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HOW DO YOU STUDY THE BIBLE?

One of the questions that people have is how do you study the Bible?  People say I read something in the Bible and I don’t understand it, what am I supposed to do?  I could write a whole book on this, and many people have, but for the purposes of this article I am just sticking to the simple basics.  So bare bones, to answer those questions we have to understand what the Bible is.  It is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.  Yes men wrote it in their own particular style using words that were familiar to them, but it was God who directed them what to write.  So when you are reading the Bible you are reading the very words of God himself.  It is also a book written over a particular time period, in a particular culture, in languages that are different from English.  Now, in light of that, let’s look at the question.

The first thing you should do when you approach a particular section of Scripture is to read the chapters around it.  I think all of you have heard me say repeatedly, context, context, context!  If you just read the section without reading what is around it you can begin to cherry pick Scripture.  You can in other words make it say what you want it to say.  You need to first understand the context of the section, what was said before and after.  The next thing you need to do is realize the text was not written in 21st century America.  The culture from 1500 B.C. to 100 A.D. in the Middle East was very different than what it is in the United States today.  Yes men have always been sinful, they have had the same problems but the way they thought about life and understood things was different.  You need to be careful to not superimpose 21st century thinking on the text.  Therefore in studying Scripture you need to understand the culture of the time it was written in. 

The next thing you need to do is cross-reference.  Find other verses in the Bible that talk about the same thing you are reading in your particular section.  If it is talking about forgiveness read what other parts of Scripture say about forgiveness as well.  This will help with your understanding, particularly if the section you have before you is difficult to understand, there may be clearer passages about that same issue somewhere else. 

The next thing is look at the study notes in the Bible; this is a very good reason to invest in The Lutheran Study Bible.  It is also wise to invest in a good commentary, notice I said good.  There are a lot of bad commentaries out there.  Many of our members have already bought commentaries in the Concordia Series or the People’s Commentaries.  The Concordia Series is expensive so you might want to think about the People’s first.  You can buy all these through Concordia Publishing House or www.cph.org  

There are a few things you want to avoid.  Do not use a paraphrase of the Bible like the CEV to do Bible study.  I would also avoid the KJV because it is too hard to understand for modern readers and is not that good of a translation, you can send the hate mail to this email.  Actually please do not send hate mail to my email. 

The biggest mistake in Bible study is putting your own interpretation on a section of Scripture without considering the culture and language differences.  The worst question ever asked in a Bible study, whether it be a personal one or in a group, is what do you feel this passage means?  It doesn’t matter what you feel the passage means, what matters is what the passage actually does mean.  After you have determined that, then you ask how do I feel about what that means.  How does that impact my life?  Hopefully the above guidance will help you avoid the pitfalls and enable you to understand the Bible better. 

- Pastor Fred

May Message

The band R.E.M. in their song “It’s The End of the World” sang, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.  It’s the end of the world as we know it.  It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”  Darla and I have been feeling that song big time lately.  Charlie and Jasmine were confirmed in the Lutheran faith last Sunday and in a just a few more weeks they will graduate from 8th grade and will be entering high school.  Now they are talking about when they can get their driver’s licenses!  I remember them at 4 days old and now they are 14!  Sometimes I have to tell myself breathe deeply it is the not the end of the world, but it certainly is the end of the world as we know it.  A new chapter in life will be starting soon.  Like the song though we are fine, we are embracing the changes as we remember their childhood years. 

We all go through periods of life when big changes bring the end of the world as we know it.  Those are critical moments in our lives that can bring either heartache or a new challenge.  Heartache happens when we can’t deal with the fact that the world as we know it has ended.  The result of this is that we never move forward we just grieve for the ways things used to be.  We may even try to bring the past back in some way.  The prospect of a new challenge happens when we retain fond memories of the past but look forward to the new world that is coming and the opportunities it is going to bring.  We deal with these end of the world as know it scenarios as our children grow older, as they move away and get married, or maybe as we get older and face retirement, we lose a spouse or a job, or a close friend, or we move to another part of the country, or world.  We can go through it when things in the church change and new ideas are introduced and maybe old traditions that have lost their meaning are slowly let go. 

The question is always how do we react when the world as we know it ends and a new one begins?  I would love it if my children never grew up and moved away.  I would like to come home every night and find my kids doing their homework, or spend the next 30 years going to their baseball, basketball, soccer games and track meets.  That is not going to happen though, they are going to grow up.  I will always have fond memories of the adventures that they took us on and the laughter and joy that they brought to our lives as children but I will also embrace the adventures, sorrows, joys and laughter of their older years.  It is the same with the church, we remember what used to be fondly but we also realize that change is going to happen and we look forward to the opportunities that they bring.  Chapter three of the book of Ecclesiastes puts it best, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted, a time to kill and a time to heal.  A time to break down and a time to build up, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”

Seasons and times change, that is one of two things that never change, the other one is Jesus Christ who always stays the same.  So there are two constants in life, change and Jesus.  Everything will always change but Jesus who never does, will be with us through it all.  It is the end of the world as we know it and you can feel fine with Jesus.

Pastor Fred

SPRING HAS ARRIVED!

Spring has arrived and none too soon.  For those of us with kids in school that means that basketball season has ended and track and field and baseball season are about to begin.  The first few meets and games in April are usually freezing cold and we spend all our time in coats and hooded sweatshirts jumping up and down to stay warm.  The last few meets and games in May we are roasting and looking for the sunscreen.  As I write this we are also in Lent.  Lent is a time of darkness and pondering over our sins, looking for some light to dawn.  Lent reminds me of my least favorite season, winter.  Oh how I hate winter.  I want to be like a bear in winter and hibernate.  I just want the whole thing to go away; cold temperatures, and dark cloudy days with no sun.  I think God created winter for one reason, to remind us how great summer is.  Most people think of hell being hot, I think of it as never ending winter.  During January and February I just suck it up and get through the days, praying please let this end.  And then March comes and there is hope, even though it is still dark and cold, spring is coming! 

Lent is kind of like that.  Lent brings us those harsh texts that are pure law.  As I told the congregation before the sermon on March 24th, this sermon is rated TNG, a sermon based on a test with no gospel.  For those of you who were there, you know what I am talking about, that “gospel” text was all law, all damming.  I had to bring the Gospel in from other places.  Lent does that to us, it hits us over the head, telling us we are sinners.  Like winter it is unrelenting and depressing.  It is also necessary, we need to hear that we are sinners, we need that 2 by 4 of the law to the side of the head to wake us up to our situation, but we hate it.  Lent is also like spring.  It promises us something better is coming, that winter is ending, that an answer for our sins is coming!  It promises us Easter! 

Easter is coming!  Easter brings us the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.  It promises us our own resurrection from the winter and more importantly death.  So get your sunscreen ready, brighter days are ahead!  Spring is here!

Pastor Fred

DON’T GIVE UP SOMETHING, LET SOMETHING GO!

God told Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”  If Pharaoh had known what was good for him he would have done it after God asked the first time.  Free labor though is hard to turn down; you can become addicted to that.  If the Israelites left who was going to do all the work?  The Egyptians had become accustomed to a life of ease; did God really expect them to do all the work themselves?  The problem was keeping the Israelites would mean enduring God’s displeasure.  The longer he kept them the more plagues God sent.  Pharaoh had to make a decision; would he keep his workforce and his life of ease and endure God’s punishments, or would he let them go and have to change his lifestyle?  We all know what decision he made, a bad one, not only did he lose his workforce but he lost his life and the lives of everyone in his army.  All he had to do with let the Israelites go.

What are some things in your life that you need to let go?  What changes would letting them go mean?  How disruptive would that be to your lifestyle?  What good would come out of letting them go?  Sometimes we hang on to things simply because we are used to them, they bring us comfort.  I would challenge you to let something go this Lent that yes may bring you comfort but in the long run brings you harm.  I have resolved to let Diet Pepsi go this Lent.  I am not letting caffeine go mind you, just Diet Pepsi.  There are many health benefits to coffee but none for Diet Pepsi.  My goal is that at the end of Lent I will no longer miss it.  So I am not trying to just give it up for Lent but give it up permanently.  I love Diet Pepsi, I enjoy it, I find comfort in it, but in the long run it is not healthy and not good for me, so it is time to let it go.  There are a number of other unhealthy things I could give up too, but one thing at a time. So what are you going to give up?  It can be something big or it can be something small, the important thing is that giving it up is good for you.  Your life will be better by being rid of it, much like Pharaoh’s life would have been better without the Israelites in it.  So what is it going to be?

Pastor Fred

REALLY PHIL!

Phil, we do not believe you!  Yes the groundhog said that there will not be six more weeks of winter the other day.  We are not buying it.  We have been misled before by you Phil.  I am thinking that Phil may be of more use in a groundhog stew then in foretelling the end of winter.  I guess maybe he thought after the week’s subzero freezing weather that we all needed some hope.  He was right about that, just not right about what mattered. Hope is important, in fact it is very hard to live without out.  If there is no hope what’s the point?  When I am charting on a patient I have visited at the hospital, one of the boxes that is there for me to check is, “Gave the patient hope.”  I always pause at that one and think to myself, “Did I?”  More importantly what does that mean?  For many of the patients there is no hope of living; they are going to die.  So do I pull a Phil and give them false hope?  Do I say something like, well medical science has its limits and God is going to heal you?  Can God heal them, yes, but will he?  I don’t see that promised anywhere in Scripture.  We all hear of the miracles but the fact is the vast majority of the time when the doctors get to the point that they definitely say someone is going to die, they die.  How do you give anyone hope in the face of that?  Again I think it comes back to what do we mean by hope?

Paul tells in 1 Corinthians 15 that real hope is found in the resurrection.  He very pointedly says that without it we have no hope.  Here is the exact quote, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  At the hospital dealing with patients who are not my members I am limited in what I can talk about with them.  I am not allowed to proselytize, so if the person is not a Christian the resurrection is off the table.  Usually with that person I talk about their family and maybe I can have a prayer with them, where I do mention Jesus, but as far as hope that is about it.  My hope in visiting them is that they might start thinking about God and their relationship with him, that they might start asking some questions.  My ultimate goal is that they feel better after I left than they did before, but sometimes I feel like Phil, yes they feel better but are they?  I look at the box, “Gave the patient hope”, and I am still not sure if I should check it or not. When I run across Christian patients in the hospital I do get to share that hope, and check that box, and that is a great joy.  The fact is without Jesus and the resurrection there is no real hope in this life or the next.  Phil is not a source of hope, but Jesus is.  In him we know that this world is not the end, that there is more to come in heaven that is something we can really put our hope in. 

Pastor Fred

January Message

Over the Christmas break I began to sort through my mom’s old recipe boxes.  My mom developed many of her own recipes, but also clipped some from magazines and wrote down ones that she had received from friends.  My mom, unlike me, had very good handwriting and wrote everything in cursive.  Many of the recipes came with a story of how she got it and it was kind of like reading through a diary.  In the midst of clippings and recipe cards, I ran across letters from people.  These letters would contain a recipe but also talk about how that person’s family was doing and ask about our family.  I recognized the names; some of them were extended family, some were friends but they all brought back memories.  Most of the people like my mom are now gone, but they live on through their food.  I cooked German pancakes over break using my mom’s recipe.  I remember eating them as a kid and was happy that my kids loved them as well.  When I shared that over Facebook, many of my family members began to share stories about how they all loved the recipe and how they had added stuff to it through the years.  We all connected again through food. 

As we look back over the past year we all no doubt have many good memories but also many bad memories.  2018 was a year of loss for me. My mother and her best friend, who was like a second mother to me, passed away both at the age of 89.  They are buried within 20 yards of each other in Missoula, Montana.  I struggle with their loss, I miss them.  They were great cooks. Whenever I eat spaghetti or any type of pasta I think of my red haired Italian friend Gracie and whenever I eat German pancakes or Finnish pasties I think of my mom.  It was also a year of good memories, our family had a great vacation out west this summer.  We had some adventures as a family doing things with relatives that we will never forget.  2018 is now behind us, it is just a memory.  It is a memory that we keep in our hearts though.  It is a memory that helps us as we move forward into 2019. 

We need to take the good and leave the bad from 2018 and move into the future.  We don’t know what the future holds but we do know who holds the future.  The people from our memories are now with Jesus in his kingdom.  We also are with Jesus in the here and now in a different way.  While we remember the past we cannot become a prisoner of it.  Life is lived looking forward not backward.  Therefore we take the things that we have learned, the recipes, the experiences and we add to them.  We improve the recipes, we make new ones.  We make memories for the generations that follow to look back on.  What are they going to remember about us, what are they going to learn from us, how are they going to improve on what we accomplish for Christ?  There is a time for reading history, and having memories and there is a time for creating history and making memories.  We look forward to 2019 as a year in the Lord where he continues to provide us with his grace and forgiveness and everything else we need for this life.  In that knowledge we in the words of Paul rejoice in the Lord.

Pastor Fred

For December

Santa Claus is coming to town.  He knows whether you have been naughty or nice so be good for goodness sake.  We know these words well, we all grew up with them and they are still heard on the radio every year at this time.  Everyone is excited about Santa coming but if you look at the words also a little fearful.  What if you weren’t nice enough?  What if you are on the naughty list this year?  Are you going to get a lump of coal in your stocking?  For the most part with Santa, if you are naughty, you will not receive anything for Christmas from him.  You don’t have to worry that Santa might take you out while you sleep, or instead of coming down your chimney, set your house on fire.  We hope he comes and if he does we greet him with milk and cookies, but if he doesn’t you can always use that lump of coal for barbecuing.  

Jesus is also coming to town this Christmas, actually this Advent and Christmas.  A lot more is at stake with Jesus though.  He also knows whether you have been naughty or nice and if you are on the naughty list when he comes for the second time, being taken out or having your house burned down is the least of your worries.  The season of Advent prepares us for Christmas and beyond.  The first Sunday reminds us that Jesus is coming back a second time sometime in the future; we wait for that with great anticipation.  The second and third Sunday reminds us that Jesus has come to preach and proclaim the kingdom of God and also comes to us every day in our lives now.  The fourth Sunday prepares us for his first coming as a baby at Christmas. 

When it comes to naughty or nice we know what group we fall into there, the naughty group, the sinful group, the group deserving the fiery lump of coal.  And yet we can wait for our Lord with confidence and peace because, unlike Santa Claus, Jesus gives gifts to those on the naughty list.  In fact it is the naughty that he has come to save for himself.  See Jesus didn’t come for the nice people, no on the cross Jesus died for all the naughty boys and girls in the world, instead of a lump of coal they get forgiveness and eternal life.  The naughty or nice list has been replaced by the unforgiven or forgiven list.  Through your faith in Christ you are on the forgiven list.  So Merry Christmas, Jesus is coming to town!

Pastor Fred

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