Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stripped of Your Righteousness

9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem. (Acts 7:9-16 (ESV)
Stephen moves on to a second example showing how it is the witnesses to God who are persecuted by the majority  of Israel, but how God always uses them to save the people. Jesus will be the final crown of this work as Stephen shows all of these men as types.  Now he turns his attention to Joseph, who was sold into slavery by the patriarchs, but who was then able to use this for good and save his brothers. So too Joseph is a type, a model in which the early church could see the work of Christ foreshadowed in the history of Israel. It is this sort of thing Jesus means when he says, “You search the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, but they are these who speak of me.” (John 5:39)
The twelve tribes of Israel are named after Joseph and his brothers. It is for this reason that they are called the patriarchs. Stephen shows that even the partriarchs themselves were guilty of persecuting God’s chosen. Even here, at the beginning of their nation’s history the majority of Israel are unbelievers who don’t understand the word of God. Who think they  can thwart God’s plans with their own evil intentions, but God even uses their evil to bring about his plan of salvation, and uses there sinfulness to accomplish his purpose and their salvation. Just so, now, they follow in the footsteps of their fathers, and God has used their sinfulness to bring about their salvation.
I think we Christians can learn something from this. Too often we let our sin shame us. We feel weak and unworthy of the love of God. And these things we are, but it doesn’t stop God from loving us. There are times that we wake up in life to see the blood on our hands. We are horrified at what we have done. And rightly so. The patriarchs had no cause to shrug their shoulders and think that since God had used their evil deeds for good, they had no guilt. At the same time, Joseph having seen the work of God and how God used their evil to do him good, was in a position that made him willing to forgive, which is always God’s will.
Finally, that is the essence of Christianity though. Often we look at those who seem to have it together, who hold to some straight and narrow path, who never seem to have family troubles, run ins with the police, who live exemplary lives as being the epitome of the Christian faith and what it is all about. We look up to them and try to live our lives the same way. Really, no one wants all that sort of trouble. On the other hand, I’m convinced there isn’t anyone who actually succeeds at that sort of thing. We are all sinners and all weak. We realize this I think to a certain extant. We come to grips with it. In our minds though we start classifying our sins, and we think we are good to go because the sins that we hide are not as bad as all of that. Then they catch up to us and catastrophe hits. We find ourselves doing things much worse than we ever imagined we could be doing. It’s all over and done before it even registers with us.
And then we are at a tricky cross roads. Our pride, you would think it is shattered at this point. You just had an abortion, or you paid for your lover to have one so your wife wouldn’t find out. You realize you are as sinful as all those people out there, those faceless people you railed against with statistics.  Now you are the statistic! How could this be? And your pride kicks in to drive you further into despair. You want to quit going to church, because you can’t keep up the appearance of being a Christian anymore. But it is precisely then stripped of the appearance of being a Christian that God gives to you forgiveness, and focuses you on the cross, so you can stop trying to appear Christian, and be one. It is at times like these that your righteousness has gotten in the way of God’s righteousness. So he strips you of it. He strips you of your righteousness so you can no longer wear it over his. You can no longer hide his righteousness underneath yours, but now his is exposed in you, his righteousness that is the forgiveness of sins and nothing more. His righteousness is his blood that has washed away your sins, and stripped you of your righteousness.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weeds And Wheat

Weeds and Wheathttp://bror0122.podomatic.com/entry/2014-07-21T06_16_14-07_00

Wheat and Weeds

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds [3] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants [4] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)  Matthew 13:36-43 (ESV)
“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
It’s the perennial question, how can there be a God,  a creator who is all good and all powerful, how can this God we Christians speak of who loves the poor and the oppressed, how can he exist when there is so much evil in the world? Why doesn’t he put an end to it all? And here Jesus, this all powerful all good God who put aside all the glory, finding equality with God not a thing to be grasped, all in order to take on the form of a servant, to become one of us and suffer this world of death and betrayal with us, to die on the cross for our sins, to rise from the dead for our justification, this God gives us an answer: “An enemy has done this.” An enemy has broken into this world, he has sown the field with weeds and corrupted it so that the weeds can’t even be torn up, and tilled without also tearing up the wheat that these very same weeds choke out, and starve for sunlight and water. At least we can’t do it, and God chooses to wait and patiently extend grace and mercy to the world with every passing day.
 We can neither separate the weeds from the wheat or the wheat from the weeds in this world, inside or outside the church. When we try to do this, we are like little children trying to help grandma in the garden with her weeding.  All of us have received the kingdom of God as little children and we share the same discernment. We are just as likely to pull the flowers as we are the weeds. In doing so, we only add evil to evil, as we try to do what we think is good. We think we know what repentance looks like and therefore who is or isn’t repentant. We’ve seen the gospel work one way in our lives and we think it must work that way in everyone else too. If it doesn’t, they must be a weed. We start going to task removing all the fornicators and adulterers, the drunkards, the good time Charlies, those on the extreme right and then those on the extreme left. When we are all done? We are left with a barren field. Or perhaps we are left with a church full of people too old and worn out to get into any trouble anymore. We begin to have articles showing up in the Reporter and Lutheran Witness complaining about the aging nature of our congregations and all the gray hair in the pews.
But God asks us to be patient. God bides his time, waiting for the gospel to work, to bring repentance and work faith, to change the weeds into wheat as it has done with each and every one of us here who were baptized into his death and raised to walk in the newness of life.  He’s not willing to weed until the harvest hoping that as long as his gospel is also sown in the world, they too can come to faith. But at the end of time, when the fullness of time has come, then the wheat and the weeds will be separated, the weeds gathered up and thrown into the fire.
It happens. It’s natural for us to react in this way. To want to weed out the world, or at least the church.  But what comes of our nature is not often good, corrupted as it is itself with the seed of Satan, the sin that corrupts all of our being. It has a way of blinding us to our own sin, and showing us the sins of others.  We see the weeds everywhere, because most often they look just like the wheat. We can’t discern the one from the other, whether inside the church or outside the church. We should remember that it always seemed to the Pharisees that Jesus lacked this discernment too. For he insisted on receiving sinners and eating with them, and neither would he avoid their company if invited to dinner. He was always ready to share the good news of the kingdom with those who had ears to hear, to sow the good seed without discernment on the stony ground, on the path, and in the field, and even among the weeds. For it was precisely the ungodly weeds he came to justify with his death, and raise to new the newness of life in him, the kernel of wheat that died that it might bear fruit.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds with Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stephen Explains the History of Israel

7:1 And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen said:
“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. 5 Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. 6 And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. 7 ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ 8 And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. (Acts 7:1-8 (ESV)
Stephen begins to explain his beliefs and he starts with Abraham. He starts with the Old Testament. Of course he is speaking to Jews who know the Old Testament even if they don’t understand it. Now he will give them an interpretation of it that centers in Christ, in whom the Old Testament finds fulfillment. It is essential to do this. But throughout his recounting of the Old Testament he will emphasize just how improbable the faith of Abraham has been, how it has always been misunderstood, and that God’s people have always been a persecuted minority with in Israel, and the majority of Israel have always been unbelievers. Jesus Christ himself had rubbed this in the face of his hometown crowd when he spoke of the many widows to be found in the days of Elijah, and many lepers in the days of Elisha, yet it was a gentile widow who housed Elijah and found relief from God during the drought, it was Namaan a gentile general and raider of Israel that was healed. (Luke 4)

God called Abraham and told Abraham what was going to happen to his people. Four hundred years they would be enslaved, but in the end God would judge the nation that enslaved them. So it always is with God’s people, they are persecuted, but they know that what they endure is not for naught. In the end God will deliver them, their persecutors will be judged. Stephen understands that this history is replaying itself now as the new Israel, the church is born. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Obedient to the Faith

7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:7-15 (ESV)
Hey I’m back, I didn’t post anything  yesterday because my computer more or less crashed on Tuesday, and I spent yesterday trying to recover everything, also much of this morning. It’s frustrating because I lost an esv App that I really enjoyed. I thought it was Olive Tree, but it was not, and Olive Tree has shown itself to be worthless. Now I’m using ESV Online which is better, but I don’t like needing internet access to use the Bible on my computer. I don’t have Logos or any other such expensive software either. So… I’m making do until I can find something better.
And a great many priest became obedient to the faith. I’ll harp again. The reformed know how to butcher translation and make square pegs fit in round holes when it comes to translation. Thankfully the Holy Spirit knows how to work despite their best efforts. The word that the ESV keeps translating obey, or obedient, has the prefix for hyper, and the verb “to hear”. It means obey in the same way listen means obey. It can have that connotation where the context allows for it. I just don’t think the context allows for it here unless you drastically butcher the meaning of Christianity and make it into a system of law, which the reformed are prone to do. Other translations a person might have are, became adherents of the faith, or began to heed the faith, or became subject to the faith. The idea though is even priests, most of whom were Sadducees to begin with, were now becoming believers. The faith was gaining traction even in the camp of the opponents.
But as the disciples multiply greatly so does the opposition to the gospel. Stephen who would discuss his religion with friends and others interested is seized by those from the synagogue of the freedmen. These would have been Greek speaking Jews, like Stephen. It is more than probably that this was Stephen’s home synagogue before he became Christian and a place where he would still go to hear the word of God and worship. It is even probable that he was speaking of Christ in the same manner as Paul would when he visited the synagogues of the Roman world. At the time after the reading of the word, they would allow men to give explanations of the word, as we see with Jesus Christ when he visits the synagogue in Nazareth. The sermons would often be in the form discussions. The same form as often takes place today in a Bible Study, or at Children’s sermons. The discussions could become lively, points going back and forth, others joining in every now and then asking for clarification, or just sitting back and watching the show. But as Stephen wins more and more converts to the faith, the people get upset. They seize him and put him on trial. When you read the charges, you can see the sorts of things that Stephen spoke about as he witnessed to the gospel from the distortions.

“This man never ceases to speak against this place and the law.”  Now we are full circle back to “became obedient to the faith.” Stephen will talk of the resurrection, he will talk about how we have been freed from the law, and the “Tradition of the Elders.” He would talk about how Jesus is the true temple, in whom God tabernacled amongst us. How he was crucified and rose again from the dead. How this put an end to the need for the Temple. But today you find evangelism programs that talk about anything but this sort of thing. In fact people go to church their whole lives and here nothing of these things. Instead evangelism centers around marriage seminars, and parenting tips. People gather teenagers together and spend the whole time talking about why they shouldn’t have sex, and never get around to talking about how they have been sanctified by the blood of Christ, washed and justified in the waters of baptism. It’s all law! And half of it is law on par of the tradition of the Elders, which replaced even God’s law with the law of man. It’s hypocritical Bull Skubala! And it squashes Christian freedom. We’ve made the faith into a bunch of laws to be obedient too. We only like to think that the gospel in all of it is that our laws are easier to follow than the Jewish laws because we don’t prohibit the eating of bacon. I have news for you, they aren’t. They crush, they bind, and they make a mockery of God’s law. Yes it is a mockery of God’s law when we write books that condemn the idea that a man or even a boy should be able to ask a girl out on a date and get to know her before beginning a “courtship” with her. This is particularly egregious when such skubala is passed off as “the Lutheran way.” We aren’t evangelizing, we are trying to sell a lifestyle and get people to buy into our phobias. But that was one thing Stephen didn’t have, even in the face of death itself he would evangelize and speak of our Lord who conquered death that though we die we would never perish. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Of Good Repute

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Act 6:1-7)
“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Thus the first church council is formed, the first elders appointed.  And already confusion sets in as we try to translate what we just read to our modern day practice. What we call elders today would have been called deacons in the early church. When the New Testament speaks of elders it is referring to what we call the pastoral office. But the early church soon found out it needed more than the apostles. 3,000 can you imagine? 3,000 members in one day. And it kept growing. By the time we are in chapter six the congregation may have been up to 6,000 or so. Who knows? I’ll put this in perspective a bit. 3,000 is a congregation larger than the town population of Staples MN. Where I grew up. 3,000 is approximately 500 more than the number of confirmed Missouri Synod Lutherans on the inflated books of the 16 congregations in the Utah circuit of the Rocky Mountain District, that somehow manage to support four day schools even to this day. This is a lot to keep track of. The offerings that are coming in for the support of the work is huge. The accounts are getting out of control, people are getting overlooked, the disciples themselves are overwhelmed. They themselves begin to realize that there ministry is suffering as the work of Moses suffered when he was the only judge for Israel. So they ask for men of good repute, men that you can trust, to be put in charge of the finances.
Serving tables, every time I read the phrase I think of waiters and waitresses. In my world they are still called that, they work in restaurants and serve tables. They take orders and bring food they often also take care of the check. This is the image I think most of us get in our heads. We think immediately that these men are going to be in charge of the food pantry and doing a first century version of Meals on Wheels. But the word translated “tables” here had wider meaning in Greek. It basically meant accounts of all types. It’s possible that someone went and bought food for everyone and doled it our everyday. It is more likely that the widows were given a stipend and bought their own food according to their tastes. But the accounting early on was shoddy, books weren’t kept and jealousy and suspicion arose fairly quickly. The converts from the diaspora seemed to have felt as second class citizens in the church. These would have been Jewish people who were more comfortable in the Greek language than Aramaic and Hebrew having come from Greek speaking areas of the Roman Empire, places like Tarsus and Pergumum, Alexandria, and even Rome, which at this point had a larger Greek speaking population than a Latin speaking population. Though in Rome, it was probable that a majority of those who spoke Greek could also manage Latin. But the apostles refused to be the book keepers, and turned that over to others.
This seems smart to me.  I remember early on in my ministry talking to a “nondenominational” pastor and hearing that he took care of all the church’s accounts. This seemed insane to me. He was in charge of counting the offerings, and depositing them. I’m sure he kept the books, but I did kind of wonder how many sets, and which ones he showed the congregation and the IRS. Suspicion arises after a five minute conversation! Personally, I’d rather just take that which the congregation has agreed to pay me and let a panel of others be in charge of the books, men known by the congregation to be of good repute.
That is the only qualification given here in Acts. Later on in the Pastoral Epistles of Paul there will be a laundry list of characteristics that make for good repute, man of one woman, manages his own household well, children are believers. Some of these things are listed for elders and most repeated for deacons. I don’t know of too many pastors who don’t shudder as they read those passages. It’s the pastors that don’t shudder who scare me though. Are they so oblivious to sin in their lives? I mean you have to wonder what kind of a hand they have with their people, and whether they know how to lift a finger to help rather than pile on more law. The only thing I know to do today is trust that God uses the weak ones of this world to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise. I’ve known elders, the modern day deacons, who often don’t feel qualified for the office due to some failure they perceive in their lives. This is the way it so often is though, we see ourselves differently than others see us. No one can examine their soul and come away smelling roses. And it is absolutely right, they don’t know about you what you know of yourself. And yet, often times they know things about you that you don’t see yourself either. If the congregation has nominated you and elected you to office they probably suspect that you are a sinner like the rest of them, but they hold you in good repute anyway and trust you will be able to do the job they have asked of you. And they probably wouldn’t feel that way about you if you didn’t know you were a sinner.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gamaliel's Council

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Act 5:33-42)
So how does Luke know what Gamaliel said, if the disciples were put outside when Gamaliel gave his council? Well, he heard it from Gamaliel’s star student, a man known as Saul who would come to be known as Paul.  Of course, this is rather perplexing too. Gamaliel comes off as such a peaceful person, giving wise advice and counseling caution. But Saul will be zealous in his persecution of the church. It could be that even Gamaliel’s patience had worn thin by the time the persecution stones Stephen, or it could be that Saul is trying to prove himself and just had a different personality than Gamaliel. In any case, that the Pharisees would be a little more patient with the disciples makes sense. After all, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees did not. But the Sadducees also had more to lose. The Sadducees were in charge of the temple, and it was in their best interest to keep everything at status  quo. Talk of a messiah made them nervous, it jeopardized their place in the temple that the Romans could change at any time. They dearly want to know the things that make for peace, but in all their blindness they just can’t find it. They persecute the one thing that does make for peace, the body of Christ.
The disciples taking their beating rejoice that they have been able to suffer for his name and then they continue to preach and teach, in the temple and from house to house. The persecution makes them more bold.