Good Shepherd Lutheran church

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Family devotional time

As discussed on Thursday, there's a good chance that you're not as good at this as you want to be. 

Sure, you have in mind the same thing that the rest of us do, which is to have a pious family, raised right, with a full knowledge of scripture on their minds and hearts, but the world seems to get in the way, right? In all the hustle and bustle, with everything else that needs to happen, the world tends to get in the way of what we want to do.  The issue of family devotional time tends to fall apart on two key issues:

1 - No time

2 - I wouldn't even know where to start / I don't know enough myself.

Great, let's solve both those problems one after another.

First of all the time concern.  Yes, this means that you're not always going to get to do a full sort of devotion, because it takes time.  By its very nature.  A lot of things that you do with your family take time, and a great many of them you've become adept at doing quickly if you have to.  If it's already past bedtime, it's going to be a quick snack, not a full on cereal festival.  If you've only got five minutes before the bus shows up, then brushing the teeth won't take as long as it would otherwise; you may not be as thorough as you'd like.  But the point is, that if something's important, then you find a way to fit it in where you have time.  If it isn't then you find things to fill up that time instead.

For most of us, we're often running short on time, but because devotional time isn't something that we actually make into a routine, then it becomes the first thing to go.  If you can trim back anywhere, then that's where you can trim back.  And if your family is anything like mine, then if you don't make something into a routine, into a priority, if you don't set time aside for it, then it isn't going to happen.  There are enough demands on our time to ensure that.

So wat do?  Set aside that time.  When?  Well, there are a great many other things that we do with our evenings that we have to do, and that we find time for.  In our house, supper is really the beginning of this, where we sit down for supper together, and then after that, the boys go and play, we do something together as a family for a while, and then we move on to the bedtime routine.  Bath, snack, brushing teeth, storytime, and lights out.  In there, in that brief moment of time, there is time for devotion as a thing that you do.  If you have it as part of the routine, then there's a good chance that amongst the stories, you'll find time and space to engage in some time of prayer and stories.  This doesn't mean that you'll always have time to do it well, but like many of us have found with saying grace, if we forget that part of the routine, there's a good chance our children will remind us.

Problem number two.  Where to start?  Good question.  It's a very good question.  How can we start to teach our children about this stuff when we don't know much ourselves!  Well, something you need to know, which you've learned by raising your children so far, is that your parents didn't know what they were doing either.  They certainly seemed to know what they were doing all the time, Father always seemed to know best, Mother had it all together, and yet we feel as though we're imposters these days when we raise our children.  And this knowledge (or lack thereof) spills over to matters spiritual as well!  There's a real good possibility that we don't know more than our parents did at our age.  And if they knew more than we did, that's all the more reason to get started now. 

If you have a kid's Bible (like this one), they're usually a good starting point to get your kids familiar
with the stories, and also for you to get familiar with the stories too!  If they're not stories that you know, that's okay, because your kids will enjoy just getting familiar with the characters, with the stories, and with what it says about God. Possibly one of the most important things you get out of family devotional time is that you see in the Bible stories a story of how God relates to families.  You see God dealing with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, their children, the family of Israel right the way down through the ages, and when Jesus was born, he was born into a family himself! 

So as you read the story, whichever one you choose, think about how God relates to the families of earth, and how he is still speaking to your family today.  After the story, (or instead of the story, if you're running late), it's always good to ask your kids who they'd like to pray for tonight.  They're going to ask to pray for you, for their friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles, whoever is feeling sick, or not too well, that kind of thing.  If they can't think of anyone, then I'm reasonably certain that you can think of someone who needs your prayers. If you're comfortable praying off the cuff, please do so!  If not, then there's a good chance that you grew up with a bedtime prayer yourself.  If not that either, then there are multitude of apps and websites that can provide.  I would suggest some, but I don't want to colour things for your family.

Now, this is perhaps the most neglected yet most important part for you as a parent.  This is a time of growth for you spiritually too!  If you're reading through the Bible story, and it's one you don't know well or don't remember, then take a few moment to look it up!  Read it for yourself, and learn as your children learn, and grow as they grow.  As you do, take a few minutes to thank God for your family, to pray for your children and your spouse, and to talk to God about what is going on in your life as well.  We don't want to be like the blind leading the blind, and having them both fall into a pit!  The conventional wisdom on airplanes is to make sure that your own mask is secure before assisting someone else.  If you're planning on leading devotional time with your children, then it's always a good idea to start a devotion of your own as well.  Nothing too taxing, but the best place to start is with the grown up version of the story you just read with your own children.  Then ask yourself, as you may do, what is it that God is trying to say?  Let the words of Samuel, the child from the books of Samuel, be your words:

Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

Letting your children, or your parents, or your spouse or your pastor know that you're praying for them is good, and is more glue to help bind your family together.  And as always, if there's anything that you don't know, or don't understand, or don't feel comfortable talking about, that's okay!  Everyone would much rather you started, without having it all figured out, than never got going.  And feel free to let your kids explore what they like in the scriptures, let them dictate what they want to read, which stories they like to hear, who they want to pray for, and be prepared for them to come up with the same things over and over again, and that's a good thing.  Children like what they like, and want to hear what they want to hear.

Any more questions, don't hestitate to let me know.  That's what I'm here fore.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Revelation, part 4

The fourth part of our Revelation Bible Study will be happening tonight (Feb 26th) at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at 7:00.  If you can't make it, or if you just want to check out the study notes in advance, please help yourself to the study notes on Revelation 5-7.

Here's the study.  Enjoy

Friday, February 13, 2015

Revelation, part 3

Something that I thought would be rather fun would be to put together a handout for the Bible Studies that I've been working on.  Something I don't necessarily care for is when printed material gets distributed, and people just read directly from it for the entire course of the Bible Study.  So, I didn't do that, and instead we spent the time in the study itself going over Revelation 2-3.  However, after sending the attendees home with the material, I thought to myself, maybe the rest of the congregation would be interested in the historical background, and some light tidbits about the book of Revelation.  So, if you're interested, here's the printed material that I gave to everyone who was at the Bible study on Thursday.  If you were interested, or if it was useful, let me know, and it'll help me to decide if this is something I want to keep doing.


Friday, February 28, 2014

The case for Christ, part Two

In a sense, it's all about eyewitness testimony.

You see, we have a nasty habit of reading the present into the past.  We have a nasty habit of reading the present into the past, and seeing things that happened thousands of years ago as though the people who were there were just like us.  You and I, we have a bunch of digital cameras around us all the time.  From where I'm sitting in my office, I have 3 in arm's reach (laptop, 3ds, cell phone).  If I want to take a picture of something, I'm seconds away from doing so.  If something essential happens, if there's a big to-do, I can capture it in still or in video, upload it instantly, and get it out there.  As a result, in this world, if I make an elaborate claim, people can bust my chops by essentially saying that old classic 'pics or it didn't happen!'

Yes yes.  There are no pictures in the Bible, no cameras, no magic, none of that, and so we approach the presence of Christ with a large dose of skepticism.  We look at the word of the Bible, and say to ourselves 'well, this was all written by largely illiterate fishermen and tentmakers, so how reliable can it possibly be?'  Without corroborating media, and given the distance between the events and their recording, how reliable can they possibly be?

This is where our understanding of oral traditions has to kick itself into high gear.  And this is helpful for us as Canadians, becasue we have a built-in knowledge of oral traditions, or at least we should.  In an age of quick video, and instant messaging, in an age in which we have access to media as soon as it has happened, this country and this society has had a real, legitimate issue with oral history and tradition before.

You see, our great nation has had a great many and various number of first nations groups who have laid claim to land, who have brought forward suit, and who have not had anything like what we would consider to be 'evidence' to back it up.  So, no evidence, no case, right?  Welllllllllll, not exactly.  As of late, the people who have only an oral history have actually had said evidence heard in court as admissible in court.  That is, the good people of our first nations, who told stories, danced dances, sang songs, and didn't have what we would call a written history, can have their oral histories and traditions heard as admissible in a court of law in this great nation.

What does this mean for us?  It means that perhaps oral tradition is more important than we thought it may have been to begin with. It means that we can get a lot done with our oral tradition that can stand up to rigorous scrutiny, provided that it is a matter of public record well known by the people who use it.  And this is the thing.  The case cited involves stories, songs, and dances that had been used for thousands of years.  The gap in the Biblical record, from when stuff happened to when it was written down, was about twenty years, at the smallest.

You and I , as I say, we have a deep desire to read the present into the past, to see  people, texts, events, as though it was us looking at it, and saying to ourselves, 'gosh, I sure wouldn't trust this at all.'  But we can't, and we ought not.  Or to put it another way, we know that Jesus is the most important guy who has ever lived ever, but of those living at the time, only the Christians worked out that he was.  Nobody else paid much attention to this itinerant street preacher, save those who were internalizing his message.  And with that being the case, Jesus remains shockingly well known amongst those who were in the world at the time.  If you compare him with others who were around at the time, comprable  people who had their names known through oral tradition and history, you'd find that very few of those still remain.  With Jesus, there are more copies, earlier manuscripts, and a greater depth of knowledge than the overwhelmingly vast majority of othe people who lived at the time.

It's really interesting, actually, once you start getting into it.  And when you do get into it, the entire history of the scriptures opens up and blossoms in front of you.  You see the copies and evidence of sources.  You see the way in which the scriptures were written down for you, and you see the fingerprints of the eyewitnesses all over their stories.  In other words, the deeper into this you get, the more interesting it becomes, and the less you can dismiss it by just saying 'oh, well, that's unreliable.'

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Case for Christ - Part One

Okay, here's a link to the video, since I can't seem to imbed it here.  How frustrating.  I will keep working on it.

We'll be looking at this video on Thursday, but before we do that, here are some questions to ask, or to mull over as you watch the video.

The big question, and the one that hangs over any conversation about the Scriptures, and about Jesus, is really, how do we know anything?  Although this seems like a simple question on the surface, it's actually much harder than it appears.  The thing is, our entire lives are spent standing on the shoulders of giants.  If you listen to the woman who says, early on in the video "I don't believe in God, first of all, because I grew up in an age of science," that sort of says it all.  The thing about the scientific method is that it is a force to be reckoned with, surely.  But it depends on repetition, on observation, and that's much more difficult to do with an event that happened once and once only.  This is what happens with history, in that history and science don't occupy the same camp.

Another guy who speaks at the beginning (0:15) asks of Jesus to show up at his work with the Stigmata, then he'd believe it.  Counter that with the man who says about ten seconds later that he doesn't believe that coming back from the dead is really possible.  How are those two statements held in tension with the story of Lazarus and Dives from Luke's gospel?

When Lee Strobel says, at 2:00, if Jesus existed, which he's not sure about, he was a great teacher and a nice guy, but certainly wasn't the Messiah, and certainly wasn't the Son of God.  The nature of this statement is worth considering as people who are working through the Scriptures, since we will encounter people quite frequently who will approach the story of Jesus with a lack of certainty about even his existence, but with 100% certainty about his lack of divinity.  Contrast this with the attitude of the man from Mark 9:23-25. This is a man who was certain about the existence of Jesus, yet who realized that he needed help in his faith.

At about 3:20, when Lee takes the course from Hybels, he mentions that he was going into the church with a lot of misconceptions about the Christian faith, what it is, and what it does.  Given that he wasn't familiar with the Bible at all, where was he getting these misconceptions from?

At 4:45, when the man talks about the distance between the events and their recording, compare that with the distance between when Hannibal was crossing the alps on elephants, and when historians wrote the details of his conquests down.  Hannibal lived from 247-183 BC.  The historians who wrote his life down lived between the following years:

Polybius (200-118BC)
Livy (59BC - AD17)
Appian (AD95-AD165).

Of the three, only one (Polybius) was even alive for the life of Hannibal, yet these details are considered to be essentially correct in their makeup.  I know this is going to come up in the book / video series again, but it's worth knowing that the Gospels were not unusual in what they had to say and do.  The distance between the life of Christ and the writing of the Gospels is not strange, nor should it be considered to be a mark against the Gospels that their writings came out not so much the next day, but within a human lifetime.

Okay, that's a good start.  Enjoy your refresher on this stuff, and we'll talk more about it on Thursday.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

The middle class

Tonight, we spoke at semi-great length about the middle class, and about middle class Christianity.  The main issue for us was, and is, that we tend, above anything else, to make God in our own image.  That is, we tend to have a God who fits us, rather than seeing his words as required for us to fit.  Now, this is an enormous problem for pretty much everyone ever, prince to pauper, and Jesus is just malleable enough for us to make him fit us all.  Take, for example the following people

There is essentially no shortage of this, and this is essentially the default Christian perspective too.  I hate to be this guy, but it is.  What we have gone to great lengths to do is to have Jesus agree with us by whatever means necessary.  He is seen by us as someone who will by definition almost always agree with us and where we are.  But then who is Jesus anyway?

This is the last and greatest form of idolatry that exists in the world today, in that it takes God and empties him until he resembles an idol.  Do you find it strange that Jesus Christ would be seen by Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Richard Dawkins, Adolf Hitler and you as agreeing with them?  Can he agree with all of you at the same time?

No.  No he can't.  He obviously can't.  He can't hold those four positions in tension, agreeing with the man who sought genocide, the man who seeks genocide, the atheist who doesn't think he exists as God, and you.  Impossible.  But what people have confused, where they have gone off track, is where they assume that Jesus' unconditional love also equals unconditional agreement.  And only one of those things is true.

Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, they love everyone.  They absolutely do.  They have a love for all their children, not based on what they do, but based on their love for their children. If you have children of your own, or have been a child, then you'll know that it is perfectly possible for you to have parents who love you, though they disagree with the many and various decisions you've made.  It doesn't mean they don't love you, but it does mean that they may find their love for you wrestling with their disagreements with what you do.  This is key for understanding who Jesus is and what he does.  

Think of the rich young ruler.  When he approaches Jesus and asks 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' he does so intending to be justified by Jesus before any actual tips.  Although Jesus is going to have some pretty tough stuff to say to him, the account of the encounter in Mark's gospel has an interesting detail.

'Teacher,' he declared, 'all these I have kept since I was a boy.'
Jesus looked at him, and loved him.

Jesus looks at him and loves him. He then commands him to go and sell all he has, and give it to the poor.  Do you see what's happening here?  It's not that Jesus doesn't love this guy (he clearly does, and
the Bible says he does), but his love does not equal agreement with the man in question.  The guy doesn't get a pass on his actions just because Jesus loves him.  Jesus loves him and then commands him to feed the poor.  Jesus loves him, and then tells him that nothing that he ever does is enough to earn his salvation.

And this is where we in the middle class are as relates to Jesus Christ.  We tend to get very smug, and we tend to inquire of Jesus what we must do to inherit eternal life, expecting him to say only what we're already doing.  And Jesus looks at us, and loves us.  And then he tells us that he has given us blessings to be a blessing to others.  He hits us where it hurts, and for us, it's usually in our comfort.  For Ahmedinejad, it would be in the turning of the other cheek, for Dawkins, it would be in the humility and the faithlesness, and for us, it would be in the comfortable middle-classness.  He is many and varied, that Jesus Christ, and he can and does hit us where it hurts.  He is ever loving, ever forgiving, ever present and ever full of passion for his people.  

But he is not ever condoning.  If you read through the Bible, and can only see where Jesus agrees with you, then read it again.  He looks at you and loves you, but he wants to forgive you of all your nonsense, of which there is plenty.  Recognizing that is key to understanding the work that Jesus does, to forgive not only the stuff you do, but to deal with all the stuff you don't do. To deal with the fact that you are not in line with what he says about the kingdom of God.  

And now you know.  And knowing is half the battle.  And the other half is grace.  


Saturday, April 27, 2013


My big question is; what is worship? For some it is a specific time, a specific place and following a specific pattern. For others, it is the entirety of life, everything that a person does can be considered worship. As we were discussing it, the general consensus was that anything which glorifies God is worship.

If we have such a simplistic idea of what worship is, then why does worship become such a hot-button topic?

Within Christianity, Protestantism, Lutheranism, LC-C Lutheranism, heck even within Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, there is a great divide over what worship should look like. Our biggest concern is about what we want, not necessarily a concern for why we do what we do.

What if we did make the why our starting point? What would be the answer to the question “Why do we worship God?”

My favourite answer to that question was “Because he said so.” Mostly because that is so often our default answer to any why question is because I/he/she/you said so! We accept whatever it is without argument and it becomes canon law.

In this case we can dig a little deeper and look at what God actually says about worship.

Specifically I would like to look at what he commands us concerning worship.

It goes beyond just you shall not worship any other gods, which I know is the commandment you thought of first, because it’s also the commandment that I thought of first too! But we can see how all of the first three commandments really deal with how we worship God. Beyond just not worshiping other gods, we’re reminded that in the first commandment we are called to fear, love and trust Him. Worshiping God includes all of these elements, not just avoiding other gods. It includes the way we treat Him in our everyday lives, the way we keep from using His name in an inappropriate manner and instead we “call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.” We worship God through the respect we have for the Sabbath day; the fact that we want to take the opportunity gladly hear and learn from God’s word.

These three commandments really do make up the core of what worship is. When God commanded us to do these things, he did so knowing that it was in our best interest to worship Him, and Him only. These commandments point us towards a knowledge of his greatness and our weakness; they remind us of the power held in his name. When we gather together in worship, often we do so without remembering God at all. We do the same thing we’ve done every Sunday, sit in the same spot, speak the same words, make the same confession, but we do without remembering why we were commanded to do so. We don’t think of the fact that we desire to hear His teachings, that we have the opportunity to give thanks and praise Him, but we worship out of obligation, because He said so.

One of my favourite worship songs is by Matt Redman, and it’s called “The Heart of Worship.” I like it because it speaks to me about this very same issue. It reminds us that at the core of our worship, we need to ensure that everything is about Christ. This goes beyond us confessing faith in Jesus and instead involves us actually believing that and putting it into play. When we worship, we need to take ourselves out of our comfort zone and worship God without concern over what we’re getting. We will be receiving infinitely more than we could ever possibly bring, but we aren’t there to worship ourselves. We are there to be humbled and to be reminded of the sacrifice that Christ made in order to provide us with all that we have, all that we are, and all that we will ever receive. When we worship, we worship God, knowing that it's not about us anymore, it's about what we've been through Christ.