Friday, September 30, 2011

Cart Your Cross

Exodus 37-38

Wherever they went the Israelites carried the various articles of the tabernacle with them.  They carried the tent and all the furniture and utensils that were used to Worship God with them.  They carried the ark of the covenant with them wherever the LORD led them.  Pack and unpack.  Set up and tear them down again.  For years the Israelites did this.  And... God was with them.  He spoke to Moses in that tent and Moses relayed what the LORD said to the people.

Years ago, I was serving as a missionary to remote areas of Upper Michigan where there was no or very little church presence.  I led Bible studies at 3 different sites and led Worship at up to 6 sites any given week.  The worship sites included a state park, house church, an historic Lutheran church, an historic Episcopal church, a community center, and a youth correctional facility.  The area I covered was about 45 miles north and south and 20 miles east and west.  Yes, it was what would be considered in today's world - wilderness.  I carted everything needed for worship between sites.  Packing and unpacking - setting up and tearing down - the same stuff over and over again. We had one of those big gold crosses for the altar, which was included in the stuff I needed to carry with me from worship site to worship site.  On one Ash Wednesday afternoon as I was rushing between Worship sites about 25 miles apart when I panicked thinking that I had left the altar cross at the last site.  So driving down the road while reaching in the back seat to see if I could feel it back there someplace, I heard myself say:  "I am so sick and tired of having to carry this cross with me all the time."  Fortunately, I said it out loud so that the impact of what I had said hit me full on.  What about the cross that Jesus bore for me?  And... this little cross was a bother to me?  If I couldn't carry this little altar cross, what kind of cross was I really willing to carry?  As a reminder to myself of my own hard heartedness and of what Jesus was willing to do for me, throughout that Lent I carried that cross on the seat next to me; not just between worship sites, but every day, every where I went.  While driving from place to place, that cross would remind me of my weakness, of my sin, and I would talk hold of it, confessing my sins and thanking God for the cross he bore for me.  For I know full well the cross I have been called to carry is nothing compared to the one he bore for me.  And I cannot even carry that one without the help of God.  

May God help each of us to take up our cross to follow him through whatever wilderness he would lead us.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gifts for the Glory of God

Exodus 36

Can you imagine?  "The people brought so much they were constrained from bringing for what they had brought was more than enough to do all the work." (vs 7 NRSV) 

But, it's not just things that people are offering.  Everyone to whom the LORD has given skill use the skills they've been given to do all they can to build up the sanctuary, to do God's will.  Even as sometimes (very rare occasions) the church may have to say enough - we have enough offerings for a particular fund; the church sometimes tells the people, without even realizing they are doing it, enough we don't need your skills, we don't have use for the talents that God has given us through you.  It is a sad thing when we do this for it stunts the growth of the congregation, the community of saints.  If God gives someone a gift, God intends for it to be used.  It's been my vision for the congregation I serve to see as many (all) of the gifts of the people used.  I believe that if we allowed this to happen instead of finding reasons why so and so shouldn't take on this or that effort, the church would grow both spiritually and physically.  Doing this sometimes temporarily takes more time and energy on my (our) part to see it through.  But, the benefits to all of God's children are worth it.

A couple examples of allowing others to use their gifts to serve from my own congregation: 
     Our Sunday School children help lead every last Sunday of the month at one of our services.  They take up the offering, do the readings, sometimes they might do a skit for the sermon, they pray at Worship, a confirmand assists with Holy Communion and another assists the altar guild and they love it.  We do not relegate our children to just helping up at our annual clean-up (picking up garbage or raking), although they do help; we allow them to serve in areas that they really want to serve in.  We train them for service in many areas.  They also participate in a can drive led by one of our adult members.  The proceeds are donated as gifts to other children in the community through the Marine Corps League Toys 4 Tots campaign. 
     This same adult leader organizes an annual Toys 4 Tots Concert, with proceeds once again going to provide for local children's Christmas gifts.  I am available, but not active in organizing either of these latter ventures, except donate cans, show up and pray.  The pastor really doesn't have to mirco-manage everything!  On October 23rd we will gather together as 10 different musical groups from all over the area will bring their gifts of songs and music, as the children bring the gifts collected through the can drive to the Marines present, and many members and visitors will bring their offerings of toys, placing them on the altar to celebrate the gifts given by and for all God's children - to celebrate and thank God for the children He has given us to care for. 
     These are just a few of the many ways that the congregation that I serve have empowered others to use the gifts that God has given to each of us to serve God and God's people.
     As pastors and church councils throughout the world, I think sometimes it is too easy to say no to the gifts of others because frankly we're afraid it might be too much work for ourselves.  God gives each of us gifts to be given for the growth and edification of the church on earth and in heaven.  Do not hinder others.  Let us use all of those gifts now to the glory of God.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Giving Freely

Exodus 35

Wow!  So many free-will offerings:  gold, silver, bronze, fine linenes, yarns of blue, purple, crimson, goats, hair, rams skins, fine leather, acacia wood, oil for the lams, spices, onyx stones, other gems and so much more... All as gifts for the glory of God, to do the work that God had commanded them to do...  All gifts from men and women whose hearts made them willing to do the work of the LORD.

This chapter stands out for me just a little this morning.  I was at the church office yesterday morning and saw our offerings for this last Sunday.  Attendance had been up a little.  But the offering was not quite as impressive as the offerings of the Israelites.  In fact, it caused me to wonder where we could cut back on the LORD's work.  We are going to have to begin planning for next year's budget.  What will we cut?  Should evangelism be cut?  How about gifts to various missions?  Should we cut out the LORD's work all together?  Will we still be a church if we only exist for ourselves and not to proclaim the Good News to those outside the church?  We can't make cuts out of Sunday School.  We're using free downloadable material from another congregation that has made that available - thanks be to God for their gifts for the LORD's work.  Nothing to cut in education.  It has been cut. There is nothing there. 

The reality is that there is no place to cut in our budget.  Everything there is necessary to do the LORD's work, His will.  May God grant us willing hearts to do his will, to give freely so that His work might be done through us.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For Generations

Exodus 34

In spite of Israel's apostasy, God is willing to renew the covenant.  He is willing as He said to be merciful and to forgive.  How often we have heard the words from this lesson:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  (vs 6 - NRSV)

We've heard them, but do we always believe them for everyone other than ourselves?

The scripture tells us that He will forgive our inquity, yet at the same time He will by no means clear the guilty but visit the iniquity of the parents upon the children.  As we read this it can seem so harsh.  I have had some very long conversations about this with every confirmation class I've ever led.   Think about this:  What happens to the children when a parent or other adult they are close to lives a particular lifestyle?  What happens when they do not worship the LORD, but go chasing after other gods - gods like money, fame, prestige, etc?  What happens when parents twist the Christian faith around mixing other religions into it as they attempt make God more into a god that they can live comfortably with?  The children are taught what their parents believe, of course.  The children learn a false religion and they learn to worship false gods - idols.  They do not attend Worship for they can worship on the golf course or in the shopping mall.  They do not read scripture because they are more pleased with self-help books.  Self-help books, after all, tell us how inside of us all is goodness and the power to control our own destiny. Hogwash!  Here is our destiny:  we shall all die.  We will all be returned to the ground from which we are made.  Can any self-help book help us with that?  I dare say not...  There is only one who can defeat death (and has defeated it) and that is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  This Jesus lives.  He died for you and He lives for you and because he does, so shall all who believe in Him.  If we believe this, why would we teach our children otherwise?  Why would we fail to teach them the truth?  Why would we teach them to follow after other gods?  This is an inquity of parents that will be passed down to their children.  Who will suffer the consequences for our false teachings, for our apostasy, for our false gods?

But, for those who would turn to the LORD and cast away all their idols, the LORD will keep steadfast love for the thousandth generation. (vs 6)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Show Me Your Ways

Genesis 33

God's apparently still not happy with the people for building that golden calf.  But, because they are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he will fulfill his promise to them and give to their children the land flowing with milk and honey. However, God will not go with them for they are a stiff-necked people and His presence might consume them.  But, Moses implores him to go with them.  How will we know your ways, he asks?  How indeed will the Israelites know the way to the promised land if the LORD is not with them? 

How indeed will we know the way?  Jesus told his disciples:  "I am the way, the truth and the life."  (John 14:6)  Their is only one way to the promised land.  If we're not to get lost on the way then we need to follow Jesus.  That path, just as the path that God led the Israelites through the wilderness on, is not an easy one.  It is filled with times of both trial and temptation.  But, God is with you on that journey.  No, you will not see his face, but his glory is before you.  His glory is seen in the cross for as he bore our sins in humiliation on the cross he triumphed over sin, death, and the power of all evil for you.  What a paradox!  As he humbled himself, willingly succumbing to death for us, he was lifted up on that cross to the glory of God.

I love the "I Am's" found in the book of John.  They are a reminder to me that Jesus is telling us that he and the Father are one.  Did not the LORD tell Moses earlier in our studies that his name is:  "I am who I am"?  There is only one God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There is only one way to find our way through the wilderness of this world to the land promised to us by our Father, and that is by following the Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.    

So, I got a little side-tracked this mornng... that is not that unusual.  No matter where I find myself, it seems I always want to wander to Jesus.  May your journey through the wilderness be led by the light of God, who is Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

There Is Only One God

Genesis 32

Golden calves - something I have preached about extensively.  How often I have  preached about false gods; yet, it seems sometimes like it falls on deaf ears.  Just recently delivered from slavery by God and the people are busy creating their own - another god.  Moses is up on the mountain.  They can't see him.  They want a god they can see.  So in Moses' absence with the help of Aaron, the people build themselves a false god.  Had they looked to Moses as their god?  Had they been worshipping their leader Moses all along?  Moses is not their god.  He is only an instrument God uses to save the decendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. 

Interesting verse I hadn't noticed before:  The LORD tells Moses, "Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation." (vs. 10, NRSV) Does Moses say "Yes! God is going to destroy those who do not know him and make ME a great nation!"  No, he doesn't.  Moses reminds God of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  Moses does not succumb to the temptation to put himself before the people.  Moses will not make of himself, his own false god.  He is a servant.  He is not a god.

I'm thinking about how often people will attend a congregation or special services because they are enamored by the pastor.  Sometimes when a new pastor comes, their ministry is sabotaged by the people comparing him/her to the last pastor.  Or maybe they just leave the church because this new pastor is not quite as charismatic or friendly or charming as the last.  Remember, what a poor speaker Moses was?  Why did the people follow him out of Egypt anyway?  Was it because of the miracles they saw or was it a mob effect that caused them to travel out into the dessert?  Then once Moses was out of their site, they were looking to make themselves a god they could worship.  Really, deep down, had these Israelites been worshipping Moses all along?  Did they really ever have a clue who God really was?

The fact remains is that we are not so unlike those Israelites.  We need to be careful that the shepherd whom God has appointed to care for the flock has not been exalted to the point of being a false god.  We need to be careful that we haven't lifted ourselves up to the point of being our own gods.    There is only one God and we are not Him!

Note:  Sorry - just can't cover everything in this brief blog.  Last chapter - Moses received the 10 commandements on the tablet.  This chapter he broke them in anger. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sabbath Rest

Genesis 31

Today is the Sabbath, it is Saturday.  I am working.  I have a funeral, a wedding (and the sermons to write for them), a Sunday School program to review, and a newsletter to be sent out via email.  I will be working tomorrow as well as most of the coming week.  So far my calendar for next Friday is clear.  But, there are enough days in between for stuff to come up to fill that day up as well.  The harder I try to find time for Sabbath rest, the more that rest seems to elude me.  It has been 21 days since I had most of the day off (only worked 2 hours that day) and that included 5 days of bed rest by a doctor which were not taken.  I know the consequences of it - the consequences to both my physical and spiritual health. Been there, done that, and if I don't figure out how to change my schedule quickly...  This lesson, it seems, I do not learn very well.  I know it, but just seem to be unable to follow through.

God warns us strongly to observe the Sabbath, yet we do not listen and we do suffer the consequences of not entering into His rest.  In fact, God warns us, that if we do not keep the Sabbath, we shall die.  It is uncanny that when I end up going on streaks like this without Sabbath rest, I wake up every morning acutely aware of how short life is.  I end up acutely aware of death.

May God help each of us to observe a day of rest each week - to allow us to more fully enter into his presence - that the weary might find rest.    


Friday, September 23, 2011

Lift up prayers

Exodus 30

Offerings of incense twice a day (morning and evening) and a half shekel at registration to the  Lord...  There's some pretty interesting perpetual ordinances that are found in the old testament.  The question arises:  What does this mean for us today?

As I think of the offering of incense I am reminded of Psalm 141:2 (NIV)  "May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice."  Incensing at both morning and evening prayers is still done at many orthodox churches.  What a reminder not to neglect coming into the presence of God with our prayers.  Knowing that as we pray, God is with us and hears.  It is a reminder to us all not to neglect either our own personal morning and evening time with the Lord in prayer.

May God help us to be more faithful in our prayer lives so that we can more fully realize his presence in our lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ordained Priests

Exodus 29

Lot's of stuff in here about consecration and ordination.  A very interesting difference exists between the ordination of priests of those first priests and the priests or pastors of today.  Hands were layed on the sacrifice, the bull and the rams, not on the priest.  The priest got sprinkled with the blood of the ram and ate the consecrated flesh of the ram and the bread in the basket at the entrace of the tent of the meeting.  According to the reading "They themselves shall eat the food by which atonement is made, to ordain and consecrate them, but no one else shall eat of them, because they are holy." (Exodus 29:33 NRSV)

Today, the food by which atonement has been made; the bread of life, which is the body of our Lord and Savior is available not just for those who hold the office of priest or pastor, but for all God's people, for all members of the priesthood of believers. (1 Peter 2:9; Rev 5:9-10)

I can't close this without also mentioning that sacrifice for atonement was made every day, that is 7 days a week.  It is a reminder to me and hopefully to you, that each day we need totake the time to come before the Lord, confessing our sins, so that we might be reassured that our sins are indeed forgiven. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Set Apart

Exodus 28

God told Moses to bring his brother Aaron and Aaron's sons with him, to serve as priests.  God appointed these men.  He set them apart from the rest of the Israelites for a specific purpose(s).  God tells Moses to call artisans to make specific and very elaborate clothing for his priests.  Imagine it for a moment, if you will.  These men of God, must have stood out in a crowd. When people saw them, they knew these men are priests of the most holy God.

I wonder if when we are in a crowd and people see us or hear us, do we stand out as having answered the call of God to love and serve him and all his children?  Is it apparent to others that we are Christians, living in this world, but not belong, not of it?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eternal Light

Exodus 27

In our sanctuary on the wall near the altar is a red glass candle holder and within it is a 7-day candle.  This is the lamp that is spoken of in chapter 27, verses 20-21.  Ours is lit only during Worship for fear if left burning 24/7 it could be a fire hazard.  The candle we read about was to be lit, depending on who is interpreting these verses, either during the darkness of night or eternally, thus the name eternal light.  One interpretation has these verses to mean that the candle was to be filled at sundown to insure that it would not go out overnight.  There were people around during the day to make sure that it did not go out then.  Think about those curtains used for walls in the tabernacle.  Find any windows?  The lamp was meant to give light to the sanctuary so that people could see.  It was functional. 

We have windows in our sanctuary so there is light most of the time.  Although, if you've ever been in our sanctuary about midnight turning out the lights, you will find it very dark, indeed.  The stained glass windows do a good job of blocking out any dim light that might enter through them at night.  We do have electricity, most of the time.    And the few of us who have had occasion to be turning out lights in the middle of the night, maybe sitting in the dark praying, know that sanctuary so well that we can certainly maneuver in it without the aid of lights. 

There are those who liken this lamp to the light of Christ, but the light of Christ is a light to the world.  It's what we're suppose to be carrying with us when we leave the sanctuary.  The eternal light we read about in this chapter is meant to give us light so that we can see while we are in the sanctuary.   This light, at least in my mind, if it is to symbolize anything, more aptly symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to see before we bring the light of Christ out into the world.   The pure olive oil used to light the lamp, too, is symbolic of the Holy Spirit (we'll get more into that in a future book/chapter.. interested now? do some surfing in your Bible).

Since, so many of us Christians tend to think that we only need to see only once or twice a week :) then I guess there is no need to keep this candle lit in our sanctuary except on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings, after all.  We might want to change the name of it, though...

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Exodus 26

More details in the planning and the making...  God is very specific about the way the Israelites should make and create the tabernacle.  I know that sometimes I drive people a bit crazy with my wanting to know details...  Somethings are not necessary for me to know, as long as someone knows what they are.  For instance, we are planning a fall color tour in the Huron Mountains and two of the men from the congregation are planning on leading it.  I need to know some of the details so that I can relay the information on to those who might want to join us.  But, I don't need to know all the details because I trust them and for that wilderness journey they are more capable than I.  When we built the addition on the church, I did not know all of the details.  Even if I knew them, I would not have understood them and could not have made good decisions regarding the building.  I had to trust that the Council President would know and understand the details.  He did.  But, there are somethings I need to know the details on.  I need to know the details for Worship Services.  Since I'm leading, if there is to be special music, I need to know or I'll just keep on talking or praying right through the place where that's suppose to happen.  I need to know the details for any plans anyone has to add something to Worship.  I need to know that it is appropriate so I can decide whether it's going to even be done during a Worship Service.  When my granddaughter asks to go someplace, I need to know details to know that she is going to be safe.  I need to know where and when and who she's going to be with.  Details are a part of our life.  Sometimes they can bog us down, but in many cases we really need to spend some time looking at details.  Sometimes if for no reason other than to count the cost.

God is very specific in how he wants this tent made.  In this tent is the holiest of holies.  It is where he will come to Moses and talk to him.  In later generations, only the High Priest could enter.  Outside the holiest of holies is the holy place.  The others can enter here.  They bring their offerings to God in the holy place.  Moses passes on to the Israelites what he has heard from God in the holiest of holies in the holy place.  There is a curtain between these two holy places to separate God from the people.  It is in the tabernacle in Jerusalem generations later that the curtain between the holy place and holiest of holy places was torn in two at the death of Jesus.  Often, I have heard that at the tearing of this curtain, it was opened that we sinners could enter into the holiest of holy places.  I believe this to be true.  But, I believe something else happened as well.  When Jesus breathed his last breath and that curtain separating us from God was torn in two, God did not leave us, his kingdom broke forth - he broke forth from behind the temple curtain to dwell with humankind - all of humankind - not just the priests or the high priests - but all people. 

Think about this too, when Jesus was baptized, the heavens were ripped open and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove.  Ripped is the same word used both at the baptism and at the tearing of the curtain.  It was ripped or torn and God came forth.  It's not just when we enter into the holiest of holies that God is with us, but God is in the world, no matter where you are.  God is no longer separated from His people.  That's the way I see it...  This subject I have talked long about in many ways, but for now this is suppose to be brief to give you something to think about and doesn't afford the time or space for too many specific details.  Think about these things and more.  See you at Worship today!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Best of the Best!

Exodus 25

The best of the best!  It is amazing to read the description of the offerings that the Lord tells Moses the Israelites are to give and the description of the sanctuary and it's furniture that they are to make so that God may dwell among them.  They are the best of the best! 

All this description, might seem a little boring to some.  But, think about these things, what they might mean for you today in light of the Gospel - that the best of the best (even better than that) was given so that you might live in the presence of God for all eternity: 
     The mercy seat where God will meet Moses and deliver all his commands to the  people.
     The bread of the Presence - which is placed on a very ornate table every single Sabbath.
     The one lampstand with it's three branches on each side.

And all these directions, that God gives to the people, they take very seriously and they follow, offering the best of the best things of the world to the Lord and the Lord God is with them.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sealing of the Covenant

Exodus 24

Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, "See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you..." (24:8 NRSV)

God seals the Covenant he made with the Israelites with blood and all the Israelites see the glory of the Lord on the Mountain of God.

He has sealed the covenant with we who were not his people (Israel), but are now his people, through the blood of Jesus Christ.  What a privilege and gift to see His glory! 

The Lord has made a covenant of peace with you - with us - may His Name be glorified in all the earth!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

World Wide Web

Exodus 23

More rules...  Rules on how to act justly with your neighbor...

As this blog is being posted to the world wide web (www) it reminds me of how often I see gossip - pure hateful gossip - bullying - oppression - as well as taking the Lord's name in vain posted on various sites.  It makes me wonder how many Lutherans, after they study the small catechism, particularly the 10 Commandments, take what they learn  seriously.  Or maybe it's just that our children think (are taught by others) that we who teach this stuff are just old-fashioned prudes and it's not to be taken seriously?  How about if for just one day (and then another) we all refrained from posting nasty comments about our neighbors, refrain from posting omg; which, if you recall from your confirmation class is taking the name of the Lord lightly and is taking his name in vain.  I admit that I myself want to use that acronym every now and then when I see something that is particularly hateful posted.  But, so far I think I've refrained.  Could we at least try to make sure our posts reflect our status as children of God by not speaking wrongly of our neighbors and by not taking the name of the Lord in vain (no swearing)?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Exodus 21- 22

"An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." (21:25)  But, not really.  When we read this verse in context (in the very next verse) we find that if an eye of a slave is put out by their master, the master's eye is not put out, rather the slave is to be set free.  It's not about getting even, it's not about punishing the one who has done harm.  It's about ensuring that justice is done for the innocent one.  That God-given rights are preserved for all people.  It is also about preserving rights of the one who offends.  If a master takes out the eye of a servant, his eye is not to be taken out according to our lesson, but he must let the servant (slave) go free. 

Justice is often only interpreted or misinterpreted as making the person pay dearly for what they have done - making them suffer.  Justice, it seems is viewed by some as being only about vengeance. Justice is not vengeance. There are indeed times when someone will pay dearly for their sins against humanity.  Hopefully, this is not because we are a hateful, angry or fearful people who want to see vengeance, rather people who wish to see the whole of humanity safeguarded against these crimes.   

Even as we are cautious to ensure that we are seeking justice and not vengeance, we also need to be cautious that we are not attempting to justify the sins of someone or a whole people with cheap excuses.  Justice that forgives the offender without concern for the one who was harmed is not justice.  We cannot simply close our eyes to the sins, the injustices done to innocent parties, to those who cannot defend themselves.    

God desires justice for all His people.  How can we know justice?  How can we do justice?  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27)  In these two things you will find the summation of the whole law.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Exodus 20

Thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking and the people were afraid.  They told Moses:  you speak to us, don't let God speak to us, or we will die.  The fear of God, according to Moses, was put upon the people so that they would not sin.  The law has it's purposes.  The law will not save us.  But, it will help to direct our ways so that we might be in closer relationship with God, knowing Him, knowing His will for us.  The law will help us to remember who God is.

We had a really good storm last night - lot's of thunder and lightning and rain.  I pulled my rocking chair up to the sliding glass doors so I could watch.  Our granddaughter and I were enjoying the light show when my husband decided he was going to hook up the portable generator so that he could watch the football game.  Light show over...  Noise of the television overpowered the thunder...  And Cassie wondered... why Papa needed to have the light and the sound of the television.  We got into a discussion regarding something I preach about now and then.  1.  Fear of being in the darkness.  After all, it is in the darkness of the world, that we can best see the light of Christ.  So why then do we need to have so much artificial light?  Are we afraid of being confronted with the light of Christ?  There is no need to fear the darkness because with you is shining a light, who is Jesus the Christ, that will lead you around in it and through it and out of the darkness.  2.  The need for constant noise in this world.  Do we need the noise of the world because we're afraid if we don't have it we just might hear God speaking to us?  Do we need the noise to cover the sound of His voice so that when He calls, we won't hear, and won't have to take up our cross and follow?  3.  False Gods.  Our reading today includes the 10 Commandments.  One of our members at Zion was sharing a story the other morning after worship.  He reminded us that the Commandments are broken into two tables. He reminded us of what Jesus said the greatest commandments are:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40)  He reminded us also that these commandments break down the ten into the two tables of the law:  loving God and loving neighbor and neighbor in that order.  His summation of the root of the troubles of the church on earth today is because we have turned these two around so that personal political and social agendas have taken precedence over loving and worshipping God.  Loving God comes first.  It is not that we should not love our neighbors and serve them.  It is that, if we do not put first things first, loving God first, then we will be dismal failures at the second as well.  Without the love of God we cannot love our neighbors.  If we don't put the first table of the law first, then we can't even begin to think we can follow the second (which we can never perfect anyway).  The commandments were given to us in a specific order, (God first) when we take them out of that order he said, "it just doesn't work."  Following the commandments out of order, putting the world, or even your neighbor or yourself, before God is worshipping a false god.  God indeed abides in and through your brothers and sisters around you.  But, they are not God.  We are not God.  I am afraid that I have not explained this as well as the lay person who shared this with me, but I pray that you get the idea.   This is the God who has brought you out of bondage, love Him above all things...  Love Him, listen to Him, and only then will you have a real clue on how to love your neighbor as yourself.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The LORD Speaks, Will We Listen?

Exodus 19

"The people all answered as one:  'Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.'" (19:8) 

I am in a bit of a rush as I am preparing confirmation lessons to be sent out in the mail this morning.  I'm mailing them because I haven't seen most of the young people since our class a month ago.  I worry about the commitment they are going to be asked to make at the end of the year.  I worry about the promises they are going to make to God, with the congregation as a witness to these promises.  I will ask them to profess their faith in Jesus and they will.  I will ask them if they renounce the devil and the ways of sin that draw them from God and they will say that they will renounce them.  I will ask them if they intend to live in the covenent God made with them in baptism:  to live among God's faithful people, to hear God's word and share in His supper; to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, follow the example of Jesus, and strive for peace and justice in all the world.  And.. they will all say yes.  And... they will answer, as the Israelites answered: "yes."  And...  a few of them might actually try (I'm being optimistic).  But, the majority, sadly, I will not see again, unless I live long enough to preside at the baptism of their children in a decade or two.  Something, just seems terribly wrong to me to put these young people in a position to lie to God.  Indeed, some of them have  flat out told me in the past, that they don't have any intention of being back at Worship after they're confirmed.  Yet, they meet the requirements (sometimes barely) that the church has set to be a confirmed member of the church.  I really do dislike confirmation.  It is a great opportunity to teach them so that they will have the knowledge to fall back on when they are older.  But, it seems to me that they and often their parents (many who also do not return after their children are confirmed) really never quite get through these lessons who God is and what He has done for them.  I realize that this is a dilemma, not just for me, but for many who have to "confirm" in the church. 

The Lord told Moses to tell the people, "....Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation."  (19:5,6) 

The apostle Peter wrote to Christians in Asia Minor:  "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." 1 Peter 3:9-10 

What don't we get about this?  We were not God's people, but now we are because he chose us and through the blood of Christ made us a holy nation, a people belonging to God and as his people, his children, we are so grateful that we declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his light.  God chose us and saved us, yet, are we really out there praising his holy name?  Or as has often been said, is the church just a social club, one among many, that we can decide when it is good for us to participate in?  I live near an Indian reservation, the people are proud of their nation.  We also live in the United States of America, and we are proud to be Americans. I hear America's praises sung very loud. But, we are also a people who belong to a holy nation, we are the people of God.  I don't seem to hear God's praises sung quite so loud.  Are we really proud to Christians, followers of Christ?  Or is it, as I wrote earlier, just another group to belong to - a place through which we can do good works every now and then to assuage our guilty consciences?  Our guilt cannot be assuaged - only forgiven through the blood of Christ.

Think about these Israelites.  God saved them.  He made them His people.  He spoke to them and instructed them in the way that they should go as they journeyed through the wilderness.  He spoke to Moses on the mountain of God.  The people heard him roaring like thunder in the fire on the mountain.  On the mountain of God, Elijah heard the whisper of God in the sheer silence.  (1 Kings 19:13)

God saved us to be his people.  He speaks to us, through his word and his living Word.  As the song goes, "Jesus call us, o'er the tumult."  If you find yourself bobbing around in a wild and tumultuous sea, know that Jesus calls you, in order to guide you, in order to save.  He calls us, but will we listen?  Will we answer?   Will we answer:  Here I am Lord, speak to me, your servant listens?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sons & Judges

Exodus 18

A few things to consider today.  First, a puzzle presents itself.  It is one I have wondered about for awhile and have come up with no good answers.  Maybe, you see something I don't in the story.  I recall from earlier readings that Moses' wife Zipporah and at least one of their sons (assuming  both) were with Moses as he headed to Egypt to free the people.  But, in this chapter, Jethro brings Zipporah and Moses' sons, Gershom and Eliezer out to meet Moses.  Moses had sent them back to Zipporah's father, Jethro, somewhere in the story - probably right after Moses struggled with the Lord on his way to set the Israelites free. (Chapter 4)  Verse 27 of chapter 18 does say that Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went off to his own country.  But, it doesn't say anything about what happened to his wife and sons.  I don't recall future readings having much to say about Moses' family, either.  Moses's sons certainly never have any positions of authority.  They are never called to be leaders or judges.  What are we missing in the story that would warrant Aaron's descendents being called rather than Moses'?  I do not understand this picking and choosing among families; last sons chosen over the first, nephews over sons; grandparents raising their grandchildren; a daughter living with her parent rather than her husband.  Sounds a lot like civilization today.

And then there is the judging.  They needed judges because the people didn't always get alone.  Think about this for a minute and you will have a greater understanding of what Israel is and for those of us who live near an Ojibway Reservation maybe can glean a little better understanding of their sovereignty as well. Israel is a natin, a holy nation, a separate people from all other people.  They are the people of God.  But, as the people of God, they are a people who live in this world and need some kind of structure so that everyone in the nation will be treated justly.  There are times when God's people don't always act like one would think God's people should act.  They need a judiciary to help keep the peace.  Moses has been doing the judging.  But, Moses is there spiritual leader and their guide through the wilderness.  He is their chief and simply does not have time to keep the peace between every one who quibbles with their neighbor.  Therefore, he must appoint judges to see that the thousands and thousands of people he is leading don't destroy themselves, don't end up destroying the nation.  As a nation of people there are necessary things that must be done for the people to be able to live together and that requires some type of structure to oversee this. 

We often rebel against the idea that others should decide for us how to get along with out neighbors.  Unfortunately, if left to our own devises, our plans would probably cause more harm to ourselves and our neighbors.  Judges (legal systems) were just as necessary back then as they are now and every people, every nation, has a right to ensure justice by putting into effect a system of doing this according to the customs of their own nation.  It is for our own sake as well as the sake of our neighbors that we have judges.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Shepherd's Staff

Exodus 17

They journeyed from the wilderness of sin toward the promised land in stages.  Take a look back our own lives.  Have we not progressed to where we are in stages?  With each stage, each step we learn something new.  Each stage, each step forward brings us greater knowledge of who God is and what He does for us.

He listens to the complaints of the people.  He answers those complaints.  He gives us water to quench our thirst.  He gives us living water in Jesus Christ so that our spirits will not dry out.  He helps us to prevail over the enemy.  He prevailed over the enemy for us on the cross, overcoming the ultimate enemy:  sin, death and the power of the devil.

I wonder about this staff of Moses.  It was turned into a snake, it was used to part the red sea so that the Israelites could pass unharmed, when it was used to strike the rock which the Lord was standing on water poured out of the rock so that the people could drink; and when Moses held it over his head Israel prevailed over their enemies.  If we look back at Exodus 7:9 we will find that Moses' staff was turned into a snake on the mountain of God (Exodus 4:2-5), but not in Pharaoh's presence as many of us may remember the story (probably from the movie).  It was not Moses' but Aaron whose staff turned into a snake in the presence of Pharaoh.   I'm not sure what difference that makes, except that it reminds us that God works through many.  His power is not restricted to one. 

The staff of the shepherd of Moses became a symbol of leadership as it was used to show the Lord's power.  But, it also belonged to one who was confronted and complained to whenever anything went wrong.  It belonged to the one who was expected to fix things for the people.  The staff is the symbol of a servant/leader - one who serves the sheep by keeping them safe, providing for them, leading them from bondage to the promised land - to freedom (as we will see in the New Testament) in Christ.  This staff that could part the red sea, open up rocks so water gushed forth; overcome enemies, belonged to the one who was expected to call upon the Lord for help whenever the people of God were in need. 

A few years ago, after a Methodist Indian Camp Meeting in Zeba, I was given a shepherd's staff.  It was handmade by one of their members from a tree that lives outside of their church building.  It has a cross carved into the top of it.  What a humbling honor to receive such a gift.  I keep it in plain site in my home and often when I walk and pray, whether in the house or outdoors in the wilderness, I take it with me.  There are times when prayer requests for God's people are urgent and I hold this staff in my hand as a reminder to myself of how serious this call as their Pastor (their shepherdess as my 7th Day Adventist Pastor friend calls me) to pray, to intercede on their behalf is.  It is not just part of the call as Pastor. It is one of the primary responsiblities. I cannot just tell people, that I will pray for them to pacify them.  I must pray for them.  Coming into the presence of God, praying, communicating with God is necessary for me (for all shepherds) to be able to serve His people, lead them in the way that He would have them go. 

It was not Moses or Aaron who performed the miracles.  It was not a mere staff.  It was God working through them.  Just as neither Moses or Aaron could do anything without being called by God, without God's blessing, without the power of God; I (we) can do nothing, but for the grace of God.  All things are accomplished by God.

As we journey through the wilderness, we do it in stages.  At each stage we learn (at least we should) something more about God and our relationship with God.  To date, I think that the most important thing that I have learned (and sometimes have to relearn) is that it is not I, but Christ who abides in me (and you) who does all things to the glory of God our Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. I can do nothing worthwhile, but for the grace of God.     


Friday, September 9, 2011

God Provides Daily Bread

Exodus 16

No bread in the desert.  No meat to eat in the wilderness.  The Israelites were hungry and complained saying it would be better to be slaves in Egypt rather than following the Lord through the wilderness to the promised land.  The Lord heard them complaining.  He provided daily bread, but no more than daily except for on the day before the Sabbath so that they would have enough to sustain them on the Sabbath.  He proved bread in the morning and quail for meat each evening.  But, some people tried to hoard it.  They did not understand that the Lord was trying to teach them to trust him and not the rulers of this world for their daily bread.  The extra bread that they tried to collect and save up for themselves spoiled so that worms lived in it.   For forty years the Lord provided this daily bread to his children.

Give us this day our daily bread.  We pray it all the time.  I remember Howard and my first few years of marriage.  Wow! Talk about broke!  He was a young Marine and I will tell you that at that time, even though I worked as well, there was not much of an income.  I had a budget of $20.00 for groceries for the month. Before I went shopping, I would do a whole months menu just so not a penny would be wasted.  Sometimes we ended up short.  For some reason, I didn't think about applying for food stamps.  I think I may have felt they were for those who had less than we.  After all, there was always something to eat on the table.  Suppers on those last days of the month sometimes were pretty sparse.  They consisted of things like pancakes without eggs, basically flour and water with a  little margarine and sugar sprinkled on top or homemade bean soup.  We ate a lot of homemade bean soup.  But, we ate.  We were provided for.  Even though at times there was no meat for the table, there was always bread - sometimes homemade.  When I had no yeast or money to purchase it with, the bread may ended up being something more like tortillas or pancakes, but we ate.  God provided for our daily needs.

Do we really trust the Lord to take care of our daily needs or do we want more? Are we willing to sell ourselves back into the bondage of people, places, things?  In whom do we trust to care for us:  God or the world?  Who or what is our God?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thank God and Complain

Exodus 15

Thank God and then complain....  The Israelites did a lot of that...  I think it's possible that so do we.

Moses, Miriam and all the Israelites sing songs to the Lord in thankfulness that their enemy has been defeated.  And then three days into the wilderness they are thristy and complaining against Moses because he's led them to a place where the water is bad and there is nothing to drink.  Of course, the Lord ends up providing, as is His way.  But, he also has a reminder, a word, to go with the water:  to listen to him, to heed his statutes, that all might go well with them.  They have drank from the bitter waters made sweet by the Lord, they have heard his word, and they move on to a place, Elim, where there is plenty of water: twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees.  They camp and are refreshed beneath these palm trees beside the water.

Rejoice and complain and rejoice, again.  That seems to be the litany for God's children.  Is that not what we do?  On Sunday mornings, God's children (at least some of those who claim to follow him) gather together to Worship Him, to give Him thanks and praise, and to be refreshed by the Word and Sacraments.  We gather on Sunday mornings and then what do we often do the rest of the week?  How much time is spent in actually following Him, living and rejoicing so that the whole world will hear the good news of our salvation?  How much time is spent complaining that we don't have what we want, when we want it? 

I think it might not hurt us and may even help us if we spent a little more time contemplating and rejoicing that we have been freed from the bondage, to sin, death, and the power of the devil through the life giving gift of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  While our wells may run dry, His never does.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cross the Sea and Enter the Wilderness

Exodus 14

It's only the beginning of the Israelites 40 year journey through the wilderness.  Thousands and thousands of people runnig from the Egyptians, but in order to enter the wilderness they have to cross a sea!  They certainly don't have the faith it would take to walk on water as they are already considering returning home to Egypt - to go back into the bondage of slavery.  They do not trust God and they surely don't trust this Moses.  God is going to have to figure out a way to get them all across.  And he does... He saves his people by parting the waters so they can walk on dry land and drowning the Egyptians who pursue them.

The Lord shows his hand, the people cross to freedom safely.  Will they remember this?  Will they really remember it or just tell the story?  How will they fare in the wilderness?  Will they constantly complain?  Or will they be thankful that they are no longer slaves making bricks without straw; having their firstborn sons killed at the Pharoah's whim? 

What is it you do when the Lord leads you in places that you've never been before?  When you face crossing seas and entering a wilderness that you do not know? Do you shrink back in fear?  Or do you step out in faith ready to be led from bondage to the freedom God desires for his children?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Exodus 13

What exactly does it mean to consecrate the firstborn?  When I carried my firstborn, I learned from Dr. Stroube. that I was not expected to carry him to full term.  I was expected to miscarry.  So... I prayed that God would deliver him and promised to do all I could to teach him the story of God's deliverance and redemption.  I am well aware that I did not always do so well in this.  Take note - promising God what you can't deliver is probably not the wisest move to make.  But, one of the amazing things I've learned about God is that what we can't deliver, God can.  I am convinced that since I cannot, God is and will continue to teach him (as well as all my children) the story of his (their) deliverance. 

I am also aware that in the learning of this, they will find themselves as the Israelites did, camped in the darkness of night on the edge of the wilderness.  But, no matter how dark things get, the light of God will be with them to help guide them on their journey through the wilderness.  He will see them through to the promised land, a land flowing as scripture says, flowing with milk and honey.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Death Has No Power Over You

Exodus 11-12

Well, finally!  Finally we read about firstborns who are the chosen ones!  They are chosen to die!  But, they are not the firstborn of Israel, they are the firstborn, of Egypt who are chosen to die so that Pharaoah will finally relent and let God's people go to worship Him.

The firstborn of Egypt die, while the firstborn of Israel are protected from death as the LORD passes over and does not send the destroyer into homes that are marked by the blood of the lamb.  Death has no power over those households.  They will live. 

Jesus is our passover lamb. (1 Cor 5:7) It is by his blood shed for you that you have been marked for life.  Death has no power over you. (Heb 2:14-15)  The angel of death will pass over you and you shall live even as the lamb of God, who is Jesus the Christ, lives.  (see also John 11:25, 26)

One of my favorite Holy Days is Maundy Thursday as we recall how it it by the blood of Christ, shed for us that sends the destroyer packing.  The destroyer passes over us because of the blood of the lamb that was shed for us on the cross.  I wonder if our children (and their parents) who are receiving their first Communion realize the importance of the body and blood given for them.  I know in their heads they know what it means.  They have been taught that.  But, do they really KNOW what it means?  Do we?

May God grant you faith in the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that was given and shed for you.  May you also have a greater understanding of what it means that even as he died for you, yet he lives, even now, for you.


Sunday, September 4, 2011


Exodus 9-10
The 5th thru 9th plagues.  God spares the Hebrews in Goshen from the plagues, but there are lots of hard times for the Egyptians who refuse to let them go.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews:  Let my people go, so that they may worship me.'"  (9:1)

It is Sunday morning and I am wondering what it is that is keeping so many from worshipping the Lord this morning.  What is holding you back?  Is it a pharaoh (government)?  Or maybe you'd just rather sleep in?  Maybe it shopping that more important than worshipping the God who made you this morning?  Or fishing?  Or camping?  Or maybe a vacation?  Remember there is always a church in this country near you no matter where you are.  Not so in many countries.  What happens when the opportunity and privilege of worshipping is taken away?  Will you blame the pharaoh (governement)? There's a 12-step saying: "Use it or lose it."  There are lots of things that attempt to keep us from worshipping.  Will you allow them to keep you from spending time in worship of the God who has bought your freedom with His life?  

Having just finished our weekly sessions of confirmation class with our 7th and 8th graders, I am reminded that by not keeping the Sabbath (3rd commandment) we also are breaking the 1st commandment - You shall have no other gods.  What other gods are taking precedence this Sunday morning?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hard Heart

Exodus 7 - 8

How hard our hearts are!  How often do we not listen to the Lord! How often it is that we do not see nor acknowledge the hand of God working in our lives! 

God through Moses with the help of Aaron is releasing the Israelites from bondage.  But, it is being done the hard way... by the hardening of Pharaoh's heart.  The staff turned to a snake that eats the magicians snakes, all of the water in Egypt turned to blood so that all the water in Egypt stank and was unfit for consumption, frogs all over the land and when the Lord destroyed them they stank up the land, gnats - can you even imagine living with so many gnats all over every human and every animal.  Yet, Pharoah's heart is hardened and he will not let the people go.  The fourth plague - the flies that ruined the land - finally begins to soften Pharaoh's heart and he agrees that they might go three days journey into the wilderness to make a sacrifice to God and he asks Moses to pray for him.  But, again Pharaoh's heart is hardened and he would not let the people go.

How hard can a heart be that the water and land can be ruined: that humankind would be thrown into living in the stench of polluted waters and land; that mankind would be made to suffer; and, yet we cannot find it within our hearts to relent (or repent) of the path of self-servitude that we've chosen to follow.

Let my people go... remove them from the shackles of your bondange, so that they may be free to worship me. 

Thus says the Lord.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Remember the Promise

Exodus 5-6

The most difficult days of my life were raising sons (usually alone as my husband spent more time deployed than at home).  There were times when I just did not think that God would ever deliver them or me from the rough teen and early adult years.  Talk about a wilderness experience!  Not sure where to go, what to do, restless, hungry and thirsty for a little peace in their lives and mine.  Would we ever get to a place where we (they) would know the presence of God?  Would we ever get to a place where there was even a few moments of peace within ourselves?  Life got pretty rough to say the least.  But, God's promises did not diminish, only my hope in those promises.  I turned to scripture constantly in order to stay engulfed in thos promises.  I particularly spent a lot of time repeating to myslef His promise found in Isaiah 54:13-14:
     All your children will be taught by the LORD,
        and great will be their peace.
     In righteousness you will be established:
     Tyranny will be far from you;
        you will have nothing to fear.
     Terror will be far removed;
        it will not come near you.
It wasn't an easy journey, but God helped us through that wilderness to a better place. He taught all of us much.  I came through it with a greater understanding of the peace that God gives. But, I do not think I would be able to live in that peace now, if it had not been for the trying times. 

God is using Moses to deliver the Israelites.  But, before he does, life gets harder - much harder.  Under the even harsher edicts of Pharoah, they seem to have lost hope in the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They speak against Moses, who has been sent by God to deliver them from bondage.  They want freedom, for sure.  But, they don't want to sacrifice anything more than they've already sacrificed.  They would prefer bondage than to risk their lives for a chance at freedom. 

Life in this world can indeed be rough.  The journey is not always easy.  It is imperative that we stay steeped in God's Word - so that when we find ourselves suffering and suffocating in bondage - we will be able to continue in faith in the hope of God's promises for all God's people.  A friend of mine posted on her FB the other day something to the effect that if all is not well, then you haven't completed the journey, yet. (I looked for the quote again, but could not find it.) 

When your journey is rough, may God bring to your remembrance, his promises of good for you and all His people.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who Am I - Send Someone Else!

Exodus 4

Please Lord, send someone else!  Now that's a prayer I can relate to.  Been there, prayed that. I've stomped my feet, threw temper tantrums, even shook my fist at God, begged him. Please, please! Don't send me.  But, I learned that if you hear him calling to you in order to send you out someplace, to someone, you may as well listen the first time, because he will, in all likelihood, keep on calling and in the end you will go.  May as well quit wasting your time and do what he asks. If you are being sent, you can be assured that God knows what he is doing.  All the excuses you can come up with are worthless.  He wouldn't send you if he hadn't already or had a plan on how to prepare you to go.  Remember, it is not the elequent in speech, not the nobles, it is not the rich or famous; it is not the first that God sends, but the ones who are the last or least in the eyes of the world. 

And so the least, Moses with his dual heritage, born a Hebrew but known as an Egyptian, an exile himself, a man without a people, is sent to lead Israel, God's "firstborn son" out of bondage in Egypt.  Even as I wondered through the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I cannot help but continue to wonder why God has so often blessed the second, called and sent the last or the least to lead the first. What does God mean "my first-born son"?  If Israel is first, who is second?   I wonder about the relationship between this first born Israel and those who have been adopted later into God's family through the blood of Christ.  What does all this means?  So, I leave you this morning to ponder about the relationship between the "first born" and "second born" sons and God. 

May God help you to more fully understand what it means "That you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." 1 Peter 2:9-10 (NIV)

You are a chosen people, called and sent with a message for all people that they might be free from the bondage of sin, empowered by the Spirit of Christ to be children of God.