Waiting Beyond Death

During this Season of Hope, we are studying texts related to the Advent, or coming of the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Messiah. Just like ancient Israel had to wait for his coming, we too wait for his second coming.

Isaiah 40 makes reference to this time of waiting.

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” 
And I said, “What shall I cry?” 
“All people are like grass, 
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
because the breath of the Lord blows on them. 
Surely the people are grass. 
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:6–8 NIV

In these verses we have a heavenly voice (the speaker is unclear, perhaps Yahweh, an angel, or some other heavenly being) telling Isaiah that humans are like grass and their works like flowers. What the voice is reminding us is that grass and flowers are only around for a season before they wither and fade away. They do not last forever. But the word of God does indeed last forever.

Let’s put this in the context of Israel coming out of exile. They have been away from their homes for a generation, and there is this promise of return. God will make the path easy, he will restore Jerusalem, he will keep his promises. His word will not fail! But humans don’t live forever. We all die. God’s promises, however, do not die.

Isaiah is trying to remind us that we may wait for God to fulfill his promises, and they may not be fully fulfilled in our lifetime before we “wither.” Isaiah wants us to remember that our waiting does not negate God’s promises. Even if we never see them fulfilled, we can rest assured that they will be fulfilled because God’s word endures forever.

Centuries after this text was written, one would come as “a voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD.” (Isa. 40:3, Mark 1:3). Mark, as well as the other Gospel writers, want us to realize that God kept this promise fully in the ministry of John the Baptist, “and the glory of the LORD” was revealed in the Advent of Jesus (Isa. 40:5).

Though Isaiah’s words to exiled Israel were not fully realized in their lifetime, God fulfilled his promise through the Advent of Jesus. And though God’s kingdom has not fully come, we can rest assured that God will fulfill his promises through the Advent of Jesus.

Sermon text for 12/8/19: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-4 

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

Daily Psalms – Psalm 105

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 101-105

Today we focus in on Psalm 105, a poetic history of the people of Israel. If you want a summary of the Hebrew Scriptures in a concise package, you’ve come to the right place. The psalmist begins by reminding us of our part in the story of God:

Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.

Psalm 105:1-2 NIV

How often are you stopping to “tell of all his wonderful acts?” Or better yet, how often are you stopping to recognize all his wonderful acts in your life? The psalmist recounts Israel’s history, which is also your history and my history because we are children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). We need to know this story! It’s your story!

Your personal story is also important. Every generation of believers learns the historical story of Yahweh’s people. We are also called to be witnesses of what he has done in our lives. We need to tell others the story of Jesus and how he has changed our lives! Lost souls need to hear that God remembers the promises he has made forever, and those promises extend to us as well! (v. 8-10)

Telling our story also keeps us focused on what matters. History is selective. We tend to tell about the winning goal we scored rather than what we ate for lunch in the 4th grade. We tend to leave out the unimportant details in favor of the ones we view as more important.

So how important is God to you?

How important is the saving power of Jesus in your life?

If it is important to you, are you telling that story?

If not, why not?

These questions get us thinking about what is really important in our past, and those realizations should influence us to focus on what is important in the present and the future.

Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Look to the LORD and his strength;
    seek his face always.

Psalm 105:3-4 NIV

Our history is his story. Let us all focus on what truly matters, and tell that story in our lives. Blessings.

Women Praying & Prophesying With Their Heads Covered?

Why does Paul ask women to cover their heads while praying and prophesying? (1 Cor. 11:2-16)  Most people will assume something cultural is going on here, and they would be correct! But what exactly?

Women’s hair was seen as a major object of lust in the ancient world, as well as in some cultures in the middle east today (remember a lot of the Bible was written to people in middle eastern cultures). It seems foreign because hair doesn’t really cause us to lust. But as a means for cultural understanding, let’s equate the “uncovered head” of these women to wearing a very revealing bikini.

Now imagine someone dressing in such a way in front of the congregation on Sunday morning. Now you’re starting to understand the problem. In the ancient world an uncovered head meant you were sexually promiscuous; not such a crazy idea because this is one of the ways pagan temple prostitutes would wear their hair. The idea of a bikini in worship in our culture, and an uncovered head in theirs, is clearly inappropriate.

One of the greatest physical shames a woman could have in this culture was having her hair shaved off. What Paul is saying here is that if you see nothing wrong with uncovering your head in a worship assembly then you might as well go ahead and shave your head. The female readers would understand the level of shame Paul is equating to what they were doing in the assembly.

Why were they doing this? Keep in mind that churches met in homes, not church buildings. It was perfectly acceptable for a woman to have her head uncovered at home in front of her family, just like you might walk around in clothing at home that you would never wear in a public setting. When a more formal gathering (worship assembly) gathered in the same homes, it seems that some of the women were leaving their heads uncovered – again, inappropriate for male non-family members present. 

This was new territory for most of these Corinthian people. We are having a public gathering in a private home. How do we act? Paul here is teaching modesty within the assembly. How do we know this is the assembly? Paul tells us so in verse 16. “Churches” is the Greek word ekklesiai, the plural form for “assembly.” There is no assembly that practices uncovered heads (again cultural) while women are praying and prophesying.

But did you notice what is assumed in this passage? Women are clearly praying and prophesying (v. 5) openly in the presence of men in the assembly (v. 16), and that is totally ok! It is never questioned if women can pray or prophesy in the assembly, but rather can they do so with their heads uncovered. 

Somehow, women praying and prophesying in the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11 is not a violation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. But how can that be? We’ll take a closer look at that next week. But as a starting point, read all of 1 Corinthians 14 while asking yourself this question: 

What goal does Paul have in writing this chapter?

Daily Psalms – Psalm 66

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 66-70

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious.

Psalm 66:1-2 NIV

I love Psalm 66. It is a wonderful song of praise, but different than you might expect. You see, we tend to praise God for the good times. The psalmist here praises God for the good times, and praises God for causing the bad times!

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:10-12 NIV

Notice that the psalmist says it was God who “brought us” into some terribly painful situations. These led to refining (removing all the impurities), and eventually to a place of abundance.

We love to praise God for the mountaintops, but we rarely praise him for the valleys. The psalmist tells us to not only praise him for the valleys, but praise him while we’re in the valleys!

I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you —
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.

Psalm 66:13-14 NIV

Even in the darkest moments of trouble, we should be committing to worship. Even when we don’t know how the situation will turn out, we commit ourselves to praising our God. No matter the highest highs or the lowest lows, we commit ourselves to our God.

Praise be to God!

The Church and Politics: What We Haven’t Learned

As we explore how the history of the Church affects the practice of the Church today, we need to take a look at culture. No congregation is immune from cultural influence, and indeed it needs to be influenced to some degree in order to reach the lost. But at various times in the history of the Church, culture has ruled the day. I frequently tell people when politics and Church combine, the Church always suffers. This is the case with the examples contained in this article.

In 1054 AD an event historians refer to as “The Great Schism” occurred in Constantinople, forever changing the Church, and creating a wound that took until the 20th century to begin to heal. The “West” division of the church, based in Rome, began to be viewed as the seat of power in the Church. This political position, in many ways, led to the Roman Church passing edicts that affected the church as a whole. For the purposes of this writing we don’t need to dive too deeply into specifics, but many of these were received negatively by the East from a cultural standpoint.

In the book Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll summarizes the cultural divide between the East and West.

“As early as the end of the first century, it was possible to perceive pointed differences between major representatives of what would one day be called West and East. Thus, historian Henry Bettenson thinks that the Epistle of Clement sent from Rome to Corinth about the year 96 displays ‘the emergence of the characteristic Roman Christianity. Here we find no ecstasies, no miraculous ‘gifts of the Spirit,’ no demonology, no preoccupation with an imminent ‘Second Coming.’ The Church has settled down in the world, and is going about its task ‘soberly, discreetly, and advisedly.” By the end of the second century, such ‘Roman’ characteristics were thoroughly matched by ‘Greek’ tendencies arising from the other end of the Mediterranean.”

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll

As you can clearly see, cultural differences influenced the beliefs and practice within the two branches of the Christian Church. At this meeting in 1054 representatives from both groups excommunicated the other which lead to the body of Christ, the Church, being divided. This was exacerbated by the Crusades which indiscriminately killed Muslims, Jews, and even other Christians because they looked different than the invading Europeans. European Christians were killing Middle Eastern Christians because they looked and sounded different.

Sadly this was not the only time in Church history that we see cultural differences affecting the unity of the Church. We’ll return to history next week, but I want to end with a modern look. What cultural issues are causing division in the church today? We are on the heels of one of the largest denominations wrestling with homosexuality in part because culture has become combined with the Church.

But let’s get personal. What cultural issue is in play in your congregation that is, or could cause division? Is it who someone votes for? Is it cultural stereotypes placed on people groups? And here’s the real question: How do you go about addressing the problem?

What is the Best Way to Read the Bible?

Last week we looked at examples from the New Testament of people coming together in community to study the Scriptures. We also looked at the first few centuries after the New Testament to see the council at Nicea surrounding the deity of Christ. Christians came together around the Scriptures in order to clarify beliefs and put an end to false teaching. This council resulted in what we commonly call The Nicene Creed.

This community study of the Scriptures happened on many other occasions as well. As the years passed, again the Church saw need of solidifying doctrine amongst all believers. The decision was made to collect the writings held highly by the community and combine them into an authoritative collection. There was some debate concerning some of the writings we have today in our New Testament, and some differences still exist today (does your Bible contain the Apocrypha?) But when the Church came together in community, the most trusted writings were compiled to solidify the documents of our faith – the New Testament.

We are so used to having our sacred writings in one book. Can you imagine going through life and having to search from city to city to find a copy of John’s Gospel? The fact that you own a Bible, or have access to a Bible online, or in app form is because 1600 years ago the Church, the Body of Christ, came together in community in order to compile (not create) the writings we know and love.

Today, we must take the same approach toward interpreting Scripture. Renowned theologian, seminary professor, and author Scot McKnight has a suggestion for how we are to read and interpret Scripture today in his book, The Blue Parakeet. In this quote, he speaks of the “Great Tradition,” that is the understanding of the historical Christian community.

“I suggest we learn to read the Bible with the Great Tradition. We dare not ignore what God has said to the church through the ages (as the return and retrieval folks often do), nor dare we fossilize past interpretations into traditionalism. Instead, we need to go back to the Bible so we can move forward through the church and speak God’s Word in our days in our ways. We need to go back without getting stuck (the return problem), and we need to move forward without fossilizing our ideas (traditionalism). We want to walk between these two approaches. It’s not easy, but I contend that the best of the evangelical approaches to the Bible and the best way of living the Bible today is to walk between these approaches.”

Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet

The history of the church shows that Scripture has been best interpreted in community. When believers come together and wrestle with the Scriptures to find truth, error is avoided, God is honored, and Scripture is upheld and interpreted in a relevant way. As history and the New Testament has shown us, it is the best way.