Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In the Desert: Luke 1

In Summary: Luke’s Gospel begins with background information. Luke 1 is one of the longest chapters of the New Testament. It may be the longest, but I haven’t double-checked that against anything, so I’ll not assert it here. In this chapter, Luke establishes his purpose for writing and then moves forward to the information about the impending coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

This chapter touches on the experiences of Mary, Elizabeth, Zacharias, and Gabriel. Notably absent is Joseph, Mary’s betrothed husband, whose angelic visit comes in Matthew 1 (for those of you harmonizing Gospels), mentioned here only in connection to Mary. Also worth noting is the piety Luke notes in both women mentioned. Mary and Elizabeth are noted for piety, Elizabeth perhaps more even than Mary, though Mary’s commendation is from Gabriel himself. Luke renders the judgment on Elizabeth.

Further, Luke spends much of the chapter on Elizabeth, Zacharias, and John (who will be called John the Baptist). While the birth of Christ is foretold and the beautiful passage known as the Magnificat are both here, Luke 1 clearly highlights John’s origins as we see Zacharias’ vision, Elizabeth’s joy, and the praise of John by the people (Luke 1:66) as they marvel at what he might be.
In Focus: John, however, takes the proper approach to the praise and wonder of the people. Certainly taught by his parents about the purpose of his life, John withdraws from the public life of his hometown. Rather than stay to be seen to “increase in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) as Jesus does, John heads into the deserts of the Judean wilderness.

It is worth noting that we do not know when John made his withdrawal—a hyper-literal reading of Luke 1:80 would have him departing soon after birth. While it is possible that Zacharias withdrew from active priestly service and took his family to the wilderness for seclusion, I would suggest the text be read as John willfully withdrawing, and that would place his departure around his age of adulthood. Likely in his teens, a time when most young men are chasing after things to satisfy desires or please themselves (present company shamefully included), John instead made the choice to remove himself from temptation.

Not only the temptation for him to be sidetracked and sin, but also the temptation to seek his own fame. Further, he spares the town the temptation to set John up as a substitute for the true coming Messiah. This shows a wisdom that reflects both the hand of God upon him and a knowledge of the Word. That knowledge covers both himself and Jesus.
In Practice: First off, we must establish that Jesus has already come, and when He comes again it will be without any additional warning. So, there are no more John the Baptists out there. I would immediately warn you from anyone who compares himself to John, Elijah, or any other Biblical prophet. There is no Scripture to support the idea that infallible prophets roam about anymore.

Second, let us consider John’s actions. He is at risk in his hometown, he is at risk in the spotlight. He recognizes a need for maturity and a need to step up at the right time. He also knows, as we see in John 3:30, that Jesus is more important and he cannot get in the way of the message and the Messiah.

Practically speaking, we should note the same things. Our risks run down the same rails, and typically start by being in the spotlight before we are mature enough for it. I would name names here, but those examples will have already flashed and burned before too much longer and the point will still be valid: a maturity that shows in character should be developed before someone steps into the spotlight.

Further, the spotlight should find them, being faithful, rather than be sought out. After all, John reappears on the stage of events still in the desert. People go to him as the Spirit works through him. He steps forward in obedience, has his moments to point to the Messiah, and then is gone. So should we be, especially those of us with positions of trust in the church. The moment that a minister stands in the way of the Messiah? Or sets himself in the place of Him? That’s the moment he has to step away.

For this reason, it is valuable that all who would preach of the One-Who-Has-Come-and-Will-Come-Again should spend some time in the desert. Likewise, I think we see that God brings his people through that desert. It gives us strength, perspective, and a great place to begin. Are you in the desert? Then study the Word, pray, and look for the work that God brings. It will be amazing..

In Nerdiness: Can’t really go through Luke 1 without talking about Theophilus and Luke’s purpose in writing. Generally speaking, it’s thought that Luke wrote Luke and Acts as a two-volume work. Some suggest that it was intended to be a 3-volume work, and this explains Acts’ abrupt ending. I’m not sure.

It is clear that Luke’s biography of Jesus and the acts of the followers of Jesus is similar in style to many Greco-Roman biographies. You have the Divine Announcement, the herald, the life of the important person (Jesus, in Luke’s case), and the results of their life. Luke is clearly using that style.

So is Theophilus a real person? The name can be taken as what it means: Friend of God. Or it can be a person. We don’t know. One theory out there is that Theophilus is Luke’s name for the trial judge in Paul’s case, explaining the ending of Acts. The result of Paul’s house arrest? It depends on Theophilus and how he receives this.

I’m not sure I buy that, but it’s feasible. Clearly, though, we know this: Luke wrote knowing other Gospels existed, and sought to establish a clear record as well. That’s valuable to keep in mind: Luke knew multiple witnesses were valuable, and added his.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sermon Recap for August 31

Good Afternoon! Because of the VBS wrap-up (Good Job, Ryan!) Sunday evening, we have one sermon. Next week we’ll also have one sermon, because we’ll have hamburgers and fellowship Sunday night.

Also, I have switched organizational motifs for sermon preparation. I hope it makes for getting to application points clearer. You may not even notice in the listening, but it will be evident in the outlines that are posted here.

Aug 31: Dry Bones or Living Spirit? Ezekiel 37



I.  Front Porch: God alone can bring life to the dead

A. Ezekiel 37

     B. Our situation, our need

II. Entryway: What is going on in this world?

     A. Division in the church

     B. Community angst

     C. Family concerns

     D. National problems

III.  Hallway: Ezekiel's prophetic years in the exile

     A. Ezekiel: early exile, probably prophesying after Jerusalem's fall though

     B. 575 BC...ish



V. Kitchen: The Word of the Lord brings the Spirit of the Lord who brings life

     A. Death is the natural result of life :)

     B. What we can do is proclaim the Word

     C. At this, we fall on God's mercy

     D. The Spirit of the Lord brings life

     E. The Spirit follows the Word

VI.  Dining Room (personal growth)/Living Room (immediate life application)

     A. DR: Humility, reliance on the Word

     B. LR: Grow through studying with others

     C. LR: be willing to share the Word with others--your life is a foundation, not a complete proclamation

VII. The Door: wide world impact

     A. All we can do is structure bones

     B. While there are bones to keep in order through the law, culture, our real goal is proclaim the Word

     C. That opens the door for the Spirit to work

     D. We cannot determine who the Spirit can and cannot work through

     E. We must stop trying to pick winners and especially decide who loses

VIII.  The Back Porch:

     A. As we go: carry the Word and proclaim it

     B. because God alone can bring life to the dead, through the Spirit who follows the Word


Concluding Notes:

1. I do have the rough audio of Sunday Night’s Q&A session, but I’m not sure yet that it’s useful for posting.

2. I am not sure how to improve video quality with the current equipment.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cows or Commitment? Deuteronomy 9

In Summary: By now, you know the drill for Deuteronomy, so I’ll spare you the background data. Deuteronomy 9 gives us Moses recounting some of the sins of the people of Israel in the Exodus, especially during the time around Mount Horeb. Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, so this is about the feasting that occurred during the time Moses received the Ten Commandments.

That aspect is brought up here, and some of the other times when the people sinned against God in their behavior. Moses is reminding the people to remember the grace they have received. After all, they have provoked YHWH to wrath many times, even within the first months of freedom from Egypt as they did at Horeb.

Why did they rebel even then? Perhaps it was because, like so many of us, the people of Israel were quick to forget. They were quick to forget the big things God had done for them, but even quicker to forget the little ones. Think about the little things: providence in sustaining creation; grace for all the little moments; wisdom in the universe. All in all, God is quite gracious to us all, even without doing any major things, like parting the Red Sea or giving you anything on your “wish list” of life. (Notwithstanding the problems with the “wish list” method of prayer.)
In Focus: The critical moment in this saga is the construction of the Golden Calf. (Deuteronomy 9:16) The Israelites, quite accustomed to having an idol or two around, chose to construct a metallic representation of God. While the nerds will debate whether they Calf was meant to represent God or simply to represent what God was riding upon, the overall action was sinful. It involved trading the command to wait and worship, to trust the unseen, for the ease of worshiping the visible. Trading patience for immediate gratification.

The Israelites chose to sanctify their wealth to idolatry. This is an age-old problem, and one that God is consistently against. The Israelites did it, and the result was the loss of God’s Word as carved by His Hand. Moses through this chapter links the idolatry directly through to the rebellions right up to the refusal to take the promised land.

In Practice: Today’s people, though, never worry with idolatry, right? We, especially those within the church, never carve out golden calves, do we?

Perhaps we do not do so quite so plainly, but we must consider something. How often do we take our wealth and give it over to the worship of something other than God? Not a full-out bow down, most likely, but a diversion of our hearts and cares from obeying what God has said. We do this because it is convenient to do so. We can worship this for a little while, chase after that, and then come back to God. He’s a God of grace and mercy, right?

Except we need to remember that there is only one God, and the God of grace and mercy is also the God of righteous judgment. He will judge sin, He will be provoked to wrath. Especially when we treat Him as if we should be able to pick and choose our commitments.

This is the essence of our problem with idolatry: we want gods that we can contribute to, because by contributing, we maintain control. If it’s my gold that made my god, then I’m in charge. Even if his rules are a little challenging, because I’m the one behind my idol, I can define the exceptions. And then use the rules to direct you.

When God is unseen, though, He is also uncontrolled. We have to follow what He says, do it His way. That’s not always easy. And most of us prefer the ability to have cows to the challenge of having commitment.

But that’s a choice that needs to change.

In Nerdiness: Don’t overplay the presence of the word “today” in Deuteronomy 9:1. That would put this statement, Moses’ death, and the crossing of the Jordan all in one day. Take it more as a “in these days” or a general time reference. Yes, that also bears backwards on Moses’ use of the same word for “day” in Genesis 1.

But that’s another post.