Monday, January 25, 2016

sabbath rest

It's the Sabbath day in Capernaum. Where do you think Jesus would be? In the synagogue, of course! Where else would he be? The synagogue was where people congregated. That’s what the word “synagogue” means - a gathering place. Every Sabbath day Jesus would gather with his congregation. It shouldn't surprise us at all that Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath day was a holy day. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." In Old Testament times that meant no work – a nice meal, a time of worship, the word of god, some rest, but no work. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” Sabbath, shabbat, means “rest.”

Now, rest didn't mean sleeping in until the pregame show. Nor did it mean getting out the golf clubs for a quick morning round. It meant worship, it meant hearing and learning the Word of God. For the Israelites, the sabbath rest began on Friday evening with a nice meal with wine, then a restful sleep, then a Saturday full of the Word in the synagogue and time with the family at home.

Now we know of course that this Old Testament Sabbath law was fulfilled in Christ and no longer applies to us in the form of a certain day. The Christian congregation is not a synagogue and Sunday is not a Sabbath, even though there are certainly similarities. What was a law in the Old Testament, punishable by death for Sabbath breakers, is now a free activity for us as God's people in the New Testament. We don't have to worship the Lord on Sunday. It's a great day to do it, of course, since it's the first day of the week and the day Jesus rose from the dead. But there is no law that says we have to have our worship on Sunday.

The good news for us as New Testament Christians is that Jesus is our Sabbath. He is our rest. With Jesus it’s no longer a work but a sheer gift, pure grace, complete and total rest. And if we happen to be restless, then maybe it’s because we haven't been resting enough in Him. Maybe we haven't been coming together enough to the place where Jesus has promised to be. When we gather together as a congregation of God's people to hear His Word and receive His gifts, it calms our fears, gives us rest, and provides us with comfort, hope, peace, and joy.

See you in church!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

first words

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, liberty to those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." - Luke 4

We find these words in this Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke chapter 4, as Jesus steps up as the lay reader of the day and reads from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth. These are the first words of Jesus' public ministry that Luke records. This scene is a very important one in understanding who Jesus is and what he is doing in the Gospel of Luke. You could almost say that this is Jesus’ Inaugural Address.

Inaugural addresses are important. The President of the United States just used his inaugural address to announce the so-called successes of his two terms in office, and his future vision for America. It's all about priorities, mission, vision, direction. A century and a half ago, President Abraham Lincoln used his second inaugural address to do something no President had ever done before - to speak critically about his own country in order to deal with the evil of slavery. He spoke about the toll that it had taken, and the need to stay the course in order to resolve both the war and the cause of liberty.

So what kind of things do we hear in Jesus’ inaugural address? An announcement of his mission. An illustration of His vision. A description of the very kingdom of God He comes to bring.

All of this and more is summarized by these first words from Jesus: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor ..."


Thursday, January 14, 2016

baptismal blessings

The celebration of the Baptism of our Lord last Sunday gives us cause (and pause) to consider our own baptism. As Jesus stands in the place of sinners in the Jordan River to begin His ministry, He is fulfilling all righteousness, and demonstrating for us the reason why He had to come. He stands in our place - to live, die, and rise again for us.

That's really what our Baptism is all about. It is being joined to Christ and His church through Water and the Word. It is becoming part of the great family of God. It is receiving from God all the good gifts He has come to give us - forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Our understanding of Baptism is foundational to our Christian faith, because it gets to the core of what we really believe about God and what He can do. It all boils down to whether we believe that man can somehow get to God, or whether God Himself comes down to us.

Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark, "Believe and be baptized, and you will be saved." Baptism is God's chosen way of bringing us into His family and giving us His good and gracious gifts. Either you are baptized first and then you believe, or you come to believe and then are baptized. Either way, we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, it is possible for a person to be saved without being baptized, like the thief on the cross,  or someone who has a deathbed conversion. But those situations are actually quite rare. The normal way God has set up for people is to believe and be baptized, or to be baptized and then believe.

Those who deny original sin or who claim there is no accountability for young children normally baptize older children and adults.  Those of us who believe that sin is inherited, that we're all born sinful and are in need of salvation, practice infant baptism as well as adult baptism.
Some who practice adults-only baptism will say that baptism is an outward sign of one's choice to follow Jesus and be His disciple. But if baptism is only a sign or a symbol, that diminishes its importance.  It doesn't have the importance it has for those of us who believe that Baptism is a Sacrament, a sacred act, nothing less than the Gospel of Christ, the Word of God itself in action, with all its saving power poured out from God to us for forgiveness and salvation.

The Bible never really sets an age to be baptized. But we do read of "whole households" being baptized in Acts. And "all nations" are to be baptized in Matthew 28. The Apostle Paul says it is "for you and for your children." Peter says in his epistle, "Baptism now saves you."  Surely all of us need what Paul calls in Titus 3 - "the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."

The earliest Christian writings mention the baptism of infants. Infant baptism has been the practice of the majority of the Christian Church since the beginning.

Those who say that baptism should be delayed until children can believe should check Christ's words in Matthew 18, where He warns about causing offense against "one of these little ones who believe in Me." The word translated as "little one" is used in Greek to mean little children under three years old. Jesus seems to think that toddlers and infants two and under are capable of receiving the gift of faith as well ... and I think it's safe to say that Jesus knows what He's talking about.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

ancient farmhouse

2,700-Year-Old Farmhouse Unearthed in Israel

The Israel Antiquities Authority recently announced the discovery of an ancient farmhouse located ten miles inland from Tel Aviv that is estimated to be around 2,700 years old. It measures about 100 by 180 feet and contains a cluster of 24 rooms connected to a central courtyard, which once held a storage compartment for protecting grain. Other artifacts found nearby include a number of millstones used for grinding flour, oil presses carved from rock, and a pair of silver coins stamped with images of the goddess Athena.

Also found nearby was a monastery that is approximately 1,500 years old. The building once held stables, living quarters, an oil press, and a church with mosaic floors.  One pattern has an inscription welcoming people in the name of "Theodosius the priest", while another bids visitors, "peace be with you as you come, peace be with you as you go."


Monday, January 4, 2016

wise men?

wise men still seek him .... better yet .... wise god still seeks foolish men.