02.24.20 – 03.01.20

Readings

Luke 4:1-13 (Children’s Scripture)  •  Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7  •  Psalm 32  •  Romans 5:12-19  •  Matthew 6

Context

Psalm 32 (Responsive Reading)

This is the first week of Lent, the beginning of our approach to a recognition of the cross and empty grave – it is the beginning of our official preparation, through repentance and discipline, to take our own journey to further grasp and celebrate the truth of God’s love and sacrifice for us.  This Psalm addresses the essential nature of, and relief in, the personal act of repentance.  Just prior to the start of Jesus ministry, the people were physically in preparation for the coming Messiah as John called for them to ‘repent’, to gain a ‘new perspective’, a calling that Jesus continued as he stepped out of the desert following his time in the wilderness.

Genesis 22:15-17, 3:1-7

There are many ‘why?’ questions we surely want to ask when we read these verses.  Why did God place a tree in the garden on which held the forbidden fruit. Why was a serpent talking? Why did the serpent want Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? Why did she eat it? Why did Adam not stop her? Why did Adam eat it?  WHY?!?  Good question…. Some answer by saying that God put the tree there for the same reason he gave humans the ability to make our own choices.  Others label Eve, and therefore all women, as being the cause of evil in the garden and in all of humanity because Eve ate first.  There are many answers proposed, some given as fact when they may not be, others answers proposed that seem very viable. First, the serpent is never labeled as being Satan or a fallen angel, he is called the  ‘most crafty’ of the animals but he does use the same tactics we see Satan use in the Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness – a tactic of using the truth to deceive.  Second, Adam was standing right beside Eve during the entire engagement with the serpent – Eve was no more guilty than was Adam – they both made their own choice. While this passage is replete with ‘why’ questions, it is also full of opportunity to think about, and to seek truth, about God and ourselves. 

Romans 5:12-19

This section of Paul’s letter to the Romans is an explanation of the events of our Genesis passage for this week – the introduction of sin as compared with the work of Jesus.  While the ‘man’, Adam and Eve, gave sin and death the power over man when they chose to disobey God – Jesus gives us the opportunity to return to life through reconciliation with God.  Paul explains that sin was in total control until, through Moses, God gave the law – the explanation and boundaries of ‘how to live in freedom (with a choice)’.  This opportunity of grace through Jesus is a gift bonding all believers regardless of labels and other distinctions.

Matthew 6

As Jesus comes near to the end of his first official message to his followers, he turns the conversation in a more personal and intimate direction. No longer is the main emphasis on what is seen but is now directed at what is inside of us, what motivates us, our central core.  In this section, Jesus addresses the practice of our faith and the true motivation that leads us to these practices.

Luke 4:1-13

Following the baptism of Jesus, we see that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for a time of fasting and prayer.  This time was a time of preparation for what was immediately ahead as well as the entirety of his journey.  This section of Luke details the experience of Jesus as he completed the fasting and prayer for an equally intense and exhausting time of temptation, face to face with Satan.  As he entered this time, Jesus was understandably famished and exhausted, it was Satan’s most preferred time to confront and tempt people – Satan felt sure that it was the perfect time to tempt Jesus.  The three temptations all included truth used in a deceptive way – each attempt failed.  As Jesus resists all three of the Satan’s maneuvers, the passage tells us that Satan left for a more opportune time, a time when Jesus may be even more exhausted and famished.

02.17.20 to 02.26.20

Readings

Exodus 24:12-18  •  Psalm 2 and Psalm 99  •  2 Peter 1:16-21  •  Matthew 5:43-48

Context

Exodus 24:12-18

On the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom they witnessed God deliver them from slavery and then crush their pursuing enemies under the weight of the Red Sea; experienced their first overt celebration of thanks in, and for, God’s gift of freedom; they literally tasted of God’s provisions and went to battle against the brutal Amalekites and won in a manner that could only be attributed to God.  It had been quite a journey, quite an experience.  After all of this, in chapter 19 of Exodus, we see the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai where they are going to learn how to live with each other and with God.  God had prepared them for the journey (see chapters 11 &12), he had used the journey to prepare them for this moment. It is here that God’s covenant with the people is explained and established.  Moses verbally explains the commandments from God to the people , and then God calls Moses alone to come further up towards God where he will receive the tablets with the commandments written on them along with more extensive instructions regarding worship. Moses enters a cloud for a holy moment with God, a moment that last forty days. To the people below the mountain, the cloud looked like a roaring fire, but inside the cloud, Moses experienced this holy prolonged moment with God.  Don’t forget that later, near the end of this holy moment, the Israelites became impatient and returned to the Gods they had known in their Egyptian slavery.  Note: think about the comparison of this holy moment between God, Moses and the commandments  with the experience of the Jesus with his followers as he refers them to reconsider their depth of understanding of the same commandments God gave to Moses (Matthew 5-8).

Psalm 2 and Psalm 99 (Responsive Reading)

Both of these Psalms speak of human Kings and leaders, good and bad – and very bad (‘conspire against’ God), who either lead pointing to God or lead pointing to themself.  In the end, the Psalmist reminds those who follow, or are somehow subject to these leaders, to always find refuge in God and not any human human ruler or leader (including those who present in a religious manner).

2 Peter 1:16-2

The book of second Peter is taking the congregation back to their core and basic beliefs as a reminder and the anchor of truth.  False teachers/prophets have entered the church and taught  that since Jesus has not yet returned – the prophesy of his return must be incorrect – casting doubt on Jesus himself.  Their reasoning follows that they need to disregard the calls to follow God.  Basically, they are attempting to rewrite the truth in a manner that changes the facts and history – a rewrite that matches the false prophets’ agendas and plans.  Peter begins this letter by reminding the church of the first hand testimony they have heard and received, testimony that qualifies Jesus as the Messiah. The testimony of the experience of Peter, John, and James as they witnessed Moses, Elijah, and God proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior (the transfiguration).  This first hand testimony is also a repudiation of the teachings of the false prophets.

Matthew 5:43-48

As Christ preached his foundational sermon to his hodgepodge group of followers we have seen him challenge their understanding of being blessed, assure them that he did not come to abolish the law but instead to fulfill it, and raise the bar, and calling, of the law.  He has taken the basics of being a good person and the ways in which we measure ‘goodness’ and ‘rightness’ and moved it to a much less measurable factor that looks at what is inside us, what is our center, our core.  As he continues in our passage this week he has the audacity of saying that we need to be perfect, and that we should never settle for anything less.

02.10.20 to 02.16.20

Readings

Deuteronomy 30:15-20  •  Psalm 119:1-8  •  1 Corinthians 3:1-9  •  Matthew 5:21-37

Context

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

The book of Deuteronomy is considered to be one of the most influential books of the Old Testament.  Christ quotes from Deuteronomy when refuting Satan during the temptation and then, again, he uses Deuteronomy when citing the greatest commandment (love the Lord your God).  The book is basically a reminder of what took place in the history of the Israelites as seen in the book of Exodus along with a reminder of the Law that had been given to the Israelites.  In our passage for this week, the people, after hearing these historical reminders, are reminded of the choice that faces them – Obey and Love God or Do Not Obey – along with the blessings or destruction that follows each choice.

Psalm 119:1-8 (Responsive Reading)

The eight verses from the very long Psalm 119 must sound very familiar when compared to the nine verses that make up the ‘blesseds’ we recently saw in Jesus address to the very hodgepodge crowd in Matthew 5.  The term ‘blessed’ (or as we have also seen it interpreted – ‘enviable’) can be swapped for the word ‘happy’ making this an even more poignant comparison.  Poignant, especially when we remember that the ‘blessed’ point to states of being that are not that ‘happiness’ inducing – words such as poor, mourn, hunger and thirst, meek, etc.  We also must remember our look last week at Psalm 112 which delayed the ‘blessings’ or ‘happiness’ from the actions of one to their descendants instead.  The truth is that, just as we are seeing in the sermon that Jesus gives in Matthew 5-7, the call of Christ is not a call that appeals to our self-centeredness.  It is a call that, instead, is the core of our being.  It is call to a life that has Christ at the center of our life and so the result (the salt and light) that comes forth is as much, or more, for others than ourselves.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The church at Corinth is still divided and self centered – now, the apostle Paul, is pointing out their immaturity.  The immaturity is actually a key as to why they (individually and personally) are such a mess, they have quit trying to mature in their lives and in their faith.  The faith that they hold to it totally dependent on the person(s) that first told and taught them about Jesus. They heard, followed, and quit trying.  What they learned and knew from that person, in the beginning of their faith, is what they still are.  They have taken no responsibility for their faith and are still allowing one person(s) to determine what they believe and how it applies. This is a far too familiar element of stuckness in Christians, we live our faith on the coattails of another rather than permitting God to let us constantly and consistently see and hear all that he want to tell and show us.

Matthew 5:21-37

As Jesus is speaking to the hodgepodge group of followers, some who are merely considering following Jesus and others full followers, he has been teaching them how to live, how to think, and how to have a core, a center, that is founded on God. A core that is seen through us as salt, light, and a relentlessly visible city.  Jesus has done this by challenging the way they think about blessings as well as what it means to be a blessing.  In our passage this week, as Jesus continues with his sermon on the ‘mount’, we see him began to expand that challenge to raise the bar on how we live, how we worship, and how we relate to others.  He takes the bar set by the law and raises it to a higher level, a level that is a major challenge (some would say an impossibility) to all his listeners on that hillside.

If you have not been with us at Grace Fellowship on the Sundays of February 2 and/or February 9 (2020) you will find the messages videos below that cover Matthew 5:1-20.

02.03.20 – 02.09.20

Readings

Isaiah 58:1-12  •  Psalm 112  •  1 Corinthians 2  •  Matthew 5:13-20

Context

Isaiah 58:1-12

Isaiah 56-66 is often referred to as ‘Third Isaiah’ as it focuses on the Israelites as they return to the promised land following the exile.  The first section is basically the rebuke and warnings to the Israelites, the second emphasizes the work of God and his work through the surrounding the nations. In our Isaiah 58 reading, in the third section of Isaiah, we see the prophet explaining the futility of heartless religious actions.  The people are understandably confused as they see a practice of ‘fasting’ as being a holy undertaking but Isaiah calls them to a ‘life fast’. This fast is a change of perspective, attitude and, especially, the way they live and interact with others.  It is a call to show their reverence in the practice of their life.

Psalm 112 (Responsive Reading)

Psalm 112 seems to be a companion to the previous Psalm 111.  The earlier Psalm focuses on the actions of God while the later Psalm’s focus is on us.  Both of these Psalms are (in their original language) acrostic poems, each containing twenty-two lines – each line beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Psalm 112 can also be seen as a companion to the ‘blesseds’ taught by Jesus in Matthew 5.  Also, in Matthew 5 we saw that all but two of the ‘blessed’ contained ‘will’ happens (ie. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted) in Psalm 112 we see the results of acting as God leads having a result on their (our) descendants.  Basically, Psalm 112 is a call to act like God, it is another reminder of God’s new/old baseline. It is a baseline that leads us to the promise of peace in our lives regardless of our situations or circumstances (for a refresher, or first look, at the Matthew 5/Micah 6:8 new/old baseline go to https://vimeo.com/388950378).  The Psalm ends in verse 10 with an address about the wicked.  Although this verse gives a honest warning about those who may oppose the follower of God it also gives a comforting message about their eventual, and minimal, impact.  It is also important to note how little space is given to the wicked as opposed to the teachings to/for the follower of God.

1 Corinthians 2

The church at Corinth was divided in almost every way possible, but, in chapter two, the apostle Paul addresses a division that seems to be at the core of their divisive state of being.  Paul begins by reminding the church that, he himself, had stuck to the foundational teaching that Christ was crucified for all of them and that they all needed Christ to be crucified for each of them.  The greek grammar used actually says that Christ was, and is, crucified. This means that Christ sacrificed to achieve what no one at the church in Corinth could achieve but also, his sacrifice continued to be a work on, and in, each of those who were a part of the church.  He is telling them that they are all the same and each came to Christ with the same need that they were unable to fill (Salvation).  Then, Paul begins to address the core problem at the church which was a spiritual and theological arrogance.  There were those who were ‘spiritual elitists’, they felt that they knew more about God and that they had a stronger connection with God.  This led to arrogant attitudes of superiority, condemnation, and judgement for the elitists and to an insecurity and shame on the part of everyone else.  Paul gives the church, all of the church, an introductory lesson on the basics of wisdom and the true source of wisdom (as opposed to human arrogance). Much of the other divisiveness at the church at Corinth grew out of this idea that there were those in the church that were superior and that the remainder were inferior.  This also often led to a frequent blanket acceptance of the teachings and statements of the elitists by those who lived with this insecurity.

Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus continues his sermon, following the ‘blesseds’ by addressing the mundane acts of life and living. Previously, we saw the necessity of recognizing our own inability to be, and to become, saved apart from God,  Jesus now begins by comparing us to salt, cities and light.  Salt that gets its taste from God, cities built up by God, and light which has its source in God.  Following this, Jesus, make a definitive statement that he did not come to abolish God’s baseline that has been established since before time and communicated throughout time.  The baseline, which we often refer to as ‘the Law’, tells us how to live and relate to God, his creation, and to others. Jesus says that not only did he not come to abolish the law but actually he came to fulfill the law.  The impossibility of living out the law in our human state is part of the ‘poor in spirit’ definition; that inability leads us to a dependency on and in God. To continue with this statement of ‘fulfilling the law’, in our reading next week, we will hear Jesus proclaim that the Law is actually not strong enough, he will take and the define the law with an even greater set of boundaries.

01.27.20 to 02.02.20

Readings

Micah 6:1-8  •  Psalm 15  •  1 Corinthians 1:18-31  •  Matthew 5:1-12

Context

Micah 6:1-8

Micah is a prophet speaking largely to the area of Samaria (Northern Kingdom) shortly before it falls to the Assyrians (the conquering of the Southern Kingdom, Judah which includes Jerusalem, will fall to the Babylonians next).  Micah’s message accompanies the messages of Isaiah and Jeremiah and shares the same themes. The message of Micah alternates between judgement and hope, condemnation and correction.  The mode of the message is one of a courtroom where God is the prosecutor presenting the case against the people.  In chapter six, God confronts the case of the people who are making a claim of mistreatment by an unjust and unmerciful God.  God responds (rhetorically and somewhat sarcastically) by asking if it was the fact that he rescued them from slavery in Egypt or that he shielded them from the curse of Balak and Balaam (see Numbers 22) that offends them.  God then explains to the people that he is not looking for the religiosity or sacrifices that their false gods demand – practices and sacrifices that include sacrificing their children.  God, instead, calls on the people to change the way they look at life and how they live life.  In verse  eight God sets a new (and old) base line for the people, a base line that calls on the people to act in a way that is just, kind, and humble (three very competing human emotions and characteristics). Funny (?) Note:At the Fellowship Center, where Grace Fellowship currently meets, in the men’s bathroom, you will find this verse (Micah 6:8) hanging over the urinal…In the women’s bathroom, you will find a much different statement hanging over the sink. Draw your own conclusions about the meaning of this…..and please be careful sneaking a peak this Sunday.

Psalm 15 (Responsive Reading)

Psalm 15 could easily have been a question and answer session between faithful Jews and the priests who met them at the temple.  The question asked was ‘Who may abide in God’s tent?’  The use of the word ‘tent’ here instead of the word ‘temple’ is a question put into figurative words as they were referring to the time before there was a brick and mortar temple and instead they had a tent.  What they were basically asking, and how the question would be asked by us, is “How can I be right enough to live and walk in God’s presence?” The answer is interesting in what is says but even more intriguing by what is not said.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

As we have seen, the church at Corinth was greatly divided on many issues, life status, backgrounds and culture, values and beliefs, and even in their experience of arriving at a believing faith in Jesus Christ.  In this passage, the apostle Paul brings the believers back to their core belief, the truth that brought them to an understanding and commitment to the faith.  Paul reminds the believers at Corinth that at their core they shared the most important, and unifying, factor of life and faith – Jesus.

Matthew 5:1-12

To understand the context of this passage we must first look at the final three verses from the previous chapter.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Matthew 4:23-25

Jesus, from the beginning of his ministry and fame, was ministering to all people – at the beginning, he started at a geographical location that was filled with all kinds of people.  He was not just speaking to the Jews or just to the gentiles, he was speaking to and healing everyone. He was not just speaking and ministering to the well or the sick but to all, not just to the affluent or the poor but to everyone. This is the audience that we see in Matthew 5 when gave his most known and recognizable sermon.  We see this sermon continue through three chapters in the book of Matthew but it all begins with these twelve radical, and surely odd and controversial, statements.  In these verses, Jesus sets the bar for us to strive for and, while doing that, he establishes a context for us to better understand and interpret everything he says and does from this point forward.

01.20.20 – 01.26.20

Copy of Copy of UntitledWeek of 01.20.20 – 01.26.20

Readings

Isaiah 9:1-4  •  Psalm 27:1, 4-9  •  1 Corinthians 1:10-18  •  Matthew 4:12-23

Context

Isaiah 9:1-4

As we move back in the book of Isaiah, before the exile has happened, we return to the initial calls from Isaiah on the people to return to God.  In the previous chapter (chapter eight) Isaiah has outlined the consequences of the people’s choice to turn from God if they do not turn back to him. This passage focuses in on the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali in the Northern Kingdom Israel.  These two tribes are in a horrible location in regard to surrounding countries who aim to conquer and control them. The members of these two tribes have also made themself very vulnerable to, and comfortable with, the different, non-Jewish religions and religious customs/practices of the people in these other countries (as well as those who have immigrated in from these countries).  Isaiah uses the understanding of darkness and light to illustrate to the people that they have chosen to live apart from God, and therefore are living in darkness. The people had become so accustom to their darkness that did not even realize their state of life.  Isaiah tells the people that the light (revelation and epiphany) are available to them if they will turn back to God.  Centuries later this is the geographical area that Jesus goes to following his time in the wilderness and temptation.

Psalm 27:1-9 (Responsive Reading)

Psalm  27 is a cry for help.  The Psalmist begins with three words that would have been familiar to those hearing this Psalm.  Light was a constant cry from the people who were often recognizing that they were living in the midst of darkness, oppression and hopelessness.  This darkness was due to their own deeds and/or the actions of others.  Salvation is a term that had been used since Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt and Stronghold was a military word used to describe peace and security.  The Psalmist is calling out for hope in a time of darkness and hopelessness.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

As we have seen, the church at Corinth, is a mess.  Almost as soon as Paul left (after having stayed with them for around eighteen months) the church begins  listening to false teachers and, at the same time, splitting up amongst themselves.  Every human reason for division is evident in the church at Corinth.  In this passage Paul is confronting their divisions based on which apostle, or teacher, they follow – here are even divisions based on which Christian leader baptized them.  Paul points out the futility in such allegiances and, instead, reminds the church that their unity is based on the cross which was for them all, regardless of resume or past.  Paul points to the temporal nature of the divisions and the eternal reason for cross.

Matthew 4:12-23

Following Jesus’ baptism he withdrew to the desert where he spent a consecrated time in fasting and prayer followed by an even more consecrated time in direct and brutal temptation.  After this intense time he returned from the desert and received the news that John the Baptizer had been arrested and was facing probable death.  The people had become very familiar with oppression by the Romans and the subsequent darkness – now Jesus was experiencing this darkness in a very real, personal, and painful way.  In response to the imprisonment of John, Jesus withdrew to the area called Gallilee (his home region which was formerly known as tribal areas of the Zebulun and Naphtali – see our Isaiah primer for this week).  From there, Jesus picks up John’s message of “Repent” as he begins to organize his own followers.  Among these followers we see Andrew and Peter who had already engaged with Jesus as their former rabbi (John) had pointed them to the Messiah following the baptism (see John 1:29-42 from last week).  They were already truth seekers and in the Matthew passage we see that they had come to the decision to fully follow Jesus. Jesus also calls two other brothers, James and John, to be disciples.  This passage marks the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.

01.13.20 – 01.19.20

Readings

Isaiah 49:1-7  •  Psalm 40:1-11  •  1 Corinthians 1:1-9  •  John 1:29-42

Primer

Isaiah 49:1-7

As we witnessed last week in Isaiah’s prophecies, Isaiah is addressing a people who have been completely traumatized and placed into their new reality.  While they had ignored God’s instruction through his prophets for decades, now they are experiencing the fruit of their choice to ignore truth.  They have not yet turned back to God, and they are still listening to the false prophets, regardless, God is getting them ready for deliverance.  Jeremiah and Isaiah both, at this point, are speaking of the hope that lies ahead….even before the people have turned back to God.  In this passage, Isaiah is speaking to the work, and nature, of the unknown person(s) who will deliver the people out of exile and slavery.  He is also giving us a view of what is to come in regard to the Israelites. The call is for all the Israelites to come back together and that they will be a light and strength to all the world.  This is a theme of the ultimate deliverer of whom the prophesy speaks – the deliverer Jesus Christ.  Truth, unity, and light.

Psalm 40:1-11 (Responsive Reading)

Psalm is a familiar tale of our response to God’s working in our life.  The Psalm recounts the Psalmist’ detailing of a time that they called out to God and saw his answer.  It then goes to season of gratitude followed by a natural response of sharing God’s deliverance.  This response of gratitude and sharing is a natural response that ties into the response of the first disciples called by Jesus.  They could not help but go and tell others about what (who) they had found – the one they had been looking for. Then, in an equally very real human nature response, the writer begins another plea calling out to, and for, God’s steadfast love and mercy.  It is a tale of the enormity of our human response to the God who is present and hears our cries.

I Corinthians 1:1-9

The church at Corinth was established by the apostle Paul around fifty years after the birth of Christ. We have two, of the probable four letters, in our Bible that Paul wrote to the Corinthians following his eighteen month stay.  Corinth was a very important city to the Romans for economic as well as military reasons. The greek word ‘Korinthiazomai’ which means ‘to act like a Corinthian’, came to be known as ‘to practice fornication’ a reputation that fit the city well with its greek temple housing one thousand prostitutes.  The church is made up of Jews and Gentiles fully representative of the overall population of the city. Not long after Paul left the city he began hearing troubling news from, and about, the church (the people) at Corinth.  He heard of divisions, immorality, and false theology.  The letters to Corinth all come out of a deep concern for the church and a desire to correct, and then encourage, the body of believers.

John 1:29-42

The verses leading up to our gospel focus passage are powerful and enormous in their reach and message.  The book begins at creation and by verse nineteen we see John the baptizer already preparing the people for the ministry, work, and revelation of Jesus Christ.  We also see that it takes only those eighteen prior verses to bring up the problems Jesus will face.  The religious officials send some of their key people to question John about what he is doing and why he gathering the large crowds.  John point the religious leaders to his role as preparer for the Messiah and that it is Jesus, who had already been baptized by John, that is the truth they are looking for.  Soon we see John pointing his own disciples to follow Jesus.  This passage details the decision to follow Jesus and the immediate impact on each of them.