point where the Golden State Warriors Team declined to go.

In my lifetime, I have a horrible track record for picking a president.  If you want to know who’ll win, then choose the person I voted against.  You have a better chance of picking the winner that way.

But I have to admit that if I was invited to attend a meeting at the White House, I would likely go.     Each of the last four men who’ve been President have done things that bothered me a great deal. I have disagreed with some more than others.  But out of respect for the office and out of humility at the offer, I believe I would attend.  It’s an honor to be recognized by the President. And it doesn’t matter who the President is.

In Matthew 22, Jesus speaks of the parable of the Wedding Banquet.  A banquet that God himself has invited each one of us to attend.  He’s sent us a gold plated invitation.  He bought our clothing for the feast, paid for the food and drink, and paid our entry fee.  The only thing we have to do is show up.

Yet many won’t attend.

Some people won’t give up their lifestyles.  Others want to stay at home and watch TV.  Many are just indifferent.  Whatever the reason, they refuse to come and sit at the table of God and experience his blessings.

Jesus is showing us that evangelism won’t be easy.  He’s telling us that no matter how much we pray, no matter how hard we try, some people in our lives will turn away from God.  He’s warning us ahead of time that being a follower of Jesus means that sometimes we’re going to shed tears as we see people reject the love of a savior.

Jesus is telling us that it’s our job to tell the story of Jesus to as many people as we can.  It’s not our mission to convict.  That’s the job of the Holy Spirit.  We let the Spirit do its work and then let God do the job of judging.

January 21, 2020

What I Read this morning:

Exodus 7-8; Psalm 21; Matthew 21; 1 Corinthians 5

Throughout the Bible, sexual immorality is an issue that is dealt with numerous times.  We see examples of it through the patriarchal period.  We see significant issues during the Exodus from Egypt to Canaan.  The Bible talks about David’s sin of adultery.  Throughout the prophets, it is talked about.  Jesus takes the time to talk about adultery, divorce, and other sexual sins.

1 Corinthians 5 stands out as a warning to society and especially the Church regarding sexual sins.

Today we are witnessing several sexual abuse/assault cases coming to light.  Form Hollywood media moguls to politicians and even worse clergy, the abuse knows no bounds.

My question is this, why are we so surprised?

We have cheapened sexuality.  We have decided that there should be no rules about sex anymore.  It used to be that sexual situations were not put on TV at times when children could see them.  Now we see nudity and sexual activities 24/7.  Toss the internet into the mix, and anything goes.

We were created sexual beings by God.  But that sexuality had a purpose.  It was to be confined in the bounds of a life long commitment.

Today we have cheapened the meaning and beauty of that relationship.  The chaos that has created has been devastating.   Divorce and broken homes have led to poverty, emotional problems, and rising suicide rates.  The results can be seen in literally any classroom across America.

When a person in a position of power chooses to use sex over another person, the effects are devastating.  A person is demeaned and abused.

When this happens in the Church, the results are eternal.

The truth is that we have to have a serious conversation in our society about sexual ethics. We have to tell Hollywood that it is not art when you continually glorifying cheap sex.  We need to discuss how pornography cheapens sex and demeans the men and women involved in the industry.  We need to hold those in power accountable for their past and present actions.  We can’t excuse a beloved former president just because he was in our party.

Those in the clergy who engage in these activities must face the consequences within both the church and the authorities.

More than that, the church needs to talk about sex.  We need to have discussions about what is appropriate and what is not.  Not in a judgemental, angry way.  We need to warn society in a loving manner.   We need to speak about the dangers of STD’s, out of wedlock pregnancy, emotional issues, sexual abuse, abortion, and fatherless households.  We need to remind people of the consequences of actions.  Even if it seems, no one is listening.

Most importantly, though, we need to stand ready to provide healing and grace to those caught up in consequence of their actions.  We need to hold the gospel out and tell folks that Jesus will always be there.  Like the woman at the well and the adulteress who was about to be stoned, Jesus stood their offering grace.  We must do the same.

January 20, 2020

What I Read Today:

Exodus 5-6; Psalm 20; Matthew 20; 1 Corinthians4

In Matthew 20:1-16, we see the story of the Labourers in the Vineyard.

Human beings like to compare ourselves to other human beings. We rate our worth based on what people do or own. We use our internal ranking systems to pick those who we can feel power over.

In this parable, Jesus condemns this type of thinking.

He reminds us that all of us are his children. We have all received the free gift of God’s grace. No one is better than another. It doesn’t matter if your Billy Graham or Sam Smith. Jesus is going to shower all of us with heavenly blessings. Jesus will ensure that each of us makes it to the Heavenly realm, where we will see blessings beyond our wildest imagination.

Serving God in this lifetime shouldn’t be about seeking rewards. It should be out of love for God and for people. Our service to God should be about reaching more people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Leave the comparisons to God. Let God sort out what rewards people receive.

Our job is to be faithful to Jesus and reach as many people as possible with the Good news of Jesus Christ.

January 19, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 3-4; Psalm 19; Matthew 19; 1 Corinthians 3

Psalm 19 starts out by telling us about the omnipotence of God.  Our God has total control over the universe.  He controls even the rising and setting of the sun.  God controls the movement of the planet and the rising of the seas.  With a snap of God’s finger, he could stop the world and end it all if he so chose.

Yet God tenderly cares for his creation.  He provides food for the animals and rain for our crops.  God looks out at all of his nature and knows everything that is happening, both good and bad.

That is why David tells us that following God’s law is not a punishment.  In fact, obeying God is something we do out of love and gratitude for the work that God does on our behalf.

God knows our imperfections and our hidden fears and sins.  Yet God continues to bless all of us as we move forward each and every day.  God gives us grace and mercy and only asks that we work each day to live a holy life.  He even sends his spirit to give us strength and guidance each day.

That’s why David begs for God’s help.

What an awesome and mighty God we serve.  One who loves each one of us!  A God who showers us with grace and love in spite of who we are!  Shouldn’t it be easy to obey someone who loves us that much? Go

January 18, 2020

What I Read Today;

Exodus 1-2; Psalm 18; Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 2

Matthew 18:21-22, “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” NRSV

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  But forgiveness is hard to both give and receive.  Human beings have an incredible capacity for dishing out pain to one another.  To see examples of unforgiveness, just look at the headlines of any major metropolitan newspaper.

It becomes even more complicated when a person has committed some unspeakable act. But the truth is that we are not very good at forgiveness.  Families can be split apart over even the smallest of perceived infractions.

When Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin shook hands in 1979 and signed a peace accord ending 60 years of war, it should have shown the world that peace and forgiveness were possible.  Unfortunately, Sadat was assassinated, and the middle east continues to rage in hatred.

When we are wronged, we lash out in retribution.  When we hurt someone, they lash back.  It is in our human nature.

Yet Jesus tells us to put aside that human nature.  He tells us to forgive, as we have been forgiven.  No matter how hard it is, God commands us to forgive everyone who has wronged us.

In the end, the anger and hurt we carry do not harm the one who harmed us.  That anger and pain that we carry will become cancer that grows inside of the person who carries it.  If not destroyed, it will grow inside that person only to become bitterness and finally rage.  Without major surgery to remove the unforgiveness, it will overwhelm a person until all that is left is anger.

We view it in the world each and every day.

Jesus offers us a better way.  He tells us to lay down the hurt and anger that lies in our souls.  God tells us to move on from the bitterness of past relationships.  He gives us a message of hope.  Jesus tells us that we are forgiven.  He shows us the example of God loving us so much that he would pay the ultimate price for our freedom.

Now Jesus asks us to do the difficult as well.  To give up that unforgiveness that we cling to.  Not just for the person who has wronged us.  No, for our own spiritual health as well!