Good News

01
Dec

Verse of the Month — December 2016

Peace

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:14, kjv

27
Nov

Peace on Earth

The prophet Isaiah saw more clearly than almost anyone the nature of the kingdom God had promised, and his prophecies were associated by New Testament writers with the advent of Messiah in the person of Jesus. The vision of the coming kingdom is a peaceable kingdom, and the impact of Messiah will be to bring peace & reconciliation into the divided, violent world that is nevertheless the focus of God’s great love.

20
Nov

Reconciliation

Peacemaking at the heart of God’s agenda, accomplished through the cross. It is a costly, necessary, worthwhile endeavor, and if the scriptures are to be believed, ultimately will prove to be successful, because it is the outworking of the sacrifice of Jesus the Messaiah.

13
Nov

The kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God

Isaiah 65:17-25

65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.
65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

The Kingdom of God

From that time Jesus began to proclaim,
“Repent; for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Matthew 4:17

When Jesus came proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God, he didn’t do so in a vacuum; those in his audience who knew the scriptures would have recalled to mind passages like this one, describing the time of God’s reign.  As Peter says (Acts 3:24, Acts 10:43), all the prophets give witness to Jesus, who came announcing the kingdom. Of all the prophets, it was perhaps Isaiah who had the clearest vision.

The Kingdom of God: Isaiah, the Visionary Prophet

Isaiah did his work during time of turmoil and change, and was able to foresee great changes to come.  His vision of God’s holiness (Isaiah 6) was followed up by numerous instances where he foresaw the coming and the character of Messiah.  From him we get the great passages that reveal his eternal nature, his healing ministry, his suffering and sacrifice, and his  victory through that suffering, a suffering that also paralleled that of Israel through defeat and exile.  Isaiah, along with other prophets, saw the victory of Messiah as a great victory, not just for his own nation, but for all nations of the world in fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham.

The Kingdom of God: The New Creation

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.  (Isaiah 65:17)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)

The new creation is represented as encompassing heaven and earth.  Jesus didn’t teach us to pray that we would get to heaven, but rather that God’s kingdom would come, God’s will be done in earth as it is in heaven.  The new Jerusalem in the vision of Revelation is not a city removed from earth to a heavenly place; rather it is a heavenly presence brought down to earth.  These things and others suggest that God’s purpose is not for us to escape a hopeless world, but for that world to be transformed.

The Kingdom of God:  Heaven? Or heaven on earth?

I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.  No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

Isaiah, at least, sees a transformed earth.

The Kingdom of God: A Time of Peace

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.

Jesus gave peace to the apostles when he sent them two by two, as a gift they could bequeath on any house they entered. It is not the kind of peace the world can give, but it is the kind of peace the world needs.

The Kingdom of God: A Time of Peace

Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

This vision of peace calls even for the relationship between wolf and lamb to be transformed:  a world where the roles are not victor and victim, destroyer or destroyed.

The Kingdom of God: The Gospel

From that time Jesus began to proclaim,
“Repent; for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Matthew 4:17

The Kingdom of God: Already and Not Yet

“Your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – Matthew 6:10

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well.” – Matthew 6:33

Begin here. Begin now.  Be an ambassador of peace.

06
Nov

To Know Jesus

To Know Jesus

Ephesians 1:9-23

1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,
10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;
1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason
1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,
1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,
1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,
1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

To Know Jesus:  God’s Plan

as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

To Know Jesus:  Our Inheritance

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,  so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

To Know Jesus: Marked!

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;   this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

To Know Jesus: A Pastoral Prayer

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,  so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

To Know Jesus: Christ Above All

far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things

To Know Jesus: His Body

for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

01
Nov

Verse of the Month – November 2016

Salvation

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

Isaiah 12:2

30
Oct

Zacchaeus- Recognition and Restoration

Recognition and Restoration

19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it.
19:2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.
19:3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.
19:4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
19:5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.
19:6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
19:7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
19:8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
19:9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.
19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.

Recognition and Restoration:  Jericho

  He entered Jericho and was passing through it.
Jericho, an ancient city with a lot of biblical history, was on the way Jesus was taking as he traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, along with many others, to arrive in time to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem that year.  Then as now, news traveled faster than people do.  No doubt the rumor of his arrival preceded him.  Perhaps stories of what he has been teaching lately are also circulating; this could have included the telling of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14.  In any case by the time he arrived in Jericho a substantial crowd had gathered to welcome him.

Recognition and Restoration:  Zacchaeus

A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich….. he was short in stature.
Everybody knew these three things about Zacchaeus. All three were reasons to look down on  him.

Recognition and Restoration:  A Scandalous greeting!

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
Several points:
Zacchaeus was looked down on by everyone, but Jesus looked up to him.  Is this image lost on the gospel writer?
In keeping with the instructions he gave to his disciples when sending them out two by two, Jesus upheld the practice that in any given community, the traveling preacher (in this case, himself) was to accept hospitality from one house, upon which he would offer a blessing of peace.  Thus he is singling out Zacchaeus, of all the householders in this town, to be his host.  This is scandalous to “all who saw it.”  Surely, they must be thinking, there are any number of people more worthy than this to spend time with the Savior?  How can he show such poor judgment?

Recognition and Restoration:  Making things right

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
Here I note the comment from Wesley Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version), Copyright (c) 2009 Abingdon Press, p. 1273:
19:1-10 Zacchaeus intercepts Jesus in Jericho where Zacchaeus is probably well known as the short, rich tax collector (vv. 1-3).  He is looked down upon both literally (as a short man) and metaphorically (as a morally deficient tax collector).  The crowds assume that Zacchaeus is a “sinner” and are offended by Jesus’ interaction with him (v. 7).  Their “grumbling” (v. 7; cf 15:2) offends Zacchaeus, so he  stands up and defends himself (v. 8).  Those who defend themselves stand; those who repent kneel (5:8).  Zacchaeus’ words are not future (“will give” and “will pay”, but present tense (“I give” and “I pay” in Greek (v.8).  Zacchaeus is not laying out a plan for future action, but is presenting  his customary practices of generosity. Jesus vindicates Zacchaeus and rejects the grumbling accusation that Zacchaeus is a sinner.  Jesus insists that “he too is a son of Abraham” (v. 9). Appearances can be deceiving and only God knows the heart.  Wesley notes that “Zaccheus is a proof, that it is possible, by the power of God, for even a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Notes, 19:1)

Recognition and Restoration:  Salvation

 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.
 Abraham’s blessing is from Genesis 12:2:
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
To be a son of Abraham is to be among those who inherit the blessing which blesses others.  That means being included in the community, something that has been denied to him by the grumblers, who may be, more than Zachaeus, “the lost” whom Jesus is seeking.
23
Oct

Two Ways to Pray

Two Ways to Pray

Luke 18:9-14
18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Two Ways to Pray

A Parable: To a particular Audience

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
It isn’t said who in particular these people were, but it could be any of us, including those of us who would be quick to judge (even hold in contempt?) those who hold others in contempt.
This parable involves two people, one a Pharisee and the  other a tax collector.  Interestingly, Jesus is on record as having been invited into the homes of some of each of these sorts.

Two Ways to Pray:  The Pharisee

 The Pharisee, standing by himself,
The Pharisee was content to stand by himself, because he was, after all, self-sufficient. What do we know about the Pharisees?  They were good people, leaders in their communities, self-disciplined, who did their best to study, understand and apply the scriptures, upholders of high standards… We know one of these very well:  the apostle Paul was a Pharisee, having studied the Torah under one of the leading rabbis of his time.  They believed in the resurrection of the dead, and the hope that Messiah was to come and set things right.

Two Ways to Pray:  The Tax Collector

 But the tax collector, standing far off,
What do we know about tax collectors?  Under Roman occupation, it was customary to use local people for this kind of work, people who would, on behalf of the Emperor, collect taxes from their countrymen.  This work was done, as it were, on commission, and it was far from unknown for the person doing this work to collect rather more than the fair share he was assigned, pocketing the difference.  Thus the tax collector was looked upon as a thief, a cheat, and a traitor, all rolled into one.  We get a glimpse of this in the story of Zacchaeus, who told Jesus, “if I have defrauded anyone, I will pay back four times as much”  (Luke 19:8).  As for the other tax collector whose name we know, Levi (aka Matthew, the author of the Gospel that bears his name), there is no evidence of his returning to that profession after Jesus called him. Everybody, essentially, agreed that these people were the worst of scum.

Two Ways to Pray:  What was wrong with this prayer?

‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
He appears thankful, but it’s all about himself. Specifically, it’s about himself as compared with others. This is an easy trap to fall into: to make ourselves better by looking at someone else who is worse.  However:   as Paul points out in Romans 2, there is something in human nature that recognizes faults in others, most easily, when they do exist (albeit sometimes hidden) in ourselves.  Some of us might remember the wisdom of children on the playground:  “it takes one to know one.”  And of course it is particularly his contempt for the thief, the rogue, the adulterer and the tax collector that Jesus is addressing with this story.
Although there is nothing wrong with fasting or paying tithes, these are things that Jesus teaches should not even be mentioned (see Matthew 6:1-18, which lays out in detail the very lessons being taught in this parable).

Two Ways to Pray:  What was wrong (or right) with the other one?

 ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
The tax collector would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but instead beat his breast and called to God for mercy.   He is not making himself out to be more than he is.  He’s making no excuses.

Two Ways to Pray:  Justified

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.
The general application (“all“) tells us that we are included.  We never get so good that we can afford to think of ourselves as superior. All goodness comes from God, and is an expression of mercy.
16
Oct

The New Covenant

God promises to write his law on our hearts.

09
Oct

Gratitude

The ten were cleansed, but one was made whole. Wholeness happens in the presence of praise, where not only the body but the mind and spirit are healed. Those with praise on their lips from a full heart have a gift from God that they are ready to give to someone else who needs it. Seeing him equipped with this gift, which he calls “your faith,” Jesus sends him on his way.

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