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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Advent Conspiracy 2012

I was meeting with an old friend today who shared this video with me.  I am going to be honest and say that I still intend to buy gifts for my friends and family, but I appreciate what they are doing with this video and wanted to pass it along.  It’s definitely something worth thinking about and shows how big of a difference Christians can make in the world when they keep their focus on what matters most.

Thanks Kevin for sharing!

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2012 in Hot Topics

 

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Matthew 2 – Prophecies are a Pattern

One of the challenges we will have in Matthew, and we have already seen in the great comments made yesterday, is that Ryan and I will often not be able to cover all of the valuable content in each chapter.  Please continue adding to what we don’t cover through the comments and if you missed yesterday’s comments be sure to go back and check them out.  Today I want to look at the three prophecies discussed  in chapter 2 and get an idea what Matthew is doing with the prophets.

It wasn’t quite this simple…

Matthew 2:6  “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”

This is from Micah 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

It comes from a section of Micah that is showing that even though Israel has suffered through horrendous kings, that God will bring them a good and faithful king.  However, it also speaks of how that king will protect Israel from the Assyrians.

Matthew 2:15  “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

From Hosea 11:1  “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.”

Matthew applies the prophecy to Jesus, but you can see that the context of Hosea speaks of Israel’s lack of faithfulness to God even after He brought them up out of slavery in Egypt.

Matthew 2:18  “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

From Jeremiah 31:15-17  “This is what the Lord says:  “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.”

This passage is talking about the exiles in Babylon returning home to Jerusalem.  At first glance, Matthew almost seems to be taking this prophecies out of context.  However, that misunderstands Jewish expectation of the Messiah and understanding of prophecy.  Bill does a great job of dealing with this in his book “The Moses Connection.”  The Gospel writers understood the role of the Messiah to be the one who comes and in a single person becomes the ultimate Israelite, experiencing all of Israel’s history in a single life.  

Jesus experiences the slaughter of baby boys his age as Moses did.  Jesus must go to Egypt to survive and then God brings him back up out of Egypt, just as he brought Israel out of Egypt.  Jesus will now ultimately fulfill all of the prophecies about bringing Israel back from exile by bringing them to a greater and more permanent kingdom that no enemy can destroy.

Our modern concept of prophecy would be something like, “During the reign of Herod a baby boy will be born in a manger to an unwed mother.  You will know him when he heals a blind person using mud.”  But the Old Testament prophecies didn’t work that way, especially in the Gospels.  Instead, all of Israel’s history is laid out in the Old Testament as a pattern for the Messiah.  When the Messiah came, his life reflected the pattern of Israel’s long and difficult history.  And it was a history that was left unresolved, but can now come to its ultimate resolution in the man Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah whose life fit the pattern set by the Old Testament and who can bring to an end the tumultuous story of the Israel and God and open the story of God’s Eternal Kingdom to the entire world.

If you are a Jew reading this, you are wondering if this baby boy was spared from a murderous king to be the next Moses, bringing Israel out of slavery and into a new covenant.  You might recognize Micah’s prophecy and realize Matthew is telling you about the good king to come.  You would hear the words of Hosea and be reminded that God saved Israel from Egypt as he saved this boy Jesus and realize that even greater salvation might be coming.  And perhaps Jeremiah brings this vision of great deliverance from occupying nations and the establishment of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Temple in all the glory God has promised.

We tend to read Matthew 2 and focus on Magi and Herod and the narrative elements.  But a Jew in Jesus’ time would read this with wide eyes hearing the echoes of Israel’s history resonating promises of God’s future glory.  But how could all of that come in the form of this one baby boy?

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Matthew

 

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Matthew 1 – Christian Politics According to Jesus, An Intro To Matthew

We’re finished with Paul’s writings! It is hard to imagine that we are this far along in reading God’s Word together. Kent and I decided that we needed to separate the Gospels so we can continually come back to them throughout our reading together. We now delve into Matthew’s Gospel with our eyes and ears open, anticipating coming to know Jesus more so we will recognize His peaceful voice in this chaotic world.

As Christians, we approach the Gospels knowing the end. We know that Jesus has risen, death has been conquered, and all will be made right in the world through the spreading of the Kingdom. Knowing that there is an end, we recognize that there is a beginning. Matthew has Jesus’ beginning going back to Abraham. We believe Jesus to be preexistent, that Jesus says in John “before Abraham was, I AM.” That is all well and good but we are in Matthew’s Gospel and he is emphasizing something very specific with placing the beginning of Jesus’ genealogy with Abraham. The Gospel of Matthew lays out the Story of creation, starting with the election of Israel, kingship, sin, exile, and redemption. For Matthew, Jesus is the summing up of the history of Israel so that Jew and Gentile alike can now live as God’s people (Jew-tiles – the name the wonderful Donna McNeely provided for us a few weeks ago in a class I was teaching).

Matthew’s Gospel is written as an ongoing exercise to help us see the world through Christ. What I mean is that there is another world and another time that we as Christians are part of; but it turns out that it is the same world we currently live in. Seeing this world through Christ challenges our most fundamental assumptions about how we should act in this world. Matthew will challenge us to take a different view that leads to different action. Matthew writes with the purpose of making us disciples, followers, of Jesus, which means we must be transformed if we are to put off our old obedience’s and be moved into the reality of a redeemed world. After encountering Jesus there is no longer “normal.” After meeting Jesus, we are able to live out this new reality because of his extraordinary work in us. One of my favorite theologians, Stanley Hauerwas once said, “To be a Christian does not mean that we are to change the world, but rather that we must live as witnesses to the world that God has changed. We should not be surprised, therefore if the way we live makes the change visible.”

From the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel we will see the politics of the world being threatened. Herod does not hesitate to murder children in order to secure his power. Matthew can also be read as “the politics of Jesus” in how it entails an alternative to the power politics of the world. Matthew, in his calling for Christians to be like Christ, affirms that the church is to be an alternative politics to the politics of the world. Keep your eyes and ears open for how Christ calls for us to live out these politics in a world that does not want them.

To be true disciples we must learn why Jesus, the one who is to save Israel from political oppression, the son of David, the one true king, must die on a cross. Matthew helps us understand that God is not about do things how the world would say they need to be done by bringing us Jesus through a lowly beginning. God is dedicated to redeeming His creation but He is going to do it in ways that we would not and in turn call us to join Him in this endeavor. The way we live in regards to the world is the same way that Christ did, and it doesn’t make too much sense unless you know Christ.

I look forward, with Kent as well, to joining you in reading Matthew together and seeing how we are called to live as Christ did. Blessings to you all as we get to know Jesus a bit better as we read His Word together.

This is the book by Stanley Hauerwas I’ve picked up to skim through as we read Matthew together.

 

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Bible Blog, Matthew

 

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Titus 3 – Rethinking Christian Action

Paul calls Titus to remind the Church to be subject to rulers and authorities. What if these authorities are oppressive to the Church? Should they still be subject to them then? I think Paul would say yes. At the time that this was written, the Jews and Christians alike were being oppressed. There’s a decent chance that Nero was Caesar at the time and he was known for blaming things on the Christians that caused people to persecute them. He was also known for putting Christians on crosses and lighting them on fire to light the gardens of Rome.

How does Paul call us to act as Christians in this kind of society with these kinds of rulers and authorities? He says to be obedient, be ready to do good, malign no one, be peaceable, gentle, and show every consideration for all men.

Obedient – Yes, there are times we are to go against the law of the land but we need to be careful about when/how we do this. Like in the example of Daniel, he was told he couldn’t pray but he did anyway. When Christians couldn’t worship openly, they did it in hiding. I’m not sure we can apply this to “unfair” taxes and just not pay them because we do not think it is right.

Be ready to do good – As Christians, are we known for the good that we do or for the evil that we stand up against. We should still stand up against sinful action but the good that we do should be what defines us.

 

Malign no one – We live in a country where we have the right to “Free Speech” but does this mean that as Christians we should always take advantage of this right? I’m fearful that sometimes as Christians we can become very hateful in our speech about those we feel like are opposed to us. Whether it is the President, Communists, Muslims, homosexuals, etc. we are not to speak maliciously against anyone.

Peaceable and Gentle – When people think of Christians in our society do these two words come to mind? We should be a presence of peace in this world of chaos. The world sees gentleness as a weakness but we look to the example of Christ and the gentleness that he showed those around him.

Every consideration for all men – What group of people are you least considerate towards? What person do you struggle being considerate to? Ask these questions seriously and make changes to be more like Christ on the cross who showed the full extent of consideration for all mankind.

We used to do all of those things. We weren’t worth much at all and we looked and acted just like the world…till the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared. That’s when everything changed. He saved us. It wasn’t because of anything we did but it was by His mercy through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. I want to point out here that Paul is saying that Baptism (the washing of regeneration) is not a work that we do but the mercy of God. We receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism and we becomes heirs with Christ our Savior. This is what Paul encourages Titus to speak confidently about so that the response of those who do believe in God will be to engage in good deeds.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Bible Blog, Pauline Epistles, Titus

 

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Thanksgiving Feast

As a nation we stop this week to be Thankful. Looking around, there’s a lot to be thankful for. Family, health, comfort, and luxury to some extent are evident throughout our lives reminding us we have lots to be thankful for. We live in a country where we are free. We have food, as much food as we really desire and we don’t really even have to work for it. If you’re down on your luck and you don’t have even the basic needs, we live in a country where you can be helped out without question. We live in a time where we can be connected with friends and family all over the world.

As Christians we have other reasons to be thankful. Christ died for us. He conquered death and was raised to New Life so that we too can have death conquered for us so that we might share in his resurrection. This action on the cross brought all people together as one family, the body of Christ, the New Temple, etc. How do we celebrate these two realities? The Lord’s Supper, communion, also known as the Eucharist feast, brings these two realities into view. Eucharist means “Thanksgiving” which makes the table we gather around a table of thanksgiving. We gather together to take a Thanksgiving meal together. We are thankful for the New Life that we have been given and that will be fully realized in our resurrection. We are also thankful for the Family we have been brought into. To not be thankful for this family is to miss half of the point for why we partake in this feast anyway. The next time you gather around the Table, remember that it is the Table of Thanksgiving and a Feast of Thanksgiving that you take part in.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2012 in Hot Topics

 

Titus 2 – Like a Good Neighbor…

Like a Good Neighbor…

There are so many things in this chapter of Titus that sound like an abbreviated version of several chapters of 1 Timothy.  The basic premise of this chapter takes up several chapters like it in 1 Timothy (2, 3 and parts of 4).  The idea is that Christians should be good people by the measure assigned by the community they live in.  Its all about being beyond reproach.  

Check out verse 5.  The reason women should behave in the way Paul is instructing Titus is so that the word of God will not be maligned.  Its about how the community perceives Christians.  And then the same is true of the men in verse 8.  They must follow Paul’s instructions so that those who oppose them will be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about the church.  Again, public perception matters.

One of the great tensions in the New Testament is that the early Christian movement is entirely counter-cultural.  When Jason was taking care of some of the early church leaders, a mob rightly accused them of turning the whole world upside down wherever they went.  And yet, Paul is very intent to instruct Timothy and Titus to guide the church towards being good citizens and good community members.

Unfortunately, I think Christians today miss this very often.  In fact we get it completely backwards.  We tend to be confrontational with our communities by attacking things we don’t like while having no impact on the world at large.  Perhaps it’s time to reconsider both our purpose and our approach.  Certainly Paul understood the church’s goal to be liked by those around the church while they completely turned everything on its head.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in Pauline Epistles, Titus

 

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Titus 1 – Living Between Realities

I’ve worked with adolescents for 6+ years now full time and have studied that stage of life for 10 or so years now. In short, the adolescent life stage is the time between being a kid and being an adult. These adolescents live in a time of already but not yet. They are not really seen as adults by anyone but expected to act like adults. When they are childish they are quickly reminded how they are supposed to act. When they try and be adults and demand to be treated as such they are handed the metaphorical sippy-cup and patted on the head.

In the realization that all metaphors break down, we Christians kind of live like adolescents in this world. We are in a time of transition where we aren’t quite fully in the reality of the New Creation that God has promised us, the hope of eternal life that God has brought to light. This hope is the gospel that has been entrusted to Paul by the command of God our Savior. Paul begins his letter to Titus, even before addressing the letter, by reminding him of this hope.

He addresses Titus as his “True son in our common faith” reminding us of the Family of God, which we are part of. Paul continually uses this language as the reality in which he sees those he is discipling and bringing up in Christ.

Titus’ purpose is to select Elders in every town to be overseers who manage God’s household. They are to hold firmly to the trustworthy message in order to encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. What is this sound doctrine? It is the faith that Jesus is whom he said he is and that we will be resurrected from the death in him because God conquered death through Christ’s death and resurrection. Why does Paul give such a strict list of characteristics for these elders to have? They are the examples of what a Christian is to look like as someone who believes the New Creation, the Kingdom, has come in Christ and will fully be revealed in the resurrection. They are the ones who should give the example of how New Creation is embodied while the Old Creation is still in existence. Paul is so serious about Christians living out this reality that he calls for serious action against those who fail to try and live out this reality.

As Christians, we strive daily to live out what God’s Kingdom looks like in a broken world. Where there are Christians, the world should be different. When we look at the example of Christ, we live out his reality in this world, from the cross.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Bible Blog, Pauline Epistles, Titus

 

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2 Timothy 4 – Ear-Tickling Good

Earlier this week I was reading an article from Outreach Magazine that discussed the oft quoted idea that sometimes your greatest form of evangelism is how you live your life.  The article, found here puts forth the idea that evangelism requires words.  Personally, I agree with this idea.  I think that how we live our lives as Christians is extremely important and can open doors (or more accurately, living badly can slam doors shut) for evangelism to take place.  But at the end of the day, evangelism requires a believer who is willing to tell somebody what it is they believe.

Use Your Words Well

In this chapter, Paul is giving Timothy valuable ministry instructions.  Always be willing, at any time of the year and in any situation to preach the word.  And don’t get the visual of a pulpit here.  Neither Paul nor Timothy ever stood behind a pulpit preaching from their notes to a large number of people in pews.  Those are all constructs of the modern church.  Preaching simply meant sharing your faith and what you knew to be true about the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that others could be saved.  And what are the three main things your teaching should accomplish: correcting, rebuking, and and encouraging.  This should come as no surprise if you have read Paul’s epistles which endlessly correct, rebuke and encourage the church.  Correction applies when somebody is teaching, preaching, or believing in something other than what the Apostles (Paul included) taught about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Rebuke is when somebody begins intentionally living in sin or in opposition to God’s will.  And encouragement is what helps people doing well to keep doing well.

E. Torrini’s “Older Gentlemen Tickling the Ear of His Wife”

He cautions Timothy to avoid messages that will “tickle people’s ears.”  This is often watered down to simply mean “preachers shouldn’t just preach easy, happy sermons all the time.”  But that’s not necessarily the case.  After all, Paul dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel, that is the Good News of Jesus.  Preaching should be good and should be good news.  What he is saying is that Christians should not compromise the first two obligations mentioned above, namely correcting and rebuking, in order to not offend.  Ear-tickling-sermons are those that offer encouragement specifically to those who need correcting and rebuking.  And when ministers effectively do this, they protect the sound doctrine or healthy teachings of the church.

Other Concluding Stuff

Paul’s letter takes a dark and personal turn here.  Paul seems to realize that his time is drawing short in this section.  He makes sure that Timothy and the church know the names of several who have betrayed him and abandoned him.  If Alexander was causing problems for Timothy, this letter would have helped Timothy to reestablish some authority and position over Alexander in the church.

As always, Paul throws in a few greetings at the end.  Luke is still with him and was with him throughout much of his imprisonment.  I think that Paul likely contributed heavily to Luke’s writings, especially providing his own account of the events in Acts during this time.  Paul mentions Erastus, who stayed in Corinth.  I have seen the Erastus Stone in Corinth, which many believe to have indicated that this same Erastus possibly donated a street as a citizen funded civic project and as such had his name engraved on it.  It can still be seen today.  Pretty cool stuff.  

 

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in 2 Timothy, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Timothy 3 – Godly Life in Christ = Persecution?

Paul continues to give instruction to Timothy about how to handle the church after he has left. We live in a culture that pushes more and more for tolerance and acceptance. While there is a lot of need for that in our culture, there isn’t much room for it in our churches. Don’t hear me wrong. We are tolerant of people who struggle with sin but Paul is strict on those who have the form of godliness but deny its power. These people are cancerous to the church and we should have nothing to do with them. Does this seem harsh? Shouldn’t we love everyone? Again…we need to be careful here and not let this verse be turned into a verse to kick “sinners” out of the church. On the other hand, we need to take the problem of sin seriously and have nothing to do with people who have become a cancer amongst the church. All that being said, it appears that Paul is addressing specific people. These people are going into homes to gain control over gullible women. These men are opposed to the truth though they are always learning. They will never come to knowledge.

Paul then turns his focus to Timothy to encourage him to continue in what he has learned from infancy and to continue on in it. After talking about the different things that he has experienced in his life, Paul then makes this comment in verse 12 that makes me uncomfortable, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” This doesn’t seem like a “probably statement.” Paul is convinced that persecution comes to those who are living a godly life in Christ Jesus. Christians are called to live counter culturally. When you live drastically different from the world, you will be persecuted. If we are not being persecuted, we need to stop and ask ourselves if we look more like the culture around us or the gospel found in Christ.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – This Scripture Paul is talking about is not the New Testament though there might be some thought that Paul might think of some of the things he is writing as Scripture since he feels the need to differentiate between when God is talking and when he is talking. Nonetheless, Scripture is to be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. Who is Scripture to be applied to though? Christians or nonChristians? Scripture is used to teach, rebuke, correct, and train those who belong to God. How quick are we to attack nonChristians with Scripture? Scripture is there to equip us for every good work and not to be used as a weapon to attack others with.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in 2 Timothy, Bible Blog, Pauline Epistles

 

Rethinking Family Traditions

Several years ago Leah and I were in a course at Oklahoma Christian University that was designed to help newlyweds strengthen their marriage.  The class focused mainly on communication and conflict resolution skills and our instructor was trying to get people to share some of the little things that were points of contention in their marriages for the group to discuss.  Of the five couples, none were jumping at the opportunity to air their grievances.  After all, we were still newlyweds who thought you always had to be nice to your spouse.  Then he said, “Let’s try this…in your childhood families, did you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?  What is your new family going to do?”  Suddenly the room erupted in stories….it turns out traditions matter.

Every family has traditions whether it’s going out to eat after church on Sundays, how they celebrate birthdays, or what holidays look like.  For newlyweds, this means a collision of two systems of traditions colliding into one while also becoming something new altogether.  What’s important about traditions is that they often reveal something about what we value the most.  So as we head into a part of the year that is very tradition laden for many families and our communities, I wanted to challenge you to evaluate your family’s current traditions and possibly create some new ones.

One of my favorite traditions at Northwest started about five years ago when Bill challenged our congregation from the pulpit to buy two turkeys and give one away.  The challenge was met with enthusiasm and led to some great experiences for our church members.  At the heart of the sermon was the idea that part of gratitude and giving thanks involves giving back, or in this case giving to others.  The tradition revealed a value.  I know families who only exchange homemade gifts for Christmas in order to emphasize the care and thought put in to each gift rather than materialism.  I also know people (me) whose love language is gift giving and they take the holiday as an occasion to seek out the ideal gift for each person on their list.  All of these are traditions that reveal values.

As you and your family enter the holiday season, it is often a time to reflect on what we are thankful for, our Christian faith, and on our families.  I would encourage you to take this opportunity to sit down as a family and evaluate your traditions and perhaps create some new ones.  Consider how you can use your time, your resources, your skills, and your money to reinforce your family values (this is especially important for young families) or as a way to be a blessing to others.

Personal pet peeve disclaimer:  I actually get a little annoyed when people say, “Today we are starting a new tradition.”  It’s an oxymoron.  If it’s new, then by definition it’s not a tradition yet.  You can always say, “Let’s try something new this year and who knows…if we enjoy doing it, it might just become a family tradition someday.”

Let’s have some fun today…in the comments, share one of your favorite family traditions.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in Hot Topics

 

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