Monday, November 23, 2020
Advent is upon us. Happens every year, so you would think that we would get bored with it or take it for granted or even forget about it. But, given what Advent means, what it leads to, it is quite a blessing that it comes around every year.
Advent is Latin for “the coming”. The essence of the season is the anticipation, the eagerness for what is yet ahead. Advent is the period of time when Christians are looking forward to the coming of Christ, when our thoughts are straining ahead to that time where we mark Christ's appearing, when the closer it comes the more we yearn for its fulfillment.
But, what “coming of Christ” are we talking about here? Given the way our calendar works, Advent leads up to Christmas—the celebration of when Christ was born. But, historically in the Church, Advent anticipated, not the birth of Jesus, but His second coming, His coming in glory at the end of the age. Christians focused on the promise that Jesus was coming again to rule in power, conquering Satan, judging sin, restoring the world. Advent was not a time of preparing for the Christmas season, but preparing for the future victorious return of the Lord to His world.
Over time, Advent shifted to include our anticipation of the celebration of Jesus' first coming, His birth on Christmas day. We remember, even re-enact, the time before His birth where God's people eagerly awaited the Messiah. In the Old Testament, the Israelites had been told by the Lord that He would act to save them. For centuries they awaited that fulfillment, resting in God's Word.
And so, Advent is a time of building on the past promises of God; and, resting on those promises, we lean into the future. In the Old Testament, God's people trusted His Word and anticipated the coming of the Messiah. Today, the Church looks back on the first coming of Jesus and eagerly expects His return in glory. Advent is not wishful thinking, but a faithful anticipation of the fulfillment of the promises of God.
This week we begin to go through the Advent Season together. For four Sundays we will together be expecting the Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy of our Lord, all leading up to the coming of Jesus. For this Sunday, anticipating the hope of the Messiah, please read Psalm 33.
1. What is the author’s main goal in this psalm? If you had to summarize this psalm, say, to a ten-year-old, how would you do it?
2. What are the reasons the psalmist gives for worshipping God? How often do they influence/impact you?
3. In verse 18, what does it mean to fear the Lord? How does this verse help explain what the phrase means?
4. In verse 18, what is the connection between fear of the Lord, God’s love, and our hope?
5. The psalmist identifies the end goal/result of our hope as listed in verse 19—how is that reflected in your life?
6. In verse 20, how are the two phrases connected? We wait for the Lord… He is our help and shield. What connects them?
7. This section describes not only truths about God, but also how we are to respond to those truths. How so?
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
The struggle against pride really is a uniquely Christian struggle. For most of us, raised as we were in a Western society vastly shaped by the Christian faith, it would seem that everyone would be leery of pride. Pride is the enemy; humility, as hard as it is to understand, is the right attitude to cultivate. But throughout history and across the world, this has not always been so. Many, many societies and cultures through the ages have celebrated pride and considered humility as weakness. Consequently, recognizing pride as sin is something that arises from biblical teaching and challenges the Christian to see the world in a different way.
Now, it’s true that much of contemporary American society retains this awareness of the evils of pride—in polite society, hubris, smugness, and conceit are still frowned upon. But, think of how this is slipping: the idolatry of celebrity, the prioritization of self-esteem, the proliferation of social media’s attention on “me”.
In God’s grace, however, you and I live in a time where we have the benefits of hearing from the wisdom of Christian thinkers who have considered the horrors of pride. May you learn from their wisdom…
“Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.”— John R.W. Stott
“The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” — C.S. Lewis
“Pride is the great sin. It is the devil’s most effective and destructive tool.” — Tomas Tarrants
“A person wrapped up in himself makes a small package.” — Harry Emerson Fosdick
“What is the origin of our evil will but pride? For pride is the beginning of sin. And what is pride but the craving for undue praise? And this is undue praise: when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its goal, and becomes a kind of goal to itself. This happens when it becomes its own satisfaction. And it does so when it falls away from that unchangeable good which ought to satisfy it more than itself.” — St. Augustine
“Let us watch against pride in every shape—pride of intellect, pride of wealth, pride in our own goodness, pride in our own deserts. Nothing is so likely to keep a man out of heaven, and prevent him seeing Christ, as pride. So long as we think we are something, we shall never be saved.” — J. C. Ryle
“Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” — C.S. Lewis
“The first and worst cause of errors that abound in our day and age is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ... Spiritual pride is the main spring or at least the main support of all other errors. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases.” — Jonathan Edwards
“The essence of Gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.” — Timothy Keller
As you prepare for worship this week, read Acts 12:20-23.
1. Why is this passage included in the Bible? Note that Tyre and Sidon were not inhabited by Jews.
2. This is not the Herod who reigned during Jesus’ birth, but a grandson. Can we discern any character traits from this passage? Note: it is a small sample, and we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from a few verses.
3. Why is Herod’s dress and attire described in verse 21? What might the author be trying to communicate?
4. Speculate on the reasons why the crowd would have reacted as they did to Herod’s speech?
5. Verse 23 begins with “immediately”. What is being conveyed here?
6. Notice the reason why Herod was “struck down”. Why would this have generated such a response by God?
7. Can you think of similar situations in life? Perhaps your own or in society as a whole?
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
For There Your Heart Will Be Also
One of the stereotypes in our culture of being a pastor (along with being a bumbling idiot and mildly socially-awkward) is that pastors are always talking about money. A stereotype, yes; but, unfortunately, it is also an occupational hazard. It is hard not to talk about money as a pastor. As a matter of fact, I don’t think you can be a faithful pastor and not talk about it. And that, simply, is because money factors heavily in the Bible. If we are to teach the Bible, we are going to have to talk about money.
It is almost a cliché to point out that Jesus spoke a lot about money. In eleven of His 35+ parables, Jesus is talking about things of financial value. More verses in the Gospels address money than heaven and hell combined. Wealth (and poverty) accent much of what He said and taught. Stated this way, it seems like Jesus was always talking about economics.
But, I’m not sure that’s the way we should think about it.
Did Jesus talk a lot about money? Yes. Does He care about our use, and view, of money? Goodness, yes. But, His focus is mostly elsewhere, and that is where our focus should be as well.
Overwhelmingly, Jesus talks about money as an illustration or example to support and back-up His teachings. Like us today, people in the ancient near-east earned, used, and needed money (or similar) for their everyday living. Like us today, acquiring the necessary funds was a constant concern. And, like us today, the ancient pursuit of wealth could easily lead one down a sinful and broken path. Therefore, like preachers today, economic life is an easy source of illustrations, metaphors, and analogies. But, as in Jesus’ teaching, the focus needs to be clarified.
Predominantly, Jesus’ teaching focused on the Kingdom of God. His attention, and where He wanted His disciples’ attention, was on the coming of the Kingdom in Christ Jesus, the faith of those who are Kingdom citizens, and the salvation they experience. Money factors so heavily in Jesus’ teachings, not because it will be prominent in the Kingdom; but because the value, attention, and dedication we so readily put into our financial lives parallels so well the faithful Christian’s desire for God’s Kingdom. Or, alternatively, the temporal character of earthly finances contrasts so clearly with the eternal value of our life in Christ. In either case, the prevalence of our attention on money helps bring the illustration alive—it is easy to relate to, and to appreciate.
Of course, another great reason why money and financial concerns seem so frequently mentioned in Scripture is because they are a source of great temptation for many believers. Paul warns Timothy of those who “desire to be rich”, and that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:9f). Greed blocks love (Romans 13:9), breeds death, gives birth to lying, strife, even murder (Romans 13:9; 2 Peter 2:3; Proverbs 28:25; James 4:2).
And why is that? Because this temptation, like all temptations, strike at our very relationship with God Himself. We speak of God as sufficient for all things, but do we believe as well that God will satisfy us with all things? What good is being filled (i.e., sufficient) if not satisfied? Is it possible that God would give us things, but not satisfy us? Even stating it this way betrays the folly in such a thought! Surely, our God, the One who loves us so much to bring such a costly salvation, surely such a God will not only fill us, but will fully satisfy us! Praise be our God!
As you prepare for worship this Sunday, please read Matthew 13:44-46.
1. One key principle of interpreting parables is to remember that they largely have one main point. Not every element in the story has a corresponding “reality” in the real world. So… what is the main point of each of the parables?
2. What is the Kingdom of Heaven? What defines it? Why is it important?
3. Why would there be treasure hidden in a field? And, what are the possible ways one could find it?
4. Why would someone sell all they had for a pearl? What is the merchant’s motivation in the second parable?
5. The lust of the eyes is the temptation to have/possess. How do these parables speak to that temptation?
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1)
What’s your influence?
Many years ago a friend gave me the following quote on a plaque that I hung in my office, “You can count the seeds in an apple but you cannot count the apples in a seed.” I pondered that for a while before I totally understood why she gave it to me. I did not manage an apple orchard so why did I care about counting apples? I figured it had to have a spiritual meaning. She gave it to me to encourage me as I shared Christ with others because you can count the number of people you share Christ with, but you can’t count all the people those people share Christ with. So keep sharing the Gospel.
I was reading some articles on influence the other day and came across an interesting possibility. Did you know that most of us meet an average of 2 or 3 people a day? So over the past couple of weeks I watched my life to see if that happened to me. Some days it was more than that and others not so many. If you live to be 80 years old you will have met almost 80,000 people. Some of them will be only for a moment, but others will have experienced you for a significant amount of time. Today I am crossing paths with at least four people I don’t know. Election Day was well over 100 as people came and went.
Psalm 1 is a psalm that I memorized at an early age. It has influenced me in many different ways. The question I’m seeking to challenge myself with, and encouraging you to consider this Sunday, is what is the influence that shapes every part of who you are? The question I’m asking is not so much how are you influencing others, but how are you being influenced? Psalm 1 is classified as a wisdom psalm. It gives an example of how some behaviors are wise and some are foolish. It is the introduction to all of the psalms that follow. As I study Psalm 1, I see two kinds of influence and their end results.
How you are influenced will affect how you influence others because there is no such thing as an incidental life. Our purposeful and short interactions with people influence the direction of their life, and as a result, the lives of others. The life you have been given is an assignment from the Lord. You need to be you, where God wants you. Remember, your life is not only about you, but also about those God has intentionally put in your path. Colossians 4:5 says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders: make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” How are you going to handle each and every one of those encounters? What is or what should influence you? Psalm 1 gives us a direct answer. We can’t look at every word on Sunday because there is too much there to cover it all in 20 minutes.
1. What does the word blessed mean, and why is it important to know what it means?
2. How do the beatitudes in Matthew 5 answer the question what does it mean to be blessed?
3. Is it possible to avoid walking in the counsel of the wicked?
4. Is it possible to avoid standing in the way of sinners?
5. Is it possible to avoid sitting in the seat of mockers?
6. What are the benefits of being planted by streams of water? What does the water and stream refer to?
7. What is your current practice of meditation? How has it affected your life?
8. What do you delight in and how does delighting in those things affect the way you treat them?
9. Does Matthew 7:24-27 relate to Psalm 1?