Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Readings for December 4 2011

Hello Everyone,
Grace and Peace to you from Jesus Christ,

There is an old maxim that says, “If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.” A theme of this week is the path/road/highway of the Lord. Where is it going? Who will travel on it? How long is the journey?

Isaiah 40:1-11 – The voice in this reading seems to shift from God, to the prophet, and some other heavenly being. See if you can’t discern where this happens. In verses 1-2 why should Jerusalem be consoled? Who does the word “Jerusalem” represent? What should the people do in preparation for the coming of God? In verses 6-7, what are the people like? In verse 8, what endures forever? In verses 9-11 how does the Lord appear?

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 – During the 3 year lectionary cycle the Psalm is chosen to compliment the Old Testament reading. In this Psalm we again hear the Old Testament themes of God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace. In the missing verses, 3-7, we hear the psalmist asking God for restoration and salvation. What does the psalmist propose to do in verse 8? What is the psalmist confident of and why in verse 9? Notice the oddness of verses 10 and 11. What do you think the psalmist is trying to get at with love and faithfulness meeting, and righteousness and peace kissing? The connection to Isaiah 40 comes in verse 13. What plows or paves the path before God?

2 Peter 3:8-15a – If you want to keep peace and sanity in your house don’t read verses 1-7. In the verses we are supposed to read what does Peter want us to do? How are we to treat those who abuse us? Why would others make us suffer (verse 14)?

Mark 1:1-18 – Notice that verse 1 is not a complete sentence. Some think this may have been a title at one time. Is this the beginning of the Gospel (Good News) about God’s salvation through his Son Jesus or is it the beginning of the Gospel (Good News) about God’s redemption proclaimed by Jesus? Or both? In verse 2, the writer, whom we will call Mark, says that Isaiah wrote what follows in verse 2 and 3 but actually the first part is from the prophet Malachi (3:1). Who does Mark introduce with that quote? Where did he appear and what did he do? Who came out to see him? What was his proclamation and who was he talking about? As we come to Christmas, what is missing from Mark? Is this important?

May your week be blest by the Lord as you read and ponder these scriptures!

December 2011 Newsletter article

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I just read two articles about church that piqued my interest. One was by Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor and leader Dr. Rod Rosenbladt and the other was by the pastor of an non-affiliated (I believe) church in Olathe, KS, Tim Suttle.

The first article can be found at The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church and it is fairly long but worth the read.

The second article is here: How to Shrink Your Church.

Dr. Rosenbladt, in his speech/article “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church” states that most churches don’t seriously believe that faith in Jesus Christ is all that is needed for salvation. He berates Wesleyan Churches, his own Lutheran heritage, Reformed Churches, and the Catholic Church because they basically turn faith back into works. Once we are saved from “Law” by our “Faith”, he claims, the church then turns that back into “Law”. In essence, someone who comes to know Jesus and his saving grace, and then joins a church, will only hear from the pulpit and the leadership, “If you want to be a good Christian you must believe A, B, C, and D, and you must do W, X, Y, and Z”. People leave the church because they don’t hear the good news (Gospel) because it is not preached and taught. He also states that many (including alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners, prostitutes, etc.) who leave the church and never go back but who were saved by faith will enter heaven before the rest of us. (See Matthew 21:28-31) God’s salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ is not about living a “right way” but ONLY about faith.

Pastor Suttle, in his article “How to Shrink Your Church” states that the emphasis on church growth in the past 30 years is wrong. The church growth industry, exemplified by churches such as Saddleback, Willow Creek, and Church of the Resurrection (a UMC example), is all about doing the right things to attract 20 and 30 somethings. You have to have a great youth program, the right amenities (Starbucks anyone?), excessive parking, stadium seating, and a perfect production of the “worship”. Pastor Suttle said that the church he leads went through all of that and grew from 2 families to over 200 families in three years. Then they rethought their mission and instead of focusing on growth they emphasized faithfulness. Church, he states, is not about doing all the right things. It is about being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With that change, his church began to lose a few people. New people still come but they are not about “attracting people” but about helping people to be faithful. He sees a new vitality within his church.

You should be able to see the similarities in these articles. They got me to thinking about how I preach the Gospel. Is my central message about God salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or is it about “living right”? Are our denominational emphases on growth actually growing “faithless” churches? What is it about “Faith” and “Faithfulness” that is so hard for us to grasp? Are we afraid that God won’t honor his promise of salvation unless we do something about it? What about you and our churches? What do you think?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two Interesting Articles

Here are two articles that you may find of interest. Both concern faith and faithfullness.

Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, "The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church"

Pastor Tim Suttle, "How to Shrink Your Church"


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Readings for Thanksgiving and November 27 2011

Hello Everyone,

First, a reminder of our Thanksgiving Eve Worship services on Wednesday, November 23. The service at Peace United Church starts a 6:30 PM and Grey Eagle UMC begins at 8:00 PM. Take this hour of worship as a respite from the hectic preparation for Thanksgiving. Let us stop, take a breather, and give thanks to Our Lord and Savior for all that God has given.

There are two sets of readings for this week – one for Thanksgiving and one for the first Sunday of Advent.

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
– What will the new land that Israel will occupy be like (verses 7-9)? Who should the Israelites not forget (verse 11)? Who should they not exalt (verse 14)? What has God done for them (verses 14-16)? What should the Israelites not say (verse 17)? Why?

Psalm 65 – What has God done that deserves our praises of thanksgiving? This would be a good text to read just before your Thanksgiving dinner?

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 – On Paul’s third trip around the NE Mediterranean he collected donations that he would take back to Jerusalem for the struggling Christians there whom he calls “the saints”. This passage opens with a farming metaphor (verse 6). How should each person give and how much should they give (verse 7)? Why should we share (verse 8)? What will happen when we are generous (verse 11)? What is the “indescribable gift (verse 15, see verse 14). Do you think it is a joy to give to the church or to those in need? Are you a reluctant, grouchy giver or a cheerful, joyous giver?

Luke 17:11-19 – Where is Jesus going (verse 11)? Who approaches him yet keeps their distance (verse 12)? What did they want but was not explicitly stated (verse 13)? What did Jesus do for them (this may be hard because the answer is so simple)? How many go back to see Jesus? What was his ethnicity? What do you think is the difference between being healed and being made well?

Advent Sunday 1
Isaiah 64:1-9
– You may as well read the final three verses of this chapter. Who is the prophet speaking to? What has God done in the past (verses 2-5a)? Where is God now (verses 5b and 7)? Who does the prophet seem to be blaming for the sins and iniquities of the people and why (verses 5b-7)? What is our relationship to God in verse 8 (three things)? Who is the prophet blaming for the destruction of the holy cities and their homes (verses 10-12)?

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 – This reading, and you may as well also read the skipped verses, is similar to the Isaiah reading above. In the metaphor of verses 8-16 the Israelites are the vine, Israel (the country) is the vineyard, and the borders are like the walls of the vineyard.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – Verses 1 and 2 are the “from” and “to” of this letter of Paul’s to the church in Corinth. Verse 3 is the salutation or the “hello”. Why does Paul give thanks to God (verses 4-7)? There are problems in this church and Paul gives thanks for some of the strengths they have that have become problems. Verses 5 points to their excessive love of rhetoric and logic. Verse 7 points to their excessive reliance on “spiritual gifts”. What will God do for them and what will they be (verse 8)? Who calls us into fellowship with Jesus Christ (verse 9).

Mark 13:24-37 – The Gospel according to Mark is the oldest of the four gospels despite its placement between Matthew and Luke. Check out chapter 1, verse 1. If this is the beginning of the gospel, which means good news, when is the end? Now look at Mark 16:8. There should be some sort of indication for a note at the bottom of the page. The oldest available manuscripts end with verse 8 but because this is such a strange way to end the story later editors have added additional endings, one short and one long. There is even more in an edition that is given as a note in my Bible following verse 14. So, if verse 8 is the ending and it doesn’t feel like a decent ending, when is the ending of the Gospel? Now to our verses at hand. Chapter 13 is sometimes call “Mark’s mini apocalypse”. When will the Son of Man come (verses 24-26)? Whom will he gather together (verse 27)? What does the fig tree teach us (verses 28-29)? What will pass away and what will not (verse 31)? When will all this happen and who will know (verse 32)? What are we to do in the mean time (verses 33, 35, 37)?

May God bless you this Thanksgiving Day and all the days in between!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Readings for November 23 2011

Hello Everyone,

I just posted last week's readings below. Sorry for the delay.

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year and is called “Christ the King Sunday” or “The Reign of Christ Sunday”. We are concluding Year A and our reading of Matthew. However, what we are reading is not the conclusion of Matthew which is, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That is our fourfold commission: go, make, baptize, and teach. My question at the end of the year is, “Do we?”

Next week we begin the next year, Year B, and we will be reading The Gospel According to Mark. For the final Sunday of Year A we are reading:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 – You would be best served in understanding this passage by reading the entire chapter 34. The Lord, through Ezekiel, lambasts the leaders of Israel (the shepherds and I assume that religious and political leaders are included) for not doing what they were supposed to do to care for the welfare of the sheep (verses 1-10). They got fat and rich at the expenses of the people (the sheep). Who then will become the true Shepherd? What will the this shepherd do (verses 11-16)? I count seven things that the new shepherd will do, some of which are repeated several times. In verses 17-19, the Lord shifts his focus to the sheep who also bear responsibility for the welfare of other sheep. Who then will the Lord judge between? Who then will be the new shepherd that the Lord will install? Note: this new shepherd has been dead for several hundred years before Ezekiel was written.

Psalm 100 – In verses 1, 2, and 4, what are we supposed to do? In verse 3, who are we (two answers)? In verse 5, what is the Lord and how is the Lord characterized?

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Who wrote this letter? What does he want the Ephesians to know (three answers)? Where did God put his power and when? What is Jesus the head of?

Matthew 25:31-46 – This story of Jesus comes after three parables that started at 24:45. Everyone recognizes that those are parables. So, what is this passage? Is it a parable, a prophesy, or a future reality? I tend to read it as a parable but I recently saw a reference to this passage as a prophesy and a pastor friend of mine has called it a description of how the final judgment will happen. What defines the difference between the sheep and the goats? What is “the kingdom that was prepared for you at the foundation of the world”? Our first response is “heaven”, but could it be something else especially if we are reading this as a parable? What is the kingdom like in the parable of the 10 Maidens? In the parable of the Talents? What is the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels? Is is anything like “the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth? One last question: if this passage is read as being literal, what gets someone into the kingdom, faith or works?

Much to chew on this week! May God bless you in your reading and wrestling with these passages.

Readings for November 13 2011

Hello Everyone – Grace and Peace to You,

I am a week late on posting this to my blog. I apologize and here it is:

First, we will have Thanksgiving Eve Services on Wednesday, November 23. Worship will be at 6:30 PM at Peace United and 8:00 at Grey Eagle UMC.

We are nearing the end of the Church Year. Our final two readings in Matthew and our lesson this week in Thessalonians concern the return of Christ and our proper relationship to it in the mean time.

Judges 4:1-7 – This is only the beginning of the story which takes up all of chapter 4. Chapter 5 is a longer song of the same story. Who is the “Judge” in this story? Does it surprise you that it is a woman? From which two tribes are the army gathered? Who is the commander of the Israelites? What does he need from the judge? What is the name of the general of the Canaanites? What is the outcome of the battle (verses 12-16)? Where does the general go and who ends up killing him (verses 17-22)

Psalm 100 – A psalm of praise. How should we worship the Lord? What has God done for us?

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 – What is coming? Who will be caught by surprise? What will that day be like? What will save the people?

Psalm 90:1-8 (9-11), 12 – What do the people seem to be going through at that time? What is God’s time like? What is the length of life for humanity? What does the psalmist want God to teach them?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – How will the day of the Lord come? When people become complacent what will happen? What should believers, children of the light, do? What two pieces of armor should believers put on? What is our destiny? What should we do?

Matthew 25:14-30 – This is the third of four parable that started at the end of chapter 24. To whom does the man entrust his fortune while he is gone? How much is each given? One talent is equal to about 6,000 denarii and one denarii is a day’s wage. At $10 an hour and a 10 hour day of work, one talent is worth $600,000. When the man returns, what happens to the first two servants and why? What happened to the third and why? What is the third servant’s excuse? Note – this man did nothing that was not expected in Jesus’ day. He was only obligated to the save keeping of what was entrusted to him and to return it whole, which is what he did? Why the punishment? What is this parable about? Diligent and fruitful use of what is entrusted? Or, perhaps, we get the master we expect?

Have a great week in the Lord, serving the Lord by serving neighbors.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Readings for November 6 2011

Grace and Peace in Jesus Christ,

First, this Sunday we celebrate Communion and this is a good time to invite family, friends, and enemies to join you at church. Specifically, at Peace United Church this Sunday is “Each 1 Bring 1” Sunday. If everyone brought 1 other person to church we would have well over 100 people at worship. This applies to both churches.

Today starts Peace United’s “Mission 1” drive. “Mission 1” runs from today, 11-1-11, until Friday next week, 11-11-11. (As I am writing this it is 11:11 AM.) The denomination wide goal for the United Church of Christ is to raise more than 1 million items of food for food shelves, raise more than $111,111 for Neighbors in Need and more than $111,111 for East Africa Famine Relief, and to send more than 11,111 letters to members of Congress asking for legislation to reform foreign policy to help the poor and hungry worldwide. Food items can be brought to church this Sunday and our mission collection will go for the cause. Letters to our congress members should be sent in these 11 days. Please let me know how many you sent.

At Grey Eagle UMC, we are collecting food items for the Food Shelf on each of the three Sundays leading up to Thanksgiving. There are many in Todd County who could go without food this Thanksgiving if it were not for the three food shelves in the county. Let us help those in need celebrate God’s bounty.

Our readings this week are:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 – Joshua is coming to the end of his life. With God’s direction Joshua has lead the people to occupy Canaan. The verses that are skipped are a retelling of the history of Israel. Who does Joshua call and where do they gather? What does Joshua ask the people to do? Who does he set up as a model for the people?

Psalm 78:1-7 – What is the purpose of this long Psalm (see verses 3 and 4)? What has God commanded (verse 5)? Who is supposed to tell the story of Israel and to whom (verse 6)? Why (verse 7)?

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-20 – Where do we find this book? Check the Table of Contents. Not there? No, it is not there in most Protestants’ Bibles, not unless you have one that includes the Apocrypha, in which it is usually printed between the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Catholic Bible Wisdom of Solomon along with another book, Ecclesiasticus, occurs in the Writings section (Psalm, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) following Song of Solomon and before Isaiah. You may can access an online version here: text. This is basically a description of Wisdom. Wisdom, here and in Proverbs, is described as a woman. In verses 17-19 wisdom starts as a desire for instruction which is a love for the woman, Wisdom, which leads to the keeping of the law, which leads to immortality which brings you near to God. Desire for wisdom leads to a (the?) kingdom.

or Amos 5:18-24 – Who is speaking in this passage, God or Amos? What is the main concern in verses 18-20? What is the concern in 21-24? Why do you think God despises the festivals, assemblies, sacrifices (literal animal sacrifices), and offerings? What does God truly want?

Psalm 70 – Who is speaking in this psalm? What is happening and what does he want to happen (verse 2-3)? Who should rejoice and what should they say (verse 4)?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – This is the first of two readings in Thessalonians on the Coming of Christ which concludes next week with 5:1-11. This particular letter is the oldest writing in the New Testament written perhaps in the 40’s. (The oldest Gospel, Mark, was written in the late 60’s.) There was a very real expectation among Christians those day that Christ would return at any moment. That is what we have in these passages. What are the people of Thessalonica worried about? How is Christian grieving for the dead different than other’s grieving? When Christ returns, who rise first? Who will follow?

Matthew 25:1-13 – This year we skip all of chapter 24 in which Jesus warns the disciples about the coming trouble and why they should be watchful. At the end of 24 there is a “parable” of the faithful and unfaithful slaves. As you read that be careful about associating the master in the story with God or Jesus. That leads directly into the parable we are reading this week. Who are the central characters in the story? Who are they waiting for? What happens when he is late? Be careful about applying strict metaphorical interpretations to this (or any) parable. A common interpretation is that the bridegroom is Jesus, the wise maidens are faithful Christians, and the foolish maidens are everyone else. Would Jesus not really know someone? In light of “knock and the door shall be opened” would the door really be kept shut? What about the attitude of the “wise” maidens to the “unwise”? Would a faithful Christian who loves others really be so callous to others? Good Questions to consider, which is what parables are about.

Have a great week serving God and others!