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For June 6, 2021

GENESIS 3:8-15

THE BACKGROUND

This is part of the familiar old story of the Fall of Mankind. The scene is in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve have everything they could possibly want, including a loving intimate relationship with God their creator. Everything is perfect.  There is only one rule in the entire, perfect world—stay away from one tree, and don’t eat the fruit!  They eat the fruit. 

THE DETAIL

  • For the first time in their lives, they feel shame and guilt, and hide from God. (v. 8)
  • God, knowing full well what has happened, engages in a little question and answer with Adam.  (vv. 9-11)
  • Then, the blame game begins.  Adam blames Eve.  Eve blames the serpent.  (vv. 12-13)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

As I’ve said before, with these Old Testament stories, I’m always looking for the God Lesson.  All too often, we get so wrapped up in the detail that we miss that lesson.  I believe that this story teaches us the truth about our basic human nature.  If you or I were given a perfect life, without a care in the world, but had to obey only one rule, we would break that rule. Don’t believe me?  When you see a sign that says “Do not touch.  Wet Paint”.  What is your first inclination?  You probably wonder if that paint is still wet.  You want to touch it.  It is our nature!  But it is also in God’s nature to be loving and compassionate.  Sure, he gets angry in verses 14 & 15, but in the end, He makes clothes for them.  (v. 21, not part of today’s selection)


 

2 CORINTHIANS 4:13-5:1

THE BACKGROUND

In the verses ahead of today’s passage, Paul talks about the sufferings that the believers in Corinth, as well as Paul himself, are enduring.  In the previous verses 8 & 9 we find words like afflicted, perplexed, and persecuted.  The overall message is positive, but this was their reality.

THE DETAIL

  • Paul begins by quoting from Psalm 116.  (The words don’t match exactly, because he is quoting from a Greek translation common at the time.)  But the writer of Psalm 116 kept his faith through a time of severe illness.  Paul lifts up this example to his readers, who are suffering for their faith.  Paul simply says that we can’t NOT speak about Jesus, because we really believe this stuff!  And best of all, we know that whatever happens to us, we will be raised with him. (vv. 13-14)
  • If Paul were Southern, verse 15 would read “Yes, everything is for y’all’s sake…” In the original text, Paul’s “your” is plural.  He is talking about the whole church, and not just one person.  All of our talking is so that the church will grow, and more and more will glorify God. 
  • So, the point is there to encourage us to keep talking.  We should keep talking about Jesus, even though we might suffer “momentary affliction”.  We keep our focus on the horizon (the eternal) and not on today’s troubles.  (vv. 16-18)
  • I love this cute illustration.  Paul calls our bodies ”earthly tents”.  We all know how temporary and frail a tent is.  We also know how solid and permanent a well-built house is.  Keep your focus on the house, and not the tent!

 

THE TAKEAWAY

We all will experience troubled times in our life. And, as we get older, our old “tent” seems more and more frail.  Let us refocus our attention on sharing the Good News to those around us, and not worry about our silly old tent.  Someday, we’re gonna get a real nice house!

 


MARK 3:20-35

THE BACKGROUND

Even though Mark’s gospel is only 16 chapters long, this passage is very early in the story.  Already, Jesus has been baptized an tempted.  He has healed people, taught people, and called disciples.  He is drawing more and more attention.

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus is drawing a crowd, and his family decides to “restrain him”.  (As if they could restrain him!)  The family reappears at the end of today’s lesson. (vv. 20-21)
  • Religious authorities from Jerusalem intercept him, and start calling him names. They claim that he is from the devil. Beelzebul (or Baal-zebub) is a foreign, false god.  Jesus employs some crafty logic to show the folly of their accusations.  (vv. 23-27)
  • Jesus then tells them that all sins are forgivable, except blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.  This they had indeed done, when they called the Holy Spirit “unclean”.  (vv. 28-30)
  • Jesus’’ biological family renters in verse 31.  It is clear that they are here to perform an intervention.  They want Jesus to tone it down, or cease altogether. Jesus must have been aware of this, because he does a peculiar thing.  He sort of half-disowns them!  Instead, he makes a foundational statement—“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister.”  This statement reinforces what we learned last week.  We, Jesus disciples in this time and place, are the adopted children of God, and Jesus is our brother!

 

THE TAKEAWAY

At first, I found it shocking that Jesus would turn his back on his own family.  But consider this.  Jesus’ #1 mission was to preach, teach, heal, and die for us.  Anything that stood in the way of that was going to suffer the consequences.  The scribes from Jerusalem were just another example of the resistance he experienced. But in this case, his own family was standing in the way of his mission. 

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

God has a purpose for each one of us.  Our task is to determine what that is, and do it. Nothing should stand in our way, not even our dearest relatives.  Do we have this level of conviction?

For June 13, 2021

EZEKIEL 17:22-24

THE BACKGROUND

Ezekiel  was a prophet to Judah during the time when the people of Judah were deported to Babylon.  2 Kings 24 gives the details of the defeat of Judah, the deportation and the plunder.  When a country was defeated in Old Testament times, not only did it mean that your army was weak, but that your god was also weaker than the victorious army’s.  This prophecy of Ezekiel reassures God’s people in spite of their defeat.

THE DETAIL

  • The passage is written in the form of an allegory.   The lofty cedar represents the Davidic line of the kings of Judah.  In 2 Samuel 7:13-16, Nathan tells David that his line would last forever.  With the defeat of Judah, it was feared that the Davidic line would come to an end.
  • God himself with “take a cutting” from this “lofty cedar”, and cause it to grow and flourish. (vv. 22-23)
  • More importantly, all the “trees” of the field will know that Yahweh is Lord.  In other words, other kingdoms will realize that the god of Judah is the one and only God. (v. 24a)
  • God summarizes by stating that he is in control.  He makes nations flourish or wither.  He has the power to do this.  (v. 24b)

THE TAKEAWAY

Even in today’s world, with constant power struggles between China, Russia, North Korea, and the USA, it is difficult to comprehend that God is in control.  But this is exactly what He tells us through Ezekiel.  The proof of the pudding is that Judah survives 60 years of exile, and is allowed to return home as promised. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

In this prophecy, we hear that God’s kingdom grows like a large tree, providing shelter and comfort for “every kind of bird”.  God’s kingdom has indeed spread worldwide, through the work of his son Jesus.  As his children, we not only work for the growth of his kingdom, we find shelter and comfort within its branches.
 

2 CORINTHIANS 5:6-10, 14-17

THE BACKGROUND

Paul is under attach for his preaching to the people of Corinth.  In today’s and next week’s lesson, we get to hear his side of why he does what he does.

THE DETAIL

  • In verses 6-9, Paul talks about being “at home” and “away”.  He is talking about his physical versus his spiritual being.  Since he is living, he is “at home in the body”.  Paul would, apparently, much rather be finished with the body, and be spiritually in God’s presence (“away”).  But since he is here, he has a job to do—preach the Gospel. 
  • We are now reminded that Jesus will indeed sit on his judgement seat, and judge each one of us. We will be held accountable.  This should encourage all of us to be good disciples!  (v. 10)
  • But accountability is not the main motivational factor, it is Jesus’ love that drives us onward. After all, he died for us, and was raised for us!  (vv. 14-15)
  • Since we have all died with Jesus in our baptism, and are reborn, we are new creations.  We must look at everyone and everything through this perspective.  (vv. 16-17) 

THE TAKEAWAY

It is sometimes difficult to look at everyone through the eyes of Jesus, but that is indeed what we are to do.  We must love everyone, sharing the good news of Jesus with everyone.
 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What do you think about appearing before Jesus’ judgement seat?  What do you think will happen?  In my working days, I would receive an annual performance review from my manager.  We would sit down, and review the goals I had set, and the corporation’s expectations of my performance to them.  Sometimes I achieved my goals, sometimes I fell short.  I like to think that my appearance before Jesus will be a bit like this review.  Jesus has expectations for all of us.  Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we do not.  In the end, we will lay all our failures at His feet, knowing that we are forgiven by His blood.
 

MARK 4:26-34

THE BACKROUND

This reading follows last week’s.  Jesus tells two parables about God’s kingdom.  Let me say something about this “Kingdom of God” subject.  The people of Jesus’ day were yearning for the Messiah to come, roust out the Romans, and re-establish Judah, just like the old Kingdom of David days. When Jesus starts a parable with “the kingdom of God is like…” all would have been eagerly waiting for him to give the details of the battle plan.  I’m sure there was a lot of head scratching after he taught them these parables.

THE DETAIL

  • The first parable is about someone who plants seed, and waits for it to grow.  An important phrase in this paragraph is “…he does not know how…” it grows.  He knows that the seeds will grow; he just doesn’t know how that happens.  But once the grain is ripe, he harvests his crop.  (vv. 26-29)
  • The second parable is similar, but has a different point.  A small seed is sown, and grows into a very large bush.  Just like our passage from Ezekiel, many birds find shelter in its branches.  (vv. 30-32)
  • Then we learn that he always taught the crowds in parables, but explained them all to his disciples in private.  (vv.33-34)

THE TAKEAWAY

This isn’t exactly a lesson in politics and revolution, is it?  Do you think his listeners were a little confused? 

So, what exactly is the kingdom of God?  One thing for sure, it is definitely not a country with borders, a ruler, and an army.  I believe that Jesus is telling us the same thing that Ezekiel told us.  That it is God’s desire for everyone, regardless of nationality or race, to be one great community of believers.  It is a community that finds shelter and comfort within the kingdom.  Sometimes this comfort comes directly from God.  Other times it comes from the community around us.  But we find shelter and grow within this community.

For May 30, 2021

HOLY TRINITY SUNDAY

The first Sunday after Pentecost is the day we set aside to explore the concept of the Holy Trinity.  This is a subject that is like peeling an onion.  The more you peel, the stronger it becomes.  Let’s peel off a few layers.  Hopefully we’ll stop before there are any tears.

ISAIAH 6:1-8

THE BACKGROUND

This takes place back in the middle 700’s BC in the kingdom of Judah.  God’s people were behaving badly.  Judah’s peace was being threatened by neighboring countries.  King Uzziah died, and Ahaz takes the throne.  Neither king had much regard for God or His prophets. This is the story of Isaiah’s call from God to be His spokesperson, His prophet to King Uzziah. 

THE DETAIL

  • Isaiah has a vision of God sitting high on his throne.  His robe fills the temple.  Six-winged seraphs are attending and guarding him, flying above.  Seraph means “fiery ones”, by the way.  Their six wings require explanation.  Two, of course are for flying, and with two their cover their faces.  Apparently, they also cannot gaze upon God’s face without perishing.  With the last two, they cover their “feet”.  In the Old Testament, the word “feet” is a polite way of saying the genitals.  One example of this is found in Ruth 3.  So, the seraphs were using their third pair of wings to be modest before God. (vv. 1-2)
  • They sang praises to God as they flew.  It was so moving, that the whole place shook, and was filled with smoke. Wow!  (vv. 3-4)
  • Did you ever feel like you were somewhere that you didn’t belong?  This was Isaiah.  He knew that he had no business being there (or so he thought). He knew that sinful beings did not belong in God’s presence.  (v. 5)
  • But something special happens.  A seraph cauterizes Isaiah’s lips with a coal from the fire on the altar.  “There you go.  All clean now!”  (My translation, v. 7)
  • The Lord calls out for a helper; Isaiah raises his hand, and says “send me!” (v. 8)

THE TAKEAWAY

Nowadays, it seems we are fixated on God’s friendly side. We sing songs about walking in a garden, alone, with our friend Jesus.  In today’s second reading, we are even invited to call God the Father “Daddy”! In Isaiah’s reading, we get a glimpse of the other side.  We see the awesome power and might of our God on His throne. 

Luther’s Small Catechism contains basic questions and answers about the Christian faith.  One section works through each of the Ten Commandments.  A commandment is stated, and the question to each is raised: “What does this mean?”  The answer always begins with “We should fear and love God that we…”  We had to ask our pastor about this, when we were in our confirmation class.  Why fear? He said that we should have an awesome respect for God’s mighty power.  So, I suggest that while we enjoy singing about what a friend we have in Jesus, we also should remain aware of His might power.

 

ROMANS 8:12-17

THE BACKGROUND

Paul gives us an excellent illustration of our relationship with God, using a relationship that was very common in his time and place. This relationship no longer exists today, however, and it needs to be explained.

Slavery was a regular part of life in the Roman Empire. It is estimated that 30-40% of the population of Italy were slaves at this time.  These slaves came from many different countries, and were not limited to one nationality or race.  Slaves were bought and sold.  A slave could not buy his freedom.  When the master died, his heirs inherited the slaves, or they were sold off.  The slaves had no legal rights.

Earlier in chapter 6, Paul explains that before Jesus came, we were slaves to sin.  Sin was our master.  Here in chapter 8, Paul builds upon that metaphor.

 

THE DETAIL

  • This first verse is a little odd.  Paul starts out talking about how we are debtors, but veers off to talk about living “according to the flesh”.   By this he means living as we would if God were not present in our lives.  But we live by the Spirit, putting to death the deeds of the body.  If we do this, we will live our lives indebted to the Spirit for saving us.  (vv.12-13)
  • Now, Paul makes a startling announcement.  He says that if we are “led by the Spirit”, we are children of God. What does that give us?  It gives us everything.  He uses the slavery metaphor as an illustration.  If we fall back to our old master, and are slaves to sin, we gain nothing.  But if we are led by the Spirit, we are adopted children of God.  We are so loved by God that we may call Him “Abba”, which is an Aramaic word meaning “Daddy”.  Not father, but the intimate family word daddy. (vv. 14-16)
  • Since we are God’s children, Jesus is now our brother.  Along with Jesus, we have full rights of inheritance to God’s kingdom.

THE TAKEAWAY

If we look at this passage through the lens of the Holy Trinity, we see the whole team at work.  Through the sacrifice of our (now) brother Jesus, we live our lives “in the Spirit”.  This brings about our adoption as God’s children.  As his children, we inherit the kingdom, and may call him Daddy!

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Consider using the name “Daddy” in your prayers.
 

JOHN 3:1-17

THE BACKGROUND

This is the familiar story of the after-dark meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus.  Today, we will focus on what this lesson teaches us about the Holy Trinity. 

There’s a lot of word play going on in this passage. Here’s a little Greek lesson, to aid in your understanding of this.  The same word translated as “spirit” can also mean “wind”.  The same Greek word for “again” can be used to mean “anew” or “from above (heaven)”.

THE DETAIL

  • Nicodemus comes to Jesus after dark.  We do not know the reason.  But Nicodemus was an important Pharisee, and perhaps wanted to avoid the confrontation with his colleagues.  We do not know.  What we do know is that he sought Jesus out, and paid him a compliment. (vv. 1-3)
  • Jesus, according to the narrative, gets to the meat of the matter—you must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  Because of all the possible other meanings, Nicodemus has questions.  (v. 4)
  • Jesus makes it clear that he’s not talking about one’s body being reborn, but one’s spirit.  He says that we must be born of water and the Spirit.  He is saying that the Holy Spirit is an essential part of our spiritual rebirth.  That we need the Spirit as much as we need the Son.  (vv. 5-8)
  • Verses 14-16 make the point that eternal life comes through belief in Jesus as the Son of God.
  • Verse 17 tells us that it is the work of the Father through the Son that saves us from condemnation.

THE TAKEAWAY

We know that Jesus died for our sins, and that he was sent by God the Father.  But it is easy to overlook the role of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who is most active in our daily lives, providing understanding, motivation, opportunity, words, and the courage to be God’s helpers in the world around us.  The whole Trinity is needed.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How do you describe God in human terms, let alone a triune God?  Is it even possible?  I thought the book “The Shack” did a fairly good job of it.  But the Father, Son, and Spirit were very separate.  Only their thoughts were common.    In the early church, it didn’t take long for various groups to describe the Triune God in peculiar ways.  Creeds were written to provide a clear understanding on this complex topic.  In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea crafted this very detailed creed, which is still used today.  I’ve included it for you on the next page.  If we could meet, it would be interesting for us to share our thoughts on this and the Holy Trinity in general.


 

 

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven,

was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary

and became truly human.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

For May 23, 2021

PENTECOST SUNDAY

ACTS 2:1-21

THE BACKGROUND

Pentecost is the Sunday in the church year that we observe the coming of the Holy Spirit to us, Jesus’ disciples.  In the story below, the Holy Spirit makes its dramatic entrance on the holiday of Pentecost. This was a big Jewish festival, which celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses.  If you were able, you would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate this religious festival.  Jesus’ disciples were in Jerusalem, because Jesus instructed them to remain there until the Holy Spirit arrived.  Let’s look at the details of this fascinating story.

THE DETAIL

  • This passage starts out by saying that they were “all” gathered in one place.  If you count the number of languages spoken in verses 9-11, they total more than the 12 apostles.  So, I believe that Luke is telling us that the entire group of Jesus’ followers was gathered there in one place in Jerusalem, not only the 12 apostles. 
  • The Holy Spirit enters dramatically, with wind and fire.  I don’t think it was actual fire, though, because Luke uses the phrase “as of fire”.  He is using a metaphor to describe something indescribable.  Something powerful, holy, and heavenly.  It must have been a wild and wonderful experience!  (vv. 2-3)
  • A remarkable thing occurs next.  The Spirit grants to each believer the ability to sing praises to God in languages they had not been taught. (v. 4)
  • Between the rushing wind, and the divided tongues of fire (or whatever that was), attention is drawn and a crowd gathers. These devout Jews are from “every [then-known] nation under heaven”.  Remember, they were in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival.  They heard these country bumpkins (Galileans) speaking praises to God in their very own languages.  (vv. 5-11)
  • Some were amazed, and wondered what it all meant.  Others believed that these people were drunk on new wine.  There is someone in every crowd, isn’t there?  (vv. 12-13)
  • Then, Peter raises his voice, and explains this event to the crowd.  He says that these are people are not drunk; you are witnessing the fulfillment of scripture.  He quotes Joel 2:28-32. (vv. 14-21)
  • The story continues through verse 47, but this is not included in this passage.  It is too long to be read on a Sunday morning. Consider reading the rest of chapter 2, to hear all of Peter’s remarkable speech.

THE TAKEAWAY

This event marks the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the lives of Jesus’ followers.  This Spirit gave Peter the courage to speak before this large crowd—a crowd of over 3,000.  This was the same Peter who denied Jesus out of fear, just a few weeks earlier.  The Holy Spirit is also within us, giving us the courage and the words to proclaim the greatness of God.  We, myself included, do a great job in squelching the Holy Spirit’s urgings. Join me in allowing the Spirit to run free, giving us boldness and wisdom to do the Lord’s work!

A HUMOROUS THOUGHT

Quite often, my sense of humor appears in places it where it does not belong.  Here is a good example of that.  In verse 13, some people accused the believers of being drunk on new wine. Peter’s response to this accusation always makes me chuckle.  He doesn’t say “They are not drunk, because they are Good Christians.”  No.  He says they aren’t drunk because it’s too early!  I like Peter’s response.
 

ROMANS 8:22-27

THE BACKGROUND

In my Bible, the title for Romans 8 is given as “Life in the Spirit”.  In this part of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul is explaining the meaning of our new life as Christians; how we live our lives, being guided by the Spirit.  In Paul’s writings, especially in this chapter, he uses the idea of “then and now”. “Then” means before Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  “Now” means now that we believe in Jesus’ gift of dying on the cross for our sins. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:1—“There is therefore NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Emphasis of “now” is mine.)  In other words, now that we belong to Jesus, we are not condemned—we are forgiven.

THE DETAIL

  • In this part of Paul’s discussion on life in the Spirit, he is talking about the “in-between time”.  Jesus lived with us, taught us, and died on the cross for us.  He will come again.  In the time in-between, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We wait impatiently, groaning like a woman in labor, anxiously awaiting Jesus’ return.  This is our hope; the hope of our Lord returning and physically reigning here on earth.  (vv. 22-25)
  • These next words are a beautiful explanation of how the Holy Spirit works.  The Spirit works within us and for us, to express our innermost needs to God the Father.  Paul says it best, but that is my explanation.  (vv. 26-27)

THE TAKEAWAY

We should never worry about whether or not our prayers are “good enough” to pray to God.  The Holy Spirit knows our hearts.  The Holy Spirit goes beyond our sometimes inadequate words, and intercedes for us to God.  The Holy Spirit “has our back”.

 

JOHN 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

THE BACKGROUND

Today’s Gospel passage concludes a four week study of Jesus’s final discourse, given in the upper room just prior to his betrayal.  In this part of his instruction, he explains some details about the coming Holy Spirit.

THE DETAIL

  • In our first verse, Jesus is talking about when the “Advocate” comes.  He’s talking about the Holy Spirit.  The word “advocate” is used in our translation, the NRSV.  In other translations, various words are used, such as comforter, counselor, helper, etc.  Which is it???  The Gospel of John was written in Greek.  The Greek word used is παρακλητος or parakletos.  The English word for this is “paraclete”, which is basically the same word.  But we don’t use this word in our everyday language. Modern day translators have used a variety of words to convey the meaning of “paraclete”.  I like to suggest that we use all of them.  The verses would then read “When the counselor-comforter-helper-advocate comes…”   But the main point is that this Advocate will testify to us on Jesus’ behalf. He will explain what Jesus would have taught us in our particular situation.  (v. 26)
  • We are reminded that since Jesus is leaving, we are to continue his work.  (v. 27)
  • Jesus breaks the news to the apostles that he is going away.  It appears that they are still unaware of what is about to happen to Jesus.  He says that he needs to go away, in order for the Advocate to come.  This makes sense, if you think of it.  It would be confusing to have both Jesus and the Holy Spirit here at the same time.  (vv. 4b-7)
  • Jesus says that the Advocate “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement”.  This and the next verses are a little confusing.  Part of that confusion comes from the fact that they are expressed in negative terms.  (vv. 8-10) To help understand what Jesus is saying, let’s look at them as positive expressions.  So, the Advocate will teach us about sin, righteousness, and judgement. 
    • Jesus conquered the power of sin.
    • Since Jesus came from the Father, he reveals true righteousness.
    • Since Jesus is Lord, he has conquered the rulers of this world.
  • “But wait! There’s more!”  This is what Jesus is saying.  He has more to tell them.  But he felt they could not handle more.  He will leave that to the Holy Spirit.  (vv. 12-13)
  • Now, Jesus creates a direct link from the Father, through Him, to the Holy Spirit. Everything that the Holy Spirit tells us comes from Jesus, which comes from the Father.  This is reinforced by what Jesus said in verse 13—“… he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears” [from Jesus and the Father].

THE TAKEAWAY

The Holy Spirit picks up where Jesus left off.  The Advocate is with us, to guide us through our daily walk.  The Spirit continues to lead us through the many twists and turns of life. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Life has changed tremendously since Jesus’ day until the present time.  Jesus did not make his position known on today’s hot-button issues such as abortion, immigration, and homosexuality.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to guide us through life on these issues.  The problem is that good Christians line up on both sides of these issues.  They cannot both be right—the Holy Spirit cannot be guiding both groups.  So, which is right?  In the last words of verse 15, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will “… take what is mine and declare it to you.”  Perhaps this, then, should be the test.  On these issues, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we look to the words and actions of Jesus for guidance.  Jesus’ teachings looked past the Law of Moses to the true intent of the Father.  Does our stance on these matters find their basis in Moses or Jesus?

For May 16, 2021

ACTS 1:15-17, 21-26

THE BACKGROUND

In recent weeks, we have been reading from the middle of the Book of Acts.  Today, we are whisked back to chapter one.  The apostles must select a replacement for Judas.

The selection that will be read in church this Sunday is that which is shown above.  I have started this commentary with verse 12, and included verses 18-20.  The main thrust of today’s passage really doesn’t need these inclusions, but I am adding them for clarity.

THE DETAIL

  • The ascension of Jesus into heaven is described in the verses immediately ahead of today’s reading.  They return to Jerusalem.  Care is taken to note that this walk was a “Sabbath’s day journey”.  Since Jesus’ ascension occurred on the Sabbath, walking any more than a half a mile was not allowed.  (v. 12)
  • All 11 of the apostles, were present, including “women” and Jesus’ siblings. The women were presumably those present at the crucifixion.  As is revealed in verse 15b, other followers of Jesus were also present, numbering 120 in all.  Most notably, all were devoted to constant prayer.  (vv. 13-14) 
  • Peter speaks, to address the problem at hand. Judas is gone.  (Details are given in verses 18-20a.)  They need to choose a replacement for Judas.  The reason for this is given in the takeaway below. (vv. 15-20)
  • The requirements for Judas’ replacement are laid down.  The man must have been with us the whole time.  They narrowed it down to two, and did something which might seem weird to us.  They cast lots to see who would replace Judas! This was a typical practice at the time. It was felt that with prayer, God’s Will would be expressed through this selection method.  Remember that the Holy Spirit had not yet arrived on the scene. They went with a tried and true method. (vv. 21-26)

THE TAKEAWAY

  • Why did the apostles feel compelled to keep the number of apostles at 12? Most believe that it was because the circle of believers, lead by the apostles, were the New Israel.  Since there were 12 tribes in the original nation of Israel, this was a significant number. 
  • We don’t hear much about the ministry of Matthias.  By contrast, the ministry of Paul is profound.  Many suggest that perhaps the Holy Spirit was not involved in Matthias’ selection.  Maybe, the Holy Spirit chose Paul to be #12 instead.  What do you think?

     

1 JOHN 5:9-13

THE BACKGROUND

These are the closing lines to John’s first letter. He leaves his readers with a couple of parting thoughts.

THE DETAIL

  • The word “testimony” appears six times in our first four verses.  We should take a close look at what John means. These days, we use the word to mean our personal witness, or our faith-story.  In Jesus’ day, the Ten Commandments were considered God’s testimony.  In fact, the Hebrew word “eduth” used in Exodus 31:18 to describe them means both “covenant” and “testimony”.  God’s Law is His covenant and testimony.  John talks of Jesus’ testimony in his Gospel.  Of Jesus, he says “He whom God Has sent speaks the words of God…”  (John 3:34a)
  • Verse 9 tells us that God’s testimony far outweighs human testimony.  What is this testimony?  Read on!
  • The core of this testimony is that if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we have this testimony, this covenant, in our hearts.  Not believing in this is false testimony.  It will get you nowhere.  (v. 10) 
  • A direct connection is now made between believing the testimony of God and obtaining eternal life.  If you believe, eternal life is automatic.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts!  You either have (believe in) Jesus or you don’t. If you have him, it is life; without him is death.  (vv. 11-12)
  • John now explains why he is telling us all this.  He wants us to believe so that we will live.  (v. 13) This sounds just like the concluding lines to his Gospel. In John 20:30-31, he tells us why he wrote his Gospel; he wants us to believe and have life.

THE TAKEAWAY

In our homes, we have incredible power in the electrical outlets.  It is there day and night, ready when we need it.  When we need it, we just plug an appliance into this outlet, and that power is at our fingertips.  We don’t even think about it, it is so automatic.  When we believe in Jesus as the Son of God, eternal life is instantly ours. It is part of the deal—if you have the Son, you have life.  It is automatic. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When does eternal life begin?  Consider this.  We are alive now, and that life will continue on after our bodily form perishes.  This means that we are already living our eternal life.  We’ve only just begun to live!  How might this fact change the way you go about your daily life?

 

 

JOHN 17:6-19

THE BACKGROUND

John 17 is the final prayer that Jesus prays at the Last Supper.  After this, they leave the upper room, and go to the garden where Judas betrays Jesus to the Roman soldiers and police of the Pharisees.  This is called his High Priestly Prayer.  In verses 1-5, Jesus prays for his glorification in the events that are about to unfold.  In today’s reading, Jesus prays for his disciples.

THE DETAIL

  • In the first paragraph, Jesus reminds the Father that he has shared everything with his disciples.  His teaching mission has been accomplished.  His disciples now know everything that Jesus was sent to tell them, and they believe.  They are of one mind with Jesus and the Father.  The words in verse 10 sum it up very well—“All mine are yours, and yours are mine…”
  • In the second paragraph, Jesus asks the Father to protect his disciples.  He knows that he is going home soon, and they will need the protection of the Father.  He does not ask the Father to isolate them from the world they live in. They need to be involved in the world to do the work of God.  He simply asks that they are protected from “the evil one”.  (vv. 11-16)
  • Finally, Jesus asks God to sanctify them.  Sanctify means to make holy.  Since Jesus has sent them into the world, the disciples need to be made holy just as Jesus was made holy.  (vv. 17-19)

THE TAKEAWAY

We are Jesus’ disciples here in this time and place. Jesus is praying this prayer for us as well.  The Lord is ours, and we are the Lord’s.  God will protect us as we go about our daily lives in service to Him.  We are to do the work that Jesus in the world around us, knowing that we are sanctified and protected by God as we go.

For May 9, 2021

ACTS 10:44-48

THE BACKGROUND

This is the final part of a long story that began at the first verse of chapter 10.  It is the story of Peter and the Roman centurion named Cornelius.  Cornelius was what they called a “God Fearer”.  This meant that he loved the Lord God Yahweh, and followed many of the commandments.  The commandments that God Fearers did not observe were circumcision and the dietary rules.  But Cornelius was a very devout man, generously giving alms in the community, and praying constantly.  The Holy Spirit called Peter to visit Cornelius, and witness about Jesus.  In the verses preceding today’s passage, Peter is summarizing his sermon.

THE DETAIL

  • The Holy Spirit “fell on all who heard the word”.  As we will read in verse 46, the people of Cornelius’ household started speaking in tongues.  This was always certain proof that the Holy Spirit had blessed the new believers. (v. 44)
  • When John uses the phrase “the circumcised believers”, he is referring to Jewish Christians.  A group of them came with Peter to Caesarea. They couldn’t believe their eyes—these Gentiles were given the gift of tongues by the Holy Spirit!  (vv. 45-46)
  • Peter asks a big question of those in his entourage—“What’s to stop us from baptizing these Gentiles?  The Holy Spirit has already decided that for us!”  (My paraphrase.)  (v. 47)
  • Peter and Company stayed there for a few days.  One assumes they were teaching them about Jesus, telling them stories, etc. (v. 48)

THE TAKEAWAY

Except for Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, Christianity at this time existed exclusively within the Jewish community.  Then, the Holy Spirit came to Peter, and gave him an assignment.  He was to preach the good news to a Gentile.  Not just any Gentile, but to a Roman officer.  This trip was not well received back in Jerusalem.  (Acts 11)  But Peter stood firm.  Because of this and Paul’s ministry, we Gentiles are able to say “Jesus is Lord!”

The normal pattern was for the Gospel message to be shared, the hearer accepts Jesus, is baptized, and the Holy Spirit enters.  In this case, Peter is still speaking when the Holy Spirit starts handing out gifts.  We often talk about the time when we accepted Jesus as our savior; the time when we chose Jesus.  I believe that the Holy Spirit first choses us, works within us, and brings us to the Lord. We can, of course, suppress these urgings.  But it is the Holy Spirit who first chooses us.  
 

1 JOHN 5:1-6

THE BACKGROUND

These are the concluding words of John’s first letter. He has been talking a lot about love. In his conclusion, he will change the subject a bit.

THE DETAIL

  • John reminds us believers that we are “born of God”, or born again.  (v. 1)
  • As God’s children, we show this love to God and one another by obeying his commandments.  We will talk about these commandments in our study of the Gospel lesson.  (vv. 2-3)
  • There is an abrupt shift in the next verse to conquering the world.  To the people of John’s day “the world” meant the world of non-believers.  Since John is talking about spiritual matters, he’s talking about spiritually conquering all these non-believers.  His point is that since we are part of God’s family, just like Jesus, we have the power to spiritually conquer those around us.  (v. 5)

THE TAKEAWAY

Try this.  Take verse 5, and substitute your name for “…the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  That would be you, right?  Yes, of course.  For me, then, this verse would read “Who is it that [spiritually] conquers the [non-believers of this] world but Don Silsbe?”  What would yours sound like?  We all have this power to spread the Good News of Jesus to those around us, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s get crackin’—we’ve got work to do!

 

 

JOHN 15:9-17

THE BACKGROUND

This is a continuation of last week’s Gospel reading. Both of these are part of Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples at the Last Supper. 

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus says that he loves us, just as the Father loves him.  He asks us to “abide” in this love.  You may recall the twisted wires example from last week’s reading. Abide refers to an intimate, nourishing relationship with Jesus, like a branch is to the vine’s main trunk. (v. 9)
  • Next, Jesus says that the way we abide in him is by keeping his commandments, “the same way I kept my Father’s commandments.”  At this point, I want to raise my hand and ask—“But Jesus, you healed on the Sabbath, you spoke to foreign women of questionable reputation, and you even touched lepers.  How can you say you kept your Father’s commandments?”  I’ll answer that in the takeaway below. (v. 10)
  • OK, he actually answers it in the next breath.  His commandment is to love one another.  (v. 12)
  • Jesus now calls all of us his friends, not his disciples or servants. He is willing to lay down his life for us, and we should do the same.  We are therefore all friends with our Lord.  (vv. 13-15)
  • Look at what he says next.  “I chose you, you did not choose me.”  This doesn’t mean just the 12 apostles, but us as well.  Remember the takeaway from today’s first lesson?  God chooses us first, and we accept.  (v. 16)
  • Here comes the conclusion and our marching orders—love one another.  (v. 17)

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus makes the statement that he has kept his Father’s commandments.  I believe that if a Pharisee were present, he would take exception to this, because of all the Laws of Moses that Jesus openly broke.  But what the Pharisee would not have recognized is what I call “Rule Number One”.  It is given to us in Matthew 22:34-40.

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

So, when it comes to the laws regarding working on the Sabbath, or a touching a leper, or discussing religion with a shady foreign woman, they all take second place to the Law of Love.  All the Laws of Moses, including the 10 commandments (one of which Jesus broke) were all written within the context of the Law of Love.  We must love God and love one another; everything else then just falls into place.  Everything else is secondary.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By showing God’s love to everyone around us, we not only please God, but we experience complete joy.  (vv. 10-11)  This is the fruit that we are to bear; the fruit that will last.  (v. 16b) 

How can you show God’s love to those around you?

For May 2, 2021

 

ACTS 8:26-40

THE BACKGROUND

For today’s reading, we jump ahead four chapters in the book of Acts.  We get to witness one of Philip’s great moments.  Philip’s story begins with verse 4.  We will join the story in verse 26.  Luke is the writer of the book of Acts, and in Luke’s writing, the Holy Spirit plays a very active part. 

THE DETAIL

  • The Holy Spirit is active already at the beginning of this story, through “an angel of the Lord”.  The angel tells Philip to head down the road “that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” It does indeed “go down”.  There is an elevation change of over 2500 feet, when traveling from Jerusalem to Gaza.  And it is a wilderness road, but not a green forest sort of wilderness; it was a rocky, barren desert. (v. 26)
  • Philip chances upon an interesting sight.  He spots an Ethiopian eunuch, reading in his chariot.  He had the fancy wheels, because he was a court official to the queen of Ethiopia, whom they called the “Candace”.  He was on his way home from Jerusalem, and had taken a break.  The Holy Spirit tells Philip what to do next. (vv. 27-29)
  • While he was resting, the eunuch was reading the prophet Isaiah; 53:7-8 to be exact.  (vv. 30-33)
  • Then, the eunuch asks Philip the Big Question. (v. 34)
  • Philip now knows why he was sent here.  He tells the eunuch all about Jesus. (v. 35)
  • Apparently, they were moving again, because they came upon some water.  The eunuch asks Philip a very loaded question--  “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  You see, the eunuch obviously loves the Lord God Yahweh, because he’s reading the prophet Isaiah.  But since he is a eunuch, it is impossible for him to become a Jewish convert. Deuteronomy 23:1 makes this crystal clear.  So, he asks Philip if there is another roadblock that would prevent him from being baptized.  (v. 36)
  • They simply stop the chariot, and the man is baptized.  No 10 weeks of classes, no cross examination by the bishop.  Just get out and get baptized!  (v. 38) 
  • *It gets weird in verse 39.  The Spirit “snatched Philip away”, whatever that means.  More importantly, the eunuch “went on his way rejoicing”.  (v. 39)
  • We now hear that Philip “found himself” at Azotus.  This is a city just north of the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.  It says that he worked his way north along the Mediterranean coastline, all the way to Caesarea.  (v. 40)

 

THE TAKEAWAY

If you are one of Jesus’ disciples, you might find yourself in some surprising places!  How often do we resist an “urge” to say or do something for the Lord?  Be like Philip, and allow the Spirit to guide you. 

 

*NOTE: 

You may have noticed that the text jumps from verse 36 straight to 38.  It skips verse 37.  Older translations, such as the King James Version, include a verse 37.  It reads “And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”  Newer translations often omit verse 37, and put it as a footnote.  There is a good reason for this.  Since the 1600’s, when the King James Version was written, older manuscripts of the Bible have been discovered.  The older manuscripts do not include these words.  We do not have any original manuscripts for the Bible.  It stands to reason that the older the manuscript, the closer it would be to the original.  Most have concluded that these sentences were added later.  The practice of editing Holy Scripture did occur from time to time.  In this instance, it is a fairly obvious addition. 

Whether you decide to include verse 37, or keep it as a footnote.  This is a powerful story about the inclusion of all people into the Kingdom of God.  Everyone is welcome, even eunuchs!
 

 

1 JOHN 4:7-21

THE BACKGROUND

John has been teaching about love.  Today, he will turn up the heat another notch.  This is a difficult passage to read for two reasons.  First, it weaves in and out, making a tightly-knit point about our relationship with God and with one another.  But it also points a finger at us, making us re-examine our relationships.  I’ll try to break this into chunks, to maybe help us understand it better. 

THE DETAIL

  • The first “chunk” is the opener.  The rest of the passage will dig into what these two verses (7 and 8) mean. Basically, we Christians must love one another, because God is the true source of all love.  This is so true that John states that “if you don’t love others, you don’t know God!”  (verse 8, my paraphrase)
  • The remainder of the first paragraph goes about intertwining the love that God first showed us with the love that we should show for others.  Verse 10 is great.  More important than our love for God is God’s love for us.  His love is greater—He gave his only Son to demonstrate that love for us! Since He has done this, the most important thing we can do is demonstrate this love those around us. 
  • The second paragraph simply states that the way we connect to this love is through faith (confessing that Jesus is the Son of God).  It is not about being strong in good works or being a good person.  It is simply in having faith. Those other things are important, but faith is Number One.
  • The third paragraph speaks repeatedly about perfection.  John wrote this in Greek, many centuries ago.  To those around John, reading these words in Greek, they would understand it through the Greek meaning for “perfection”.  For them, spiritual perfection wasn’t achieving some high level of moral purity.  Perfecting one’s faith meant the process of becoming mature in the faith.  Achieving a sort of full-grown faith.  This is a lifelong process.  When we reach spiritual maturity, we will not fear death, the judgement day, or anything else.  This process comes through prayer, studying the scriptures, and with the help of the Holy Spirit loving everyone around us.  (vv. 17-19)
  • Here’s where the rubber meets the road.  After all this love talk, John throws down the gauntlet.  If we hate someone or a group of people, we cannot truly say that we love God.  If you want to question this, then you need to reread this entire passage.  (vv. 20-21)

THE TAKEAWAY

This is not an easy passage to read.  It seems to go in circles.  This is definitely not an easy passage to apply to our lives!  It challenges our views on life.  Imagine loving absolutely everybody.  But God does this—He loves everyone.  Our job, therefore, is to do the same. 

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I have been doing some electrical work around the house.  One of the tasks associated with this is making a good ground connection. Three types of wires come out of the wall—a black one, a white one, and a plain copper wire.  The plain copper wire is called the ground.  It leads back somewhere to a metal pipe that is driven into the ground.  So, I’m wiring an outlet.  A ground wire comes into the box, and another wire goes out and on to the next outlet. Another ground wire must then be connected to this particular outlet.  All three wires must be twisted together tightly, so that there is a solid connection to that pipe in the ground.  Without it, the whole system does not work properly.  This whole passage is like those wires, twisting tightly together--  “God is love… we love God…  God loves us… we love one another”.  All of this is bound together, connecting us with God who grounds us in His love.  Our job is simple, but not easy.  We must love God and love one another.  Every one another!

 

 

JOHN 15:1-8

THE BACKGROUND

Here, we have a beautiful parable about Jesus, the True Vine. For this passage, I’ll comment on a few verses, but summarize the whole in The Takeaway.

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus’ opening statement is that he is the true vine, and his Father is the vine grower. Jesus is stating that he is the true connection to the Father.  (This implies that all the others are not.)  (v. 1)
  • Furthermore, we are the branches.  We are connected to Jesus, the True Vine.  Our job is to bear fruit.  What else are branches supposed to do, eh?  (v. 5)
  • Uh-oh.  If we don’t bear fruit, we will be “pruned” and thrown into the fire.  This is not good!  (vv. 2b & 6)
  • What to do?!? All we can do is abide in Jesus, and everything will be OK.  (And try to bear fruit, of course.)  (vv. 7-8)

THE TAKEAWAY

As we just read in the previous passage, our salvation comes from confessing our faith, not by what we do or do not do.  But it is clear that God has expectations of us.  Since we claim Jesus as our savior, we have a job to do.  We must “bear fruit”.  We must do good things for Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he has already done for us.  Abiding in Jesus means being connected to him, just like a branch is connected to the stem of a vine.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Most of us have done some pruning in our gardens.  We know that it is necessary for the plants to thrive.  Yet, most of us do not respond well when we are told that we are wrong, or are doing the wrong thing.  Ask yourself—am I bearing fruit for God?  Or, am I in need of a little “pruning”?

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