Josiah’s Passover & The Lord’s Supper

This week we wrap up our series Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We’ve taken an overview of the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of God’s faithfulness. We’ve discovered that Yahweh keeps his promises regardless of what we humans do. We also discovered that our actions affect the way God’s faithfulness impacts us. When we live the life he calls us to then his faithfulness is a blessing. When we live contrary to his faithfulness, our sinful actions have painful consequences. This is what we saw the last two weeks as we looked to the 8th century BC in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah. The sin of Israel and Judah will bring painful consequences to the people, but God will remain faithful to heal and to save when they repent.

This week we turn to 2 Kings 22 and look at the story of Josiah. About 100 years after Hosea and Isaiah the 8 year old Josiah became king. Following the wicked reigns of his father and grandfather, Josiah chose not follow in their footsteps. We read that he was much like King David, and today is recognized as the 2nd greatest Davidic king.

All of Jerusalem had forgotten Yahweh. His temple had fallen into disrepair and had become the site of worship for Baal, Asherah, and star worship. Josiah ordered to restore the temple of Yahweh, and during that restoration a copy of the Torah was found (presumably Deuteronomy). Nobody knew about God’s word, or what to do with it. When Josiah heard the Torah read, he ripped his robes and sent his advisors to the prophet Huldah to confirm if what they were reading was true. 

The female prophet told these men that indeed the word of Yahweh was true and the punishment foretold in the Torah was coming. But she also had a word of peace for Josiah because of God’s appreciation for his heart. This destruction would come upon Jerusalem, but because of Josiah’s repentant heart, it would not happen during his lifetime.

Josiah calls all the people of Judah and reads aloud the Torah (as prescribed in Deuteronomy). When the people heard the words of Yahweh, they all pledged themselves to keeping the covenant. All of the idols and instruments of pagan worship were destroyed and removed and Josiah issued this decree:

“Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” – 2 Kings 23:21 NIV

In celebration of the renewed hearts and renewed commitment to Yahweh, the people eat the Passover.

Every Sunday at our gathering, we renew our hearts, we renew our commitment to Yahweh, and we eat the Lord’s Supper, a reapplication of the Passover by Jesus on the night he was betrayed (Mk. 14:16ff).

This week as we gather to worship, let us recommit to the mission and the covenant that Yahweh has made with us. And then let us eat the Passover of Jesus.

Sermon Text for 11/24/19 – 2 Kings 22:1-23:23; Mark 14:16-25

Wrestling with God

Last week our focus was on Abraham and the faithfulness God showed he and Sarah by keeping his promises even when they tried to take a shortcut.

This week we will talk about a difficult character to address: Jacob. Even from the beginning Jacob showed signs of who he would become as he exited the womb grabbing the heel of his brother. He’s given the name “Jacob” which means he grabs the heel. That’s an interesting little bit of information, but when you realize what he grabs the heel in Hebrew is an idiom for he takes advantage of, or he deceives, the story gets more interesting. Seriously, who would want to name their child “deceiver” when they are born?

As we look at the story of Jacob we find out he deceives and takes advantage of situations quite often. He extorts his brother’s birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), he stole his brother’s blessing (Gen. 27:5ff), he deceptively builds great herds and flocks from his father-in-law (Gen. 30:41-43), and the list goes on and on. Not exactly role model material in some ways.

And yet, in some ways he’s exactly who we should be. Our sermon this week will focus on Jacob wrestling with God. We’ll explore the details of the story Sunday, but for now I want you to consider if you ever find yourself wrestling with God about something? I would say most often those times of wrestling are brought on by our desires. We want something and initiate the wrestling in hopes of getting our way. In Jacob’s case it is God who initiates the wrestling.

Why would God physically wrestle with Jacob? 

That’s a great question to wrestle with ourselves. Jacob’s story is a strange one that ends in a strange way. But the episode ends with God changing Jacob’s name to Israel which means he struggles with God. Think about this for a moment. The entire nation of Jacob’s descendants came to be known as those who struggle with God. And that title applies to us as well since Scripture tells us we have been grafted into Israel (Eph. 2:11-22).

We’ll explore other points of this text on Sunday, but for now I want you to find peace if you are wrestling with God. Jacob persisted in wrestling with God because he wanted to receive a blessing. I pray that’s why you are wrestling with God, and that the blessing comes to you as well. 

We can wrestle with God, his promises, his purposes, his Word, and walk away blessed. Just as Jacob limped away we will be changed by the encounter, but if we are persistent in our wrestling we too can be blessed through the encounter.

(Sermon text for 9/22: Genesis 32:9-13; 22-30; Mark 14:32-36)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 19

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 16-20

This month I’m reading through the Psalms in my CSB (Christian Standard Bible) translation. It’s an updated version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I appreciate reading the Bible in various translations because it helps me see nuances in the text that I miss when I stay with one translation. Your mileage may vary, however. Just giving you the heads up that the Scriptures I quote will come from the CSB this month.

Psalm 19 points out very clearly that Yahweh is knowable from the evidence in his creation. It doesn’t require a seminary degree to understand and learn about him. Just look at nature!

The heavens declare the glory of God, 
and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands. 
Day after day they pour out speech; 
night after night they communicate knowledge. 
There is no speech; there are no words; 
their voice is not heard. 
Their message has gone out to the whole earth, 
and their words to the ends of the world. 

Psalm 19:1-4 CSB

Even though creation cannot speak, it is still proclaiming the “message” of our God. But creation isn’t the only knowledge we have of Yahweh. We learn and are transformed by his instruction and testimony (v. 7), his precepts and commands (v. 8), and through the fear the LORD, and his ordinances (v. 9).

The psalmist reminds us that this isn’t a burden, but rather a desirable and sweet pursuit that leads to an abundant reward. (v. 10-11) The psalm closes with a brief prayer asking for forgiveness and concludes with a brief benediction focusing on the psalm itself.

I believe Psalm 19 to be an excellent reminder of how we are to live our lives. My wife and I frequently remind our children to “look for God” in various situations. Did you see anyone acting in a godly way? Can you see where God did something big? Who is acting like Jesus in this situation?

One of the blessings of living in West Texas is the amazing sunrises and even better sunsets. It’s hard to look into the sky in the morning or night and not see our God’s majesty. I sometimes wonder if we would do a better job caring for creation if we remembered that it reflects the glory of the creator.

We need to study the Scriptures to understand more fully how we are to reflect the image of our God in this world. The Bible isn’t a tiresome rule book; it is a story that equips you to live the life you were made for. Learn that story. Embrace it, and live it out as a testimony to the power and sovereignty of our God.

Finally, we need to be repentant of both willful and unintentional sins. Some of us just bounce through life with very little thought to how our decisions and actions reflect upon the reputation of Jesus in the world. I believe one of the biggest barriers to non believers coming to Christ is how un-christlike Christians tend to be. We need to remember that when we claim to follow Jesus, our actions teach others about him. Let’s make sure we’re teaching them the right lesson.

The psalmist reminds us that we even need forgiveness from our “hidden faults.” Perhaps this is secret sin, but I take it as the wrongs we do every day that we don’t even realize. Who have I harmed unintentionally? Who have I cheated by not thinking? Again, what message does it send to the server at the restaurant when you come to eat after worship with your family, you demand lots of attention at your table, and then you don’t leave a tip? Is that what we want people to know about Jesus?

My prayer is that we can all let our lives be “the message” that goes out into the whole earth. Let our words and our actions be an accurate testimony to what Jesus has done in our lives. Let us truly love our neighbor as ourselves in every aspect of life. Let us do so humbly, and joyfully!

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14 CSB

Will We Learn From Our Past?

Paul’s admonition to Timothy is to correctly handle the Scriptures. Does any true follower of Christ seek to do otherwise? I’m sure we can find spurious people that misuse Scripture for ulterior motives. Yet Paul needs to caution Timothy about handling the Word. Surely this caution would extend to us, and we have more need of concern.  Timothy saw Paul’s ministry firsthand, and thoroughly understood the culture in which the New Testament was written, and Paul still feels the need to caution him in the correct handling of God’s Word. What are we to do when it comes to the handling of Scripture? This is where a basic understanding of church history comes into play.

The community of believers in Christ has always worked together to study and interpret the Scriptures, and this community approach is still needed today. From the time of Paul we see the Bereans working together to compare the truth of Scripture with Paul’s message (Acts 17:11), or the need in Philippi for the members to be of the same mind (Phil. 4:1-3). We also see the leaders of the church come together in community to discuss how to apply Scripture to these new Gentile converts (Acts 15). There are many other examples of the church coming together in community to interpret the Scriptures in the pages of the New Testament alone, but what about after the first century? Should Christians continue to read and understand Scripture in community? Absolutely! And many of the beliefs you hold today are a direct result of this process.

Most Christians understand that our New Testament was written in the first century AD. What we often forget is that the New Testament didn’t exist in a leather bound, easy to carry book for all believers to read. Many Christians went their entire lives never having the opportunity to read the New Testament. How could they ever live the Christian life without a personal copy of the Scriptures? Community! Believers came together and summarized the teachings of the apostles in the second century with the Old Roman Creed, which eventually became known as The Apostles Creed. While it is not a complete retelling of the New Testament, it does summarize many of the facts of Bible in a format that believers could memorize and discuss.

These discussions eventually raised some questions concerning the deity of Jesus. What did it mean to be “the Son of God,” or the “Word,” or “one with the Father?” Has Jesus existed for all eternity like the Father, or was he created first before all things? In 325 AD, over two hundred Church leaders gathered in the town of Nicaea to sort these matters out. Like the Bereans two centuries before, they searched the Scriptures in community to give language to the deity of Christ. The core Christian belief today that Jesus was “fully God and fully man,” or as The Nicene Creed states “true God from true God…became human,” came out of this meeting.  With Christians coming together in community to interpret the Scriptures, major questions were answered, heresies were silenced, and Scripture was upheld.

We’ll continue to look at other examples from Church History next week, but today I want to leave you with a question: What’s the best way to study Scripture in community today?

How To Know You’re Interpreting The Bible Correctly.

For the last five weeks we’ve been discussing reading the Bible as story. We’ve discussed Scot McKnight’s description of Scripture where he suggests that there are three “chapters,” or clearly defined sections to the Bible’s overarching story: theocracy (Gen. 1-1 Sam. 8), monarchy (1 Sam. 8 – Mal. 4), and Christocracy (Matthew 1-Rev. 20). It’s important to realize that God’s ultimate goal is to return us back to a theocracy through the redemptive work of Christ, and the final judgement of all people. Seriously, go read the last two chapters of Revelation and you’ll see an image of how God intended our existence to be in the beginning in the Garden.

Today we talk about the concept of Biblical interpretation. In my church heritage there has been a very big emphasis placed on the “plain reading of the Bible.” In other words, “…we don’t interpret the Bible, we simply do what it plainly says.” Lovely idea, but terribly inaccurate. Whether you like it or not, and whether you realize it or not, the Bible is interpreted by everyone.

Don’t believe me? When was the last time your church put an adulterer to death? (Lev. 20:10) Is your clothing made out of a blend of different materials? (Lev. 19:19) Did you greet everyone at worship with a holy kiss? (commanded 4 times in the NT, Rom. 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:26) Did all the men in your assembly lift their hands during every prayer? (1 Tim. 2:8)

If you didn’t do these things, even though a “plain reading” of Scripture clearly shows you should, then you are interpreting Scripture. And you should interpret Scripture! The only question is, “Am I interpreting Scripture properly?”

Bobby Valentine gives us the following suggestions for doing just that:

“Christian hermeneutics will always begin as a response to the God of all grace who has done great things. Christian interpretation will be rooted in the soul that is seeking to reflect God’s glorious image back into the created world around us. Christian biblical interpretation will begin in prayer and will be understood as ‘an act of worship.’ Thus, interpretation that does not begin in prayer and worship and result in the Spirit flowing through us to a vandalized world means we have a right to question if it is a valid hermeneutic or Christian interpretation. Prayer, Worship and reflecting God’s image: these are the beginning points and the ends/goals of interpretation.”

Bobby Valentine

Again the question isn’t if we interpret the Bible. The question is how we interpret. McKnight put sit this way:

“God speaks to us for a reason – I call this ‘missional’ listening. In brief, God tells his story so we can enter into a relationship with him, listen to him, and live out his Word in our day and in our way.”

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet, 2nd Ed., pg. 113

If our interpretation of Scripture doesn’t affect our daily lives, it’s worthless. If our interpretation brings us into a place where we better reflect the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29 – remember we’re living in a Christocracy), then we can be confident in our approach to the Scriptures.

So, how is your interpretation of Scripture reflecting the image of Christ to others in your life?

You Are What You Love – 2018 Blog Tour

Today’s post is part of the 2018 Blog Tour from Thomas Pruett.

I sat across the table with one of my closest friends and mentors, lamenting to him, “Since when did discipleship become only about Bible study?” Later that day, I read this: “You are hungry for knowledge; you thirstily drink up biblical ideas; you long to be Christlike; yet all of that knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into a way of life. It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”* You’re good, God…

“Would you disciple this person?” I remember asking a mature Christian of a new Christian. “Sure, but I don’t have a lesson plan or a bunch of studies ready,” was the reply. It was a reasonable response, after all, as part of my schooling I was tasked to write a 12-month discipling study; it’s little wonder that many people don’t have that lying around…

“Let’s form a teaching schedule from real-life principles that our teens face, with every lesson geared towards reinforcing that one principle a quarter,” came the cry at the educational curriculum meeting. “But, how do we make sure we teach all of Scripture?” came the earnest, if expected, critique…

“What’d you think of the lesson?” I asked of someone visiting a class taught by one of my favorite in-house Bible teachers. “Fine,” she replied, “but he didn’t use very many verses…” 

For 4 months the fly fishing rod produced no fish but much suffering, yet here in my hand it was again. I had only just learned the (still too thick) line and (way too big) bug to tie on, and so I cast with hope. With barely any knowledge of how or why it would, a hooked trout shook my rod for the first time, and a passion for the sport, nurtured in suffering, was born that continues today. 

In a tradition that emphasizes Bible study as the goal of assembly, a contrast strikes me. Is there value in knowledge and study? Absolutely. But to what end? Often, this leads to assumptions that the more we know, the more God-like we are. Personal experience has taught me that’s vehemently false as a rule. This also assumes humans are mainly thinking beings, and that learning can and will change habits. This is how services and Bible classes are geared, and we lament when those raised to know everything from Scripture fall away. Except we don’t apply this logic to exercise, or on-the-job training, or nutrition, or even fly-fishing. 

Jesus didn’t ask Peter what he knew about Himself in John 21:15, Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Jesus didn’t say in John 14:15 that if you know more about Me you’ll keep My commands, but if you love Me. This isn’t a false dichotomy – what we love is what drives us, motivates us, and orients our life, far more than knowledge alone. We know this because we can know the benefits of exercise all we want, and never do it. We can know that cake is bad for us, and still eat it. And we can know about Jesus without ever truly loving Him. 

What if discipleship was less about learning about Jesus, and more about loving Jesus more? What if church services were less about information and more about transformation? What if our goal was less about making sure the whole Bible is covered and more about covering our whole selves with the love of God seen in Jesus? What if our goal was less a habit of church attendance and more about attending the habits of the church that lead us to be more, or less, like Jesus? What if we spent less time learning about being a Christian, and more time living like Jesus? 

Bible study is essential, no doubt. Should the whole Bible be taught and preached? Absolutely. But knowledge alone isn’t the thing which will keep Christians faithful. Simply knowing about your spouse isn’t what keeps you married. Love: what you love, whom you love, and why you love, is what God is after – that you desire Him above all else, and orient your life to keep Him oriented as your goal. We’re not to know as Christ knew, are to love as Christ loved.

Four months of habitual fishless fly-fishing that finally produced one fish lead to a passion, one that then produced a love to learn more, fish more, and do what was needed to transform into a better fly-fisher. If a tiny little trout could produce that much life-change in the hobbies of a man, where could truly discipling, not just teaching, someone to where they catch the smallest glimmer of true Christ-likeness in themselves lead? Perhaps, just perhaps, it could lead to truly becoming what we love. In one case, an able fly-fisher. I’ll take Christ over a trout every day. 

 * Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (p. 5). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.