Wednesday, April 22, 2020

How to Read the Bible: Ancient Jewish Meditation Literature

I want to return to posting BibleProject videos on How to Read the Bible. You can find the previous three here, here, and here.

We understand that there are different types of literature. How we read a news article is different than how we would read a fictional story.

This difference in literary types is expanded as we look are different cultures at different time types. One of the reasons the Bible can be hard for us to understand is because it was written in a different time and place. If we approach the Bible the same way we would our modern day literature we are going to miss much of what the Biblical authors wanted us to understand.



There are two important lessons that we are to remember as we read and study the Bible.

The first lesson is to read the Bible slowly and deliberately, giving ourselves time to think about what was written. We are not meant to understand everything in one reading of Scripture, so we return and reread and meditate on what we have read.

The second lesson is to discuss our readings with a group. The dynamic of a group allows us to hear from perspectives we don't have as we read Scripture. This opens up the possibility for us to see the truth of Scripture in a whole new way.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Trust Jesus for New Life

It was strange to celebrate Easter at home this year. Right now Bethlehem, like most churches around the United States, are coping with the regulations given by our state government. Even though we cannot meet in person, we are doing what we can to continue to have a Christian community via the power of the internet.

This is the sermon I preached for Easter Sunday: Trust Jesus for New Life.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Trust Jesus to Lead

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30).

I like the story because the Rich Young Ruler is a person in the Bible who American Christians can relate to.

While we may not consider ourselves rich, compared to rest of the world we are. In fact, the greatest stumbling block for Americans, just as it was for the Rich Young Man, is materialism (measuring the worth and purpose of our lives by the things we have or desire to have).

The Rich Young Man comes to Jesus with the question: "How can I have eternal life?"

Ultimately what the Young Man asked Jesus is how he can be part of God's eternal kingdom.

Jesus responded, "You need to keep the commandments."

The key, according to Jesus, is to remain in God's will. God revealed His will to Israel through the Law. For the Rich Young Man to remain in God's will required that he keep the commandments.

Young Man replied to Jesus, "I have kept the commandments."

We should not hear this as being arrogant, but rather a declaration that he was following what the Law required. He obeyed the commandments, and when he broke one he made sure the appropriate sacrifice was offered. In his mind he could truthfully say, "I have kept the commandments."

Notice Jesus did not challenge him on this point. Rather, he gave the Young man one more thing to do: sell his possessions and give the money to the poor.

Remember Jesus hung all the commandments on two commands: love God and love your neighbor.

What the Young Man revealed by holding on to his wealth is that he really did not keep the commandments. He participated in a religion, but true love eluded him.

The Young Man was torn between two desires. He desired the lifestyle that his money gave him, but he also desired to be part of God's Kingdom.

The Young Man chose the immediate desire of an easy life rather than the long term desire of following Jesus.

The result was that the Young Man missed out on being part of God's Kingdom. He came with the desire to be part of the eternal Kingdom of God. He went away sad because he knew his desire would not be satisfied.

I wonder if the Young Man was still alive in 70 AD.

Did he witness the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans?

Did he experience hunger that no amount of money could fill?

Was he one of the rich people who had their bellies slit open as they tried to sneak out of Jerusalem with their riches in their stomach?

Did he see the futility of trusting in his wealth and wonder how life would have been different if he had followed Jesus?

It doesn't really matter if he was alive then or not, because his choice led him down the path of the temporary which always leads to an ever increasing desire of the things of this world. The sadness he experienced when he left Jesus was the same sadness that had him seeking Jesus. His life was missing something, but he wasn't willing to to do what was necessary to fulfill the craving of his soul.

What about you?

Is there something in your life that you are hanging on to even though you know it is an obstacle to the life God has for you?

Is there something in your life that you have learned to rely for comfort and fulfillment but pushes Jesus out?

Until we are willing to trust Jesus more than we trust ourselves we will continue to be frustrated with the direction of our lives.

Following Jesus requires us to live with courage.

The first courageous step that we must take is to give up those things we have trusted to bring us happiness, pleasure, and meaning. It is a scary thing to give up what we comfortable with in order to venture into the unknown. We will never know the life God has for us until we do exactly what he tells us to do.

We must trust Jesus to lead the way to life.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Outcome of Worship

"Worship is a deliberate, steady, focused time with God. Worship anticipates not only an encounter with God, but also a clear next word from God. Worship is totally God-centered! God-focused! out of worship comes a clear and more focused relationship of faith and obedience with God. Worship is God's way of developing character and directing the life into the center of His will...The ultimate outcome of consistent worship is a life totally yielded to God, on God's terms." ~ Henry Blackaby, Created to be God's Friend, p. 83

We worship God out of recognization for who He is and what He has done for us.

God is our Creator and we want to thank Him for giving us life. He is our Savior and we want to praise Him for rescuing us. He is our Father and we want to bless Him for loving us.

In worship we re-orient our focus on God. We need to do this consistently because we continually turn our focus on ourselves. Life becomes about what we want, our desires, and our will. The result is that we push God out of the picture.

When we consistently worship God, allowing our focus to leave us to be put on Him, our perspective changes. We come to understand the bigger picture of life and be reminded that God is calling us to join Him in His work.

This renewed sense of perspective challenges us to surrender our lives to God, because we can't truly worship until we put God on His throne and take our place in His Kingdom. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Life Is Worth It

Celebration is a part of life.

No matter how difficult circumstances might be, people always find moments to celebrate. This has been true throughout the history of the world.

We celebrate births, graduations, championships, new jobs, marriages, and personal successes. These events remind us of the importance that is woven into everyday life. 

Always remember that life is worth celebrating!

In contrast to our celebrations is harsh reality that life is difficult.

The tragedy of a job loss, the constant pain of a debilitating injury, the heartache of a messy breakup, the fear of a terminal illness diagnosis, and the grief of death are evidence that life is not what it should be. Difficulties rob us of the joy of life.  The sorrow experienced because of tragedy and hardship remind us that life is valuable.

Grief is reserved for the loss of people and things that bring joy into our lives!

Both celebration and grief teach us the value of life.

The question we need to ask is: What makes life valuable?

The apostle Paul wrote:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, "For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.")  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord 
(Romans 8:35-39, NLT).

What makes the achievements of life worth celebrating and what makes the tragedies of life worth enduring is God's love.

Without God there would be no reason to celebrate, for even our biggest victory will one day fade away. Without God life would only cause depression since the only sure thing we could look forward to is death.

Through Jesus' death and resurrection God infuses hope, purpose, and joy into life. He does that because he loves us. Life is worth living because of God's love.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Trust Jesus for Transformation

In this time of COVID-19 isolation I am recording my sermons so we can do "church" online.

This is the second sermon in the Trust Jesus series.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Rend Collective - Build Your Kingdom Here OFFICIAL

Jesus asked us to pray: "Your kingdom come..."

May we continue to pray for the coming of God's Kingdom and may we yield our lives to God's will. 

This is one of my favorite Rend Collective songs.

 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Stand Firm!


The Bible does not hide the reality that life is hard, that we will face times of tragedy, and that we will experience attacks from the Evil One. We should not be surprised that temptations, trials, and struggles are a normal part of life.

Those of us who follow Jesus should be prepared to face these difficult times. We know that they are coming, and even if they are not a part of our lives in the moment, we know someone who is experiencing them right now.

It  is essential that we get prepared, but we don't know what to do!

God in His wonderful grace and mercy has not left us to fend for ourselves. 

He has given us the equipment we need to stand strong regardless of our circumstances!

The apostle Paul wrote:

Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil...Therefore, put on every piece of God's armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:11 and 13; NLT)

During difficult times we are commanded to stand firm. 

How do we do that? How is it possible to stand firm in the face of adversity and struggle?

There are two truths we need to remember.
  1. We need to remember that we are not alone. When Paul wrote this letter, he was not appealing to them to stand firm as individuals, rather to stand firm as a group. The image of “standing firm” and “God’s armor” would have created the picture of the Roman Army. The Romans were able to conquer the world by standing together. With shields linked and lances out Rome invited the opposing army to break themselves on their collective strength. That is what we are to do. One of the reasons being part of a church family is important is because we can support one another when the going gets tough. We cannot stand strong on our own.
  2. We need to remember that God provides. Paul wrote that we are to put on God’s armor. He provides what we need for protection. This was in contrast to being part of Rome’s army, which made you purchase your own armor. We can stand firm in confidence because we know that God has given us the equipment that we need. Yes, we need to learn to use it and use it at the correct time, but it is not something we have to go looking for. God has provided it for us.


The way we get through difficult times and the way we resist Satan, is by standing firm. 

By standing firm we are able to hold back the full extent of evil that Satan wants to bring into the world. We may feel like the Gospel isn’t advancing like it should, but we need to remember that when we stand firm in the face of evil, we are still proclaiming the Gospel.

Advancing the Gospel isn’t just about evangelism and converts. It is also about opposing evil and remaining firm in the face of adversity. By standing firm we keep Satan from reclaiming territory and we frustrate his attempt to halt the movement of Jesus.

Stand strong! 

Be confident!

Live with hope!

When we are united together we become an unstoppable force that even the gates of hell cannot prevail against.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Hope and the Resurrection

My family is made up of pastors.

I am the pastor at Bethlehem Church in Austin, MN and my older bother is the pastor at Iowa City Church (our brother-in-law is also a pastor).

This past Friday my brother texted me and asked if I wanted to do a podcast with him about the resurrection of Jesus. So we spent 45 minutes talking about the hope of the resurrection, evidences for the resurrection, and the implications of the resurrection.

Here is the result.
     

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Most Important Sign

One day Moses was watching his father-in-law's sheep when something caught his eye. It appeared to be a bush that was on fire, but it wasn't being consumed.

Moses decided to investigate this strange sight. When He approached the strange phenomenon a voice called from the bush. 

It was at this moment God called Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt.
Moses asked, "But who am I to appear before Pharaoh? How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?"

God answered, "I will be with you. And this will serve as proof that I have sent you: When you have brought the Israelites out of Egypt, you will return here to worship God at this very mountain." (Exodus 3:11, 12; NLT).

I find it odd that the evidence God provided to Moses that He would be with Moses would happen after it is all said and done. Moses would know it was truly God who sent him when he returned to the mountain with Israel in tow.

Now did Moses lack proof that his calling was from God? 

No, God provided proof. 

There was the burning bush, the audible voice of God, and two signs: the staff into a snake and the leprosy of on Moses' hand. 

Moses witnessed the ten plagues, the Red Sea divide, and the pillar of cloud/fire which led Israel. 

All through his experience God showed Moses that He was with him.

Why was worshiping at Mt. Sinai the proof that God sent Moses? 

While all the miracles pointed to God and showed Moses that God was with them, none of it would have meant anything without God's covenant. 

It was at Mt. Sinai when God established a covenant with Israel. This covenant formally set them apart as God's people and separated them from all the nations of the world. 

If God delivered Israel from Egypt but never established a covenant with them it would have made little difference to them. They would not be God's chosen people. 

It was the covenant, the promise of God at Sinai which made all the difference.

Flash forward a few hundred years. Jesus turned water into wine. Not long after that he went to Jerusalem and cleared the marketplace out of the Temple.  He taught everywhere he went with authority. 

The religious leaders demanded:
"What right do you have to do these things? If you have this authority from God, show us a miraculous sign to prove it." Jesus replied, "All right. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:18, 19; NLT)

We know Jesus meant his death and resurrection when he talked about destroying the temple. That was the sign he gave to to those who demanded one.

 Jesus continued to teach, heal, feed thousands, walk on water, and calm storms. 

Much of what Jesus did provided evidence that he was the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God. But the ultimate sign, the one he said would offer the final proof of his authority, is the resurrection. 

All the miracles Jesus performed, all the teachings he taught, and even his death, meant nothing without the resurrection. 

If Jesus didn't rise from the dead we are still in our sins, and we are wasting our time.

Read what the apostle Paul says as well in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19:
But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. (NLT)
Here is the point. The central truth of Christianity is not the cross, but the resurrection. 

Just as the covenant established at Sinai gave meaning and significance to everything which happened before it, the resurrection gives meaning to everything Jesus did before his death. All the teachings and miracles find there meaning not Jesus' death, but his resurrection. 

The Resurrection of Jesus is what gives meaning and hope to Christianity.

What does that mean for us? 

Often we talk how Jesus' death was the sacrifice for sin. In some mysterious way the crucifixion of Jesus absorbed the wrath of evil and sin, and that is a wonderful truth that is worth celebrating.

Yet, without the resurrection, Jesus' death was just another sad reality of cruelty of the Roman Empire. The resurrection declares that all Jesus said and did was true. We can be confident that our sins are forgiven because the cross leads to an empty tomb. The resurrection promises new life and a better tomorrow. 

The resurrection is what sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies of the world. It is the evidence that needed to verify the validity of the teachings and put confidence in the promises.

Without the resurrection Jesus is just another good teacher and moral philosopher.  With the resurrection Jesus is the one true King of the universe who has promised to return and make everything right.

That is the difference this one event makes.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Live as Free People

You and I have certain rights simply because we are people.

In the Christian tradition we believe that these rights are a gift from God. These inalienable rights declare that people are equal.

We are not equal in talent, intelligence, beauty, strength, wealth, privilege, or a number of other variables that set people apart from one another. We are equal in that we have the same right to life, self-determination, and responsibility as everyone else has.

The way this equality should be seen is in how people are treated under the law. It shouldn't matter who you are, equal protection should be given to everyone.

You and I are free people, but that doesn't mean that we are able to whatever we want to do. To protect the liberty given to us by God requires living in a certain manner.

Consider the following quote attributed to Samuel Adams:

He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man...The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people.

What does a free life look like?

According to Samuel Adams the person who enjoys freedom is the person who lives a virtuous life. This is a crucial thought.

Often when we talk about freedom and liberty the focus is on what we are free to do.

"Is this activity legal?" we ask.

We declare, "It is my life I am free to make my own decisions!"

While it is true that freedom often allows you to make all types of choices, that doesn't mean that those choices are equally beneficial.

Enjoying the benefits of freedom is not the same preserving freedom.

I believe that the number one reason why people lose their liberty is because of poor choices. Yes, their freedom allows them to make those choices, but those choices end up stealing their freedom.

Should a person be free to use drugs?

Yes!

God has gifted them personal responsibility and free will.

Admitting that a person has the freedom to use drugs is not the same thing as proclaiming  drug use as a positive thing. The addiction and personality change that can accompany drug use, even with alcohol, is a terrible thing.

Addiction is a self created prison that many people cannot escape.

This reminds me of what the apostle Peter wrote.

In 1 Peter 2:16 we read; Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (ESV).

Peter taught us that we are to live as free people.  The best way for us to live as free people is to live as servants of God.

I know this idea is counter-intuitive, that true freedom is found in being a servant, but when we obey God, we are not being oppressed by some tyrant. Rather, we are being directed by the Creator of the Universe: the One who knows the best way for people to live.

Ultimately freedom is found by living out God’s design for our lives. The way we enjoy freedom is to be faithful to God's will for us.

Please understand this: No one can rob us of our freedom.

Even if someone takes over and destroys the Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, we are still able to live free lives.

The reason for this is because it is NOT the government that makes us free.

Freedom is a gift from God. The choices we make, even under an oppressive government, enable us to enjoy God’s gift of freedom.

Have hope!

God, in His great wisdom and mercy, placed the control of our lives in our hands.

The choices that we make determine the level of freedom we enjoy. God left it up to us to decide whether or not we will live with freedom. This freedom is not about doing whatever we would like to do. Freedom is ultimately about choosing to live the life God planned for us to live (see Ephesians 2:10).

The ability to be free is discovered in the choices we make. Choose to follow Jesus and enjoy real freedom.

Trust God to Forgive

It is never easy to admit that we have made a mistake.  The bigger the mistake the more we want to hide it, deny it, or ignore it.  It is no...