Glory Coming Home [SSL116]

Welcome to another Wednesday audio delivery of Spark My Muse. This is Soul School Lesson 116 [SSL116]

Find all the EXTRAS for this episode HERE.
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CORRECTION: The audio contains a mistake.
The Holy Spirit (God within) was given to the disciples Jesus at Pentecost during the Festival of Weeks. It happens exactly 7 weeks after Passover.  It refers to the harvesting of grain. First, the come the harvest of barley and in the final seventh-week, comes the harvest of the first wheat.
Also it celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
(The Jewish Feast of the First Fruits happened fifty days after the Feast of the Weeks. The Feast of the First Fruits was a first-harvest celebration day when grapes (and probably other fruit) were enjoyed.)

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Safely Home

If you’re here as a new visitor from the Midday Connection blog, or elsewhere…welcome! I update 3-4 times per week, and some great things are in store. Please poke around and enjoy. If you want to, leave a comment, or use the contact form (lower black tab reading: “contact me”) to connect. I’m really glad you’re here.

For all of my regular readers, thank you for making it a joy to have a blog. I appreciate you.

Today’s Reflection: Safely Home

I’m preparing for a season of preparation. Strange, huh? I’ll explain.

Many Christians across the world observe the “Christian calendar” which begins at Advent, about four weeks before December 25th. (In 2012 it starts December 2.) Advent is a pre-Christmas time marked not buy consumption, decorating, cooking, and the usual things that busy us in the time before Christmas day.

Instead, it’s marked by a time of special spiritual awareness. Themes of waiting, longing, and  anticipation are the focus as we await the coming celebration of Light coming into the darkness: Jesus come to earth as a fragile baby.

But, it’s more then just a spiritual pre-season observance of an event in Christian history, it’s a recognition of a present reality that God has made a way safely home, to him.

The Incarnation is the coming of Immanuel (a Hebrew word meaning: God-with-us). It goes beyond the life, ministry, and death of Jesus of Nazareth as well…to the startling promise of God’s ever-abidding Holy Spirit that resides in us.

This is how God dwells among us, in the core of you and me. We are surrounded by his presence.

You are already home.

With God taking up residence within you, you are the home of God.

(He’s not sitting far off on a bright fancy, throne nestled in a cloud as  Michelangelo would paint it, or as Deists may believe. Remember some Theology 101: God is spirit and has no physical body.)

So, during this season, before the holidays kick into hectic full-swing, be mindful and awed by the Goodness and provision of God. Be aware in your body and mind that house the Spirit of God. A gift of unimaginable worth.

Make ready the manger of your heart for a fresh and rich ongoing awareness of God’s love, grace, and presence that will culminate in the joyful celebration of the arrival of God-in-flesh.

If you would like to continue learning about these seasonal themes and enrich your Autumn and early Winter season, keeping visiting. I’ll focus some of my posts on these themes, sometimes with reflections, scriptures, prayers, and such. This time also (soon) includes the 2nd annual Advent Project which is an effort create a space and format for giving and goodwill in the areas of art and other creative expressions.

So, now, it’s your turn…

What touched you about what you read today?

Do you currently observe a season of Advent each year? If yes, in what ways does it have most meaning for you?

photo source 

Review of “The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us” in the Resonate Series

This is my official *review of The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us
(The 2nd Book in the Resonate Series, bMatt Woodley • Foreword by Leonard Sweet • Afterword by Skye Jethani)

More than Your Usual Commentary

First, my Confession.
My confession is this: I was raised to think, you open your Bible and the Holy Spirit tells you what it means. End of story. Consequently, I rarely used a commentary until I went to seminary, where I used them routinely.

Immediately, I realized how much added insight was missing from my study of the Bible. I found that reading the thoughts of men and women who had devoted many years of concentrated examination of Scripture was like having a spiritual big brother or sister showing me the ropes. Invaluable.

The Holy Spirit
I wondered too if my view of the Holy Spirit had been shallow or incomplete. Hum…I thought…If the Holy Spirit simply plugs truth from the Bible into our brains and hearts, you’d think disagreements about Scripture would be few and far between. But, if Protestants know how to do anything, it’s splitting off from others because “the Holy Spirit” has told them other stuff from the Bible.

So, maybe the Holy Spirit’s role isn’t that simple or clear cut as we may first assume. Maybe the Holy Spirit tells us about God’s nature more than it exegetes hermeneutic in concrete terms inside our heads. Maybe the Holy Spirit is alive, well, and active in and through the brothers and sisters who write these carefully created analysis, too. Maybe it’s a bit like a joining forces kind of thing.

I sincerely wish everyone who reads the Bible would use various commentaries along the way, as tools, to better grasp the whole council of God. God has given people great scholarly and spiritual capacities to shed more light on the things in the Bible–and we are blessed to share in these gifts. It’s worth the time to get some help this way.

Not Your Typical Commentary

Now to the review:

If you aren’t used to reading bible commentaries (and you might realize that some are extremely dry and academic, using lots of Greek and Hebrew to explain things, as if you are already adept at these dead languages), then I highly recommend this new Resonate Series from Likewise, at IVP. They published one of the Gospel of John. This one on Matthew is the 2nd. More are coming.

I got a copy of IVP’s Matthew commentary from the publisher, and the more I read, the more it had an impact on me. The power of Matthew’s gospel is amazing, and this commentary takes Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection seriously. The gospel is cogent, and we find this out directly.

As you might expect, this particular book is helpful resource for pastors, teachers, spiritual leaders, and lovers of the Word who need a thorough synopsis. Yet, Matt Woodley also points out some concepts overlooked in some commentaries and typical sermons, and keeps our present cultural context in mind–which is sometimes nonexistent in typical commentaries. However, there is something about this book that will serve a different purpose, and do so quite powerfully. More on that a little later.

The author maps out the territory of Matthew’s gospel, in normal language, for one to get a lay of the land, or survey the crucial themes. You’ll find vignettes of pertinent personal stories, and the this gospel is covered in sections and main points. The style is very pastoral, like a casual but deep, personal interaction. (Don’t expect a commentary in the vein of D.A. Carson,  Craig L. Blomberg, or Craig S. Keener, and the like. Some of these commentaries, while very helpful, go verse by verse and are chiefly informative.) This commentary has a personal touch. There is narrative finesse.

Yes, pastors can quickly mine it for some perfunctory and fresh teaching ideas, but Woodley whets the reader’s appetite to dig further into the Word and the amazing mystery of an active and loving God who came to be with us.

The Best Kept Secret about this book…

Now I have to tell you what I wish the book would be used for most…I don’t think the publishers really had this in mind, exactly…or they probably wouldn’t have categorized it as a commentary in the first place. I think the book is a bit mis-categorized…but then again, they tell you it’s usually right up front. So, whatever.

The surprise ending is this: It would be best used in one-to-one and small group discipling, for developing spirit-filled, potential leaders, and those hungry for more of God and his Word. It’s written in a way that begs for an intimate and richer discussion, not just a proclamation from the front of the building. This book has discipleship written all over it.

My background is Spiritual Formation. I’ve focused on the whys and hows and history of spiritual growth in Christians throughout the history of the Church. I’ve spent plenty of time answering the question: “What makes Christ-like followers?”. So, I couldn’t help see this work as an excellent resource for inciting spiritual growth on a personal level. I’d like to see it used for this over being used as a tool for sermon preparation. Sorry IVP. That’s just how I see it.

If you want to take this sort of thing on in your life, get this book right away. It’s the perfect fit. Find a peer, a friend, a hungry seeker or Christian, or a mentor, and work through this book together, with the Bible in hand. It’s a down-to-earth examination that many will find helpful.

Here’s some added book info:
The Facebook Page for this series will help you keep track of this whole series of commentaries as the project unfolds, and give you an insider scoop for other stuff, including interaction with the authors and editors. Also, searching for the Twitter hashtag #resonateseries will locate other reviews and related material. I think the blog tour runs all month, if I remember correctly.

*Obligatory Disclaimer (to satisfy the FCC). I received a free copy of this book from IVP to review it on my blog, which is probably pretty darn obvious by now. An honest review (not a positive one) was the only essential. So that what ya’ll got.

RELATED: Here’s a previous post I wrote about how to study the Bible, and what people usually get wrong. I think you’ll like it.