Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time to Quit Circling the Hills

Deuteronomy 2

Land promised...  Although, I've read these passages before, I had never really realized that both Esau and Lot had received promised land as well as the children of Israel.  It seems the Lord favors whom He will favor.  And... land promised extended to more people than just the Israelites.  A reminder that the promised land (the kingdom of God) is given to all whom God chooses. 

It is a refreshing break to hear in this chapter, that the Israelites aren't allowed to go in and take the land that God has given to another people.  There's a little more war and mass destruction in some of the things the Lord has commanded them to do, than I am comfortable with.  But, I also note that they cross through the land of both the Edomites (Esau's descendents) and the Ammonites (Lot's descendents) without incident.  They are granted peaceful passage.  But, when they ask for a peaceful passage of King Sihon of Heshbon, it was rejected and the Lord directs them to go ahead and take possession of this land.  They do so with force.

The Israelites at the end of their 40 year journey, begin yet another segment of their journey.  The years of learning to trust the Lord take on a new dimension.  They must trust Him that He will be with them as they take the land which He has promised.  It will include bloodshed and they will (in a different way than in their wanderings) have to face the fear of failure and even death.

Fear of failure, the fear of death, often keeps us from moving forward.  The 3rd verse in this chapter has the Lord telling Moses, "You have been skirting this hill country long enough.  Head north,..."  In other words... your days of wandering around in circles in the wilderness are over.  Tell the people to go in the direction I tell you, head north....  It is time to move forward and to take the land I have promised.

Reminder for today:  quit circling the hills and trust the Lord, following in the way He directs you and grab hold of the promise He has given you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Deuteronomy 1

These are the words that Moses spoke...  In Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people of their journey through the wilderness.  He reminds them that they had turned their backs on God and wouldn't listen and he reminds them of the consequences that they endured for not listening.  And... so he reminds them one last time of the words of the law that had been given to them by God through him.

It will be the last time he reminds them of anything.  They stand at the brink of entering the promised land.  Moses will not enter it.  Moses will not, nor will his generation who rebelled against God.  Only the children born in the wilderness or who at the time were so young that they did not know right from wrong will enter the promised land.  Joshua, who did not rebel against God, who trusted God, will lead them. 

The words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond Jordan...  Will they listen?  Will they remember?  Their journey through the wilderness is about to end.  Will they remember all that the Lord taught them in that journey as they establish their homes in the promised land?  Will they trust the Lord, their God before all things as they begin a new stage in their journey through life?

Will we?  Will we trust the Lord, God above all things?  Or will we be rebellious children, turning our backs on God?  Will we enter the promised land?  Remember the words that God has given to you.  Remember your journey.  What have you learned in the years it took to get where you are.  What has God taught you?  Remember and give God the glory!

As a consequence to their rebellion the generation that was saved from Egypit, including Moses, will not enter into the promised land.  Moses is standing at the brink of the promised land.  But, he cannot enter. 

, because even he will not be allowed to enter the promised land bethey were rebellious people and would not listen to the Lord, the Lord was angry with even him.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wills and Inheritances

Numbers 36

The final chapter in Numbers...  The tribes of Israel have been allotted their inheritance and this morning I have this sinking feeling:  "It was all about land.  It was all about possessing material property."  Bummer...  Even though God has decided that women can inherit property, it has now been decided that they can only keep it if they marry into the same clan of the same tribe so that the property will remain a part of that particular clan and tribe. 

On the other hand, it is about making sure that their children and their children's children will also inherit their allotted portion of the promised land.  Future generations  will be ensured a place to graze their flocks or plants their fields in order to sustain their lives.  At least that seems to me to be the intent.     

We too, have been promised and in faith have received a great inheritance - a place in the kingdom of God.  It is not just for us but, for all people.  It is for our children and our children's children, as well.  But, they cannot inherit it except by faith.  It does not matter who your parents are.  It doesn't matter which worldly clan or tribe you belong to.  It is given to those who have been adopted into the family of God by faith in the blood of Christ shed for you.  How will your children inherit this promised land, if they do not even know it's there? 

My husband and I have a will which outlines our desires as to what should happen to our physical property when we die.  It's a bit outdated. But, it will suffice.  It's kept in a safe.  No one, other than the lawyer, has seen it.  Our children or grandchildren will find it when we die and then whether they want our "stuff" or not they will inherit it.  I suppose though if they never open the safe, they will never know what our will was.

When Jesus died on that cross he left behind his will, as well.  His followers wrote His will that he had, in a sense, dictated to them, while he was among them.  You can read all about it and hear all about it in the pages of the scriptures.  You will find it woven into the pages of the Holy Bible.  His will was that all who would believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life, in the kingdom He has prepared for us.  If we want our children to be partakers of that inheritance, we cannot hide His will.  Our children must know about their inheritance.  They must hear about it and how it was purchased for them with the very life of Jesus.  The "book" must be opened and the contents of God's will shared in order for our children to know what their inheritance is.  Will you tell the story?  Will you share the "will" of our Lord, Jesus Christ, with your children so that they too might receive the promised land given to them, through Jesus Christ, our Lord? 

More ramblings this morning...  Sometimes, I think maybe I would think more clearly in the evening.  But, probably not!  As long as my ramblings help keep you reading through and thinking through the scriptures, then they have served their purpose.  God's Peace - Judy

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Sentence of Life

Numbers 35

Murder - accident or homicide?  It is natural reaction, that when a person dies at the hand of another, the family will want to avenge the blood of their brother and so we have the avenger of blood...   (Our sins often have negative effects on others, inciting in them a desire for revenge.  Our sins come back to haunt us)  The victim's closest kin was usually designated as the avenger to  seek out the person responsible for the death and to execute him.  Death was the penalty for murder.  However, for those cases where the death may have been accidental, God sets up cities of refuge.  The suspect is safe in these cities until a hearing by the congregation has been completed.  If he's found guilty of murder, he will die at the hands of the avenger.  If he's found innocent then he can live safely as long as he lives inside the walls of the city of refuge.  If he leaves the city and is killed by the avenger then there is no bloodguilt.  There are no jails in Israel at the time. So in a very real sense, the one who accidentally killed another is given a life sentence.  He is to be confined to the city of refuge for life or until the death of the high priest at which time he may return home.

Times have changed since the early days of Israel.  The death penalty is a most disagreeable topic to discuss.  The topic itself causes dissension.  On the one hand our prisons are filled with men and women found guilty of murder and taxes go to support them till they find natural death or are murdered by someone else in prison.  There are men and women who are so dangerous that they cannot even be allowed to live in the general prison population and must be segregated.  On the other hand, who can say whether a man or woman would be able to make changes in their lives while in prison?  Who can say that they might not repent (although this does the victim or their families no good) and be saved?  Maybe it will take them a lifetime to get to know the Lord, maybe it will never happen.  Only God knows.  I do not know.  All we can do is pray for them. 

This is going to be a bit longer than usual as I want to share with you this morning a newsletter article I wrote in July of 2000.  I started writing about him, but it is difficult.  My young friend, who is no longer so young is always in my prayers.

judy mattson
I then, as Paul - an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus - I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.  Philemon 9-11
    Recently I received word that a young friend (he celebrates his 20th birthday this month), who is very special to me, has "received life."  Now in the Christian context you might assume that he has received Christ into his life - that he has received the promise of eternal life.  I wish that I could say that this is so.  He "received life" in the worldly context.  He was sentenced to life in prison, without parole.  When I heard the sentence he had received, in grief, I voiced it aloud:

    There is hope in those words.  It is my hope that this sentence in this world is the sign to me that he has received life eternal, although he may not realize that fact, yet.   I have prayed for him often, that we would be one in Christ - that he would enter into the Body of Christ.  It is painful for me to think of one so young living behind bars for another 50 or 60 years.  But, it is reality.  A reality that may seem cruel, but may also be the very opportunity needed for him to "receive life."  This friend of mine received the consequences that were due him in this life, yet, he still has the opportunity for freedom - a freedom that is found only in Christ - for all eternity.
    We read in Philemon, Paul who is in prison has converted a young man.  Paul spent a good portion of his ministry behind bars.  Although scripture has no record of how many received the truth of Christ through the Word spoken by Paul, I am sure there were quite a few.  I guess you could say he was called to prison ministry, but not in the way most of us view prison ministry. He was there, living it.  One on one, he experienced the pain and suffering of those in prison with him.  Because he suffered the same pain, he understood and others listened and others received life.
    There is a prison, though, that is worse than any earthly prison surrounded by bars and barbed wire.  There is a prison we don't recognize quite as easily.  That is our bondage to sin - our bondage to the desires and ways of this world - our desires to be served rather than serve in the love of Christ.  This prison is harder for us to recognize or realize and so often we never even desire the freedom from it.  Many actually come to like it in these chains.  Within the walls of a correctional facility freedom can be found in Christ Jesus - the freedom to love and serve - the world is not competing quite as loudly for first place in your life.
    There is truth in Christ's Words:  "Those who die to this world, shall receive eternal life." And again..."..the truth shall set you fee."  However, for those of us who may be bound in a prison of worldly comforts of self-serving desires and pursuits, it's really hard to see the truth (often preferring not to see the truth, about our need for forgiveness, so we don't ask), remaining in bondage to sin.
    As we celebrate the 4th of July and freedom this year - let us ask God to reveal to us whether we are truly free.  Let us pray first for salvation, for freedom in Christ.  Let us pray for one another, in love, that forgiveness in Christ be received by all God's children who find themselves in prison:  the correctional facilities and those chained to the desires of this world.  Let us also pray a prayer of Thanksgiving for our Prison Chaplains and all who work in the Prison Ministry for bringing the Light of Christ into such dark lives.
    GOD'S PEACE - Judy

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Gift of Land

Numbers 34

Easy reading this morning - not much to get that I can see - unless you want to memorize the names of the leaders of the nine and one half tribes that inherit the land promised to Israel.  This land that the Israelites receive as their inheritance is actually quite small.  It is smaller than even the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!  But, it is their land, given to them after quite a journey through the wilderness.

Last night as I drove into the entrance of my driveway, I thanked God for this piece of land He gave us.  Just about everytime I start driving up my driveway, a sense of peace and joy comes over me and I thank God for this tiny piece of land that He has given me.  I have lived and traveled all over the country as well as overseas.  For about 30 years, my husband and I never lived in one place for more than 3 years - mostly due to him being active duty military.

I had always desired to live on the water.  But, the cost was prohibitive and it was just a dream.  I kept looking, anyway, and about 5 years ago, I found this place.  It had been for sale for about 10 years and the price was very affordable - thanks be to God!  Most of it is wetlands (swamp to my husband).  That is probably one of the reasons no one prior to us looked at the property seriously.  We have no mosquitoes, as my husband had feared.  And... the well and septic were good despite the warnings of the realty.  The house on it was so bad it was not even being taxed and had to be totally renovated (after we moved in :) ). The land is shaped like a teardrop.  It is surrounded on three sides by wilderness.  On the east, the river opens up onto a bay of Lake Superior.  Our home is very small and had to have extensive work on it to make it liveable.  Yet, it is my piece of paradise in this world.  It is a gift from God.  It keeps me thanking God for the gifts He has given me.  I look out over the bay at the sunrise and I thank God.  I watch the eagles flying over or watching me from the tops of the trees in the summer and I thank God.  The deer wander through daily and I thank God!  After many years of wandering, God has provided me with land that I can care for and that cares for me.          

The land that God has given Israel is small.  Not all of it is the choicest of land.  But, it is theirs.  They have journeyed long to enter it - to receive their inheritance. 

The kingdom which we have inherited through Jesus the Christ is not of this world.  It is even more amazing, more beautiful than any land in this world.  It is more beautiful because in that kingdom is God in full glory.  Nothing more awesome than that!  Thanks be to God for the promised Kingdom that we inherit!

Friday, November 25, 2011


Numbers 33

Something to add to the discussion from our this week's Wednesday Bible study at Zion... How very opportune! 

We discussed how very slow the journey must have been to Israel with that great crowd of people.  Very slow indeed!  With that great crowd of people, the Israelites made their journey through the wilderness in stages. 

I think if we look back at our lives, we will see that our journeys have also been made in a similar manner - in stages.  Our stages are not all all alike.  We don't take them all in the same order.  But, we all go through them - from new birth received in baptism symbolized by the crossing of the Jordan as they fled from Egypt to the crossing of the Jordan once again into the promised land.  And in between, there is much learning and growth at each stage of the journey.  We grow in relationship to God at each stage or we can turn back and not grow at all.

I have often looked back at my own life and a particular set of stages that are very important to me - to my relationship with God.  So you're going to get a story...

When I was a young child.  I had a lot of fears.  Life could be kind of scary at times.  I didn't go to Sunday School very often, but my grandmother brought me to Worship (mostly in the Finnish language) and taught me herself.  I came to know and trust God as my Father, for protection from the darkness of the night.  When I was afraid, I would close my eyes and pretend that I lay in the safety of His great big hands (I knew the song - He's got the whole world in His hands) and I was safe.  I knew God the Father.  At the time, I knew who Jesus was.  But, I didn't know Jesus.

After confirmation, I strayed as most young people do - lot's of false gods.    About the time of my oldest sons confirmation, I was tired.  Life was pretty chaotic. God was not on the bottom of my list of priorities, but He wasn't on the top, either. We were attending an LCMS congregation.  Pr Gary Fisher proclaimed the Good News and I heard.  I remember one particular sermon he gave in which he cited the Apostle's Creed.  But, instead of using the words I believe, he said, "I know God the Father Almighty...  I know Jesus Christ..."  I began to crave a deeper relationship with Jesus, not just to know who he was, but to really know him.  And I began to grieve that he should die for someone like me, who had for so many years taken him for granted.  God was speaking to me and telling me it was time to turn my life around.  It was time to repent.  I did.  I remember driving home from the church one day, crying and confessing to God, all of my sins.  Asking Him for forgiveness for not putting Him before all other things.  I was sorry that I had been such a poor example of a Christian and I deserved death and to never be allowed into the kingdom.  The sacrifice that Jesus paid for me, was more than I deserved.  I told Him that I didn't care if He condemned me, but if He he would allow it, if He would guide me, I would serve Him.  Help me to tell the world of Jesus' love, not for my sake, but for the sake of all those who do not know Jesus.  At this stage of my life, my relationship with Jesus began to grow. 

I knew the Father and the Son.  But, there are 3 persons in the Trinity and I still had to meet the Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God, two men, whom I worked with, knew the Spirit.  I didn't even know who the Holy Spirit was.  Teaching of the third person sometimes gets least attention in many Lutheran churches, except for on Trinity Sunday.  These men began to teach me.  I had already learned that there is a difference between knowing who someone is and knowing them. So on the advise of these men, I got on my knees one night, alone in my room and I asked God to please send the Holy Spirit... That night, I met the Holy Spirit.  I refer to it as the night that God introduced me to the Holy Spirit.  No words can describe knowing the Trinity in this kind of fullness.  The joy within me was indescribable.  The world around me was still pretty rough, but I kept right on smiling in spite of all the obstacles.  Pr. Fisher thought maybe I needed counseling :)  But, he finally directed me to the Renewal in Missouri movement.  Which began another stage in my life. 

The point I'm trying to make this morning is that our life on earth is a journey through the wilderness and it is usually made in various stages.  We do not learn everything overnight.  Our relationship with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit takes time.  That doesn't usually happen overnight either and like all relationships it will have it's ups and downs.  There are a lot less downs though when you are traveling through the wilderness on the path that has been set before you.   It will be easier because you will know the peace that Jesus promised that surpasses all understanding.  If you turn back, you will not get to the promised land.  If you refuse to go at first, it may take a few more years, maybe even 40, to get where God would have had you in the first place. 

If in your journey, you find yourself afraid, know that God is with you.  If in your journey, you're finding yourself thirsty or hungry, God will provide.  He has provided us food and drink that will sustain us for all eternity, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.   If in your journey, you need comfort, know that the comforter is with you, the Spirit of Christ will give you peace.

May God bless each of you with a greater relationship with the fullness of the Trinity:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Receive What God Has Promised You and Give Thanks!

Numbers 32

They are close!  They are really close.  It appears that Israel is about to cross over the river Jordan into the promised land.  Thanks be to God their journey through the wilderness is almost over!  Or is it?

The Gadites, Reubenites and half tribe of Manasseh decide they don't want to live in the land the Lord has promised them.  The land that they have just taken from the Mideanites is great for cattle and they want to settle there east of the Jordan.  They don't want to go to the land flowing with milk and honey.  This makes Moses just a wee bit nervous.  The last time God was going to lead them into the promised land, they had balked at entering the land out of fear of the people that resided there.  And what happened....?  They weren't allowed to enter.  God sent them wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years.    

But, the tribes who wanted the land east of the river convinced Moses that it was not out of fear that they didn't want to inherit any of the promised land, but simply that they liked the land and wanted to settle where they were.  They promise (and do fulfill their promise) that the men will go into the promised land to help take the land for the rest of Israel and then they will return to the land east of the river.  Moses agrees.

As we continue reading in the months ahead, I (we) need to remember to pay attention to what happens to these people who did not want and did not receive the land that God had promised them. 

And on to today's life's application of this story.  In the U.S. today is the national day of thanksgiving.  Our thanksgiving worship service was last night so that the community could gather as families in thankfulness for all that was given them today.  We gathered together as the children of God last night, to give thanks to the one who has given us so much.  But, as I suspect it was in most congregations around the country, attendance was certainly not anywhere near a Sunday morning worship service.  We heard the lesson of the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19) and only 1 (a Samaritan) returning to give thanks to the Lord for healing him and he was not just healed of his disease, but made whole.  This lesson on the eve of Thanksgiving always makes me wonder how many of God's children are truly thankful for what He has given us...  How many have actually been made whole...  How many have fully received the gifts that God wants them to receive... 

Sometimes, I joke about my heritage.  I am pretty much a "mutt," although mostly of Finnish descent.  Those first immigrants to the U.S. had it pretty rough.  They worked hard, mostly as farmers or miners, and neither the land or the climate was gentle to them.  They were a serious people, always doing battle with the elements to provide for their families.  Some of my family have been farmers (some miners).  I remember working in the barn with my grandmother when I was very young.  All the milking was done by hand.  There were no mechanical devices to clean the gutters, either.  She worked very hard and always gave thanks to God for all that He provided to her family.  But, in the next generation, with the advancements of modern farming methods, which should have made life easier, I noticed that life on many farms didn't seem to get easier.  With all this equipment to make the work easier, what I noticed was lacking was an attitude of gratitude for the gifts that God had given them.  It was as though many hadn't even received the gifts.  When I would return to the area to visit (and make hay), what I heard was grumbling about the hard work, grumbling about the equipment breaking down, grumbling that it was raining, grumbling that the sun was shining...  You get the picture.  And all of this grumbling was usually done around the kitchen table over coffee and nisu.  :)  I have to admit, I found all this grumbling to be a bit humorous.

Bottom line this morning is...  Have you received the promised inheritance that God has given to you?  Have you entered into that kingdom (it has come and is coming) or are you going to stay on the outside like the Gadites, Ruebenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, while others claim your inheritance?  Will you rejoice and be glad for all that God had given you, so that you might turn and give Him thanks?

Rejoice and give thanks to God for all His promises on this day of thanks giving as well as every day!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rambling Again...

Numbers 31

A holy war... God directs the Israelites to execute His judgement against the Midianites.  Trying to place myself in that mind set is a little difficult this morning.  It is difficult, as a Christian who lives in a country where freedom of religion is allowed (more or less), to understand how God could be so angry with the Midianites that he would command the Israelites to go and and destroy them.  But, nevertheless that is what we read this morning.  God is a jealous God and He will have His children worshipping no other god.  He does not want them mixing with the Midianites - to be slowly indoctrinated into the worship of other gods.

Moses, as God's emissary on earth, is concerned about not allowing the pagan nation to lead the children of Israel astray, to worship other gods.  God doesn't want His children mixing with other people to learn their ways.  He wants them following Him faithfully.  There is only one God and the penalty is high for not following Him.  It seems harsh that God would call for the extermination of one people to preserve the faithfulness of another. It is, afterall, not anyone's fault but our own if we go straying after other gods.  Is it not?

But, children will be children and they need to be taught in the way that God would have them go.  I give as an example of this the church of the world today.  How much of what our children know (have been taught by us) has to do with following in the path of Jesus and how much of the secular world has infiltrated what we teach?  How much of our own idolotrous ways have we taught the young people, who will add their own misperceptions of who God is to ours and teach them to their children?  It seems to me, we are all lost sheep who have gone astray.  We have allowed worship of false gods by not speaking up and not speaking the truth, but allowing worship of other things into our churches, into our homes, our lives.  In addition to the worship of material things and personalities, idolotry has sneaked into the church under the guise of justice, peace, love.  All of these things taught as the world understands them, not as the whole of scripture teaches.  Justice today means everyone gets off easy.  Justice today is really cheap grace.  Peace means no conflict so don't say anything about Jesus that might offend anyone.  Peace means no confrontation - ignore real justice - so that there is no blood shed at our hands and we can pretend that we are good people.  And love really means acceptance of everything that is done under the sun.  That is what we have taught our children.  That is what many of us were taught and in the end there is no justice, no peace, no love.  We ignore the real needs of people all around the world because of our inability to understand what real justice, peace, and love are.  Sometimes conflict, sometimes confrontation needs to happen if an innocent person is to know justice.  Sometimes real peace can only be realized in and through times of conflict. Sometimes love calls for real confrontation in order that someone we care about can get on the path they need to follow in order to know peace.  Personally, I think we ignore God's justice, peace and love because we're afraid that we might be confronted ourselves and then we'd have to acknowledge that we too are lost sheep and have strayed.

Oops... Rambling again.  But, one more thing.  Take a look at your Sunday School curriculum.  Does it teach about God the Father Almighty, Creator of all that is?  Does it really tell the story of Jesus or just select stories and only in part?  Does it speak of the power of the Holy Spirit?  Or as I suspect in many cases, does it teach your young people how to be "good people" and get along with everyone?  Is Jesus held up only as a good teacher or are you teaching your children that He is Salvation?  He is the way, the truth, and the life?  Has salvation by works sneaked into the curriculum?  Should we all just get along to get along?  Or is there something more at stake?

There is only one God.  You shall have no other gods.  We shall fear, love and trust Him above all things.

P.S.  If you're getting the idea from my blogs that not everyone appreciates everything I teach - you would be correct :)   The injustice of the justice in this world - the lack of love in a world that puts on a happy face pretending to love others when they are only looking out for themselves - and ignoring injustice to maintain peace are some really sore points with me.  As I've aged, I have learned that keeping quiet about these things are only perpetuating the worship of false gods.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your Maker Is Your Husband

Numbers 30

Men swear oaths and women make thoughtless utterances... hmmm...  interesting.  As a woman, I have to confess I have sworn some oaths that were really thoughtless utterances.  Fortunately, for my husband, I don't think that I've ever made them in his hearing so he doesn't bear my guilt. :-)  I alone am guilty for my own thoughtless utterances.

Does the apparent male privilege and responsibility of the patriarchal society in the old testament offend me?  Not in the least.  That is the way it was.  Just because I don't always appreciate the way history presented itself, doesn't mean I should change it or ignore it.  It is what it is.  And...  just because men at the time were definitely "head of the household" doesn't mean that God didn't bless women.  Miriam, afterall, was a prophetess.  As we move forward in history through both the old and new testament we will see where God has called many women, the least in this world, to be first: to lead (as servants) his people and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.  To utter words of good news!

I am grateful that my husband does not have to bear the guilt for my sins.  They are a bit heavy for him to bear.  But, we have a bridegroom (see also: Matt 9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34; Rev 21:1-3 and my favorite Isaiah 54:4-6 ) who was able.  OK...  I cannot resist posting Isaiah 54:4-6 (NIV) - it really is a favorite and good news:

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
   Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
   and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
   the LORD Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
   he is called the God of all the earth.
The LORD will call you back
   as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
   only to be rejected,” says your God."

My earthly husband, has not heard my thoughtless utterances, but my maker, my redeemer, my beloved husband, Jesus the Christ has and he bore the weight of our sins upon the cross that we might be freed from sin to be his loving bride, the faith-filled and faithful children of God.

"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."   (Romans 3:23-26 NIV)

Hoping this all makes sense to all of you this morning.  God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, November 21, 2011


Numbers 28, 29

There are those who think that I mention offerings too much - especially in the fall during the season we normally consider our budget and stewardship.  They should  read Numbers.  I've got nothing on Moses!  Wow!  Every now and then I have to double check to make sure I'm not reading the same chapter over again. 

I know I've talked about offerings in at least a couple blogs before this one.  One thing that strikes me this morning is that these offerings are made regularly, often, and they are worship.  Giving to God, making offerings or sacrifices is a way of worshipping God, honoring Him.  And...  if we are to honor Him then we give unblemished, firstfruits, not the leftovers. 

God does not give us leftovers.  He gave His only begotten Son as a sin offering for us.  Is he not worthy of all honor and glory?  How long will we honor God with the leftovers of our time, talents, gifts? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

God Provides

Numbers 27

Women as heirs - now that a novel idea!  Just kidding...  Times were a bit different back then...  When the daughters of Zelophehad complained to Moses about the injustice of a system that did not allow daughters to inherit their father's possessions they talked to Moses.  Moses talked to God and God made provision for them.  This provision, though, was not based so much on the individual women's needs, but to perpetuate the name of their father.  There was a little room for women in the patriarchal system - but - very little.  We'll see in chapter 36 that there were a few restrictions on these provisions. 

Now Moses was getting near the time of his end as shepherd of Israel.  He had sinned against God by not showing God's holiness to the people.  He was allowed to see the promised land, but not enter into it.  So God makes provision for Israel by providing a new shepherd, Joshua.  Joshua is commissioned.  In front of Eleazar the priest and the  whole congregation, Moses lays his hands upon Joshua and part of his authority is transferred to Joshua in order that he might lead the people as a shepherd.

God provides according to the needs of the people.  On January 8th, at Bethany Lutheran in Covington, MI a shepherd of that small flock will be installed.  God has provided.  They have been like sheep without a shepherd for a long time.  Thanks be to God that they knew, trusted, and followed the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ in the interim.  I served as their interim Pastor, as did others, during part of that time.  But, now they will have someone who can more closely serve them.  Peter Suomela, a layman has been called to serve.  Now that's a novel idea... LOL.  Who do we think served the church on earth when it was first growing in the U.S..  There certainly weren't enough pastors to go around at that time - 5 and 6 point parishes with hundreds of miles in between in some places?  It was lay people who led weekly worship between visits by the clergy.  In Russia, during the many years that Christianity was outlawed and priests and pastors were being sent to prison camps in Siberia, it was not just laymen, but lay women who served secretly so that the Gospel would still be heard and God's children ministered to.  We give thanks to God for Peter, who has been in the Lord's training for many years (since baptism) and has been called to serve as shepherd in that community of Covington.  God's provides.  We thank God for the provisions he makes for all His people! 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Census

Numbers 26

The census of the new generations - the generation that will enter the promised land - now those are some numbers!  I cannot even begin to imagine families so large.  And.. I cannot imagine so many children of God in one place! 

So often in the church we hear it said that numbers don't matter.  Well, yes and no.  We know that where 2 or 3 are gathered in His name, there Christ is.  (Matt 18:30)  That's a good and reassuring thing.  But, we are also commanded to go and make disciples.  It just kind of makes sense to me that if we are actively involved in the great commission (Matt 28:19-20) then the numbers will grow.  The church of Jesus Christ is not about a genealogical family blood line - it is about the family that has been adopted as children of God through the blood of Christ.  How does that "blood-line" fare today? 

Every January our church council takes a "census" of our members.  Names have been added to our rolls throughout the year as they are baptized (children and adults) or affirm their faith as adults.  Some names are also taken off each January or rather they are removed from the voting member roster and placed in an inactive baptized status.  We never removed the names permanently unless they request it.  This inactive baptized roster are those people who for whatever reason have decided that they are spiritual enough and don't need to worship God with fellow believers.  They don't need to hear the Word of God or receive the Sacrament.  Sometimes it might even be that they have stayed away because they feel unworthy and they haven't quite grasped the fact that we are all unworthy and that is why we should hear the Word and receive the Sacraments.  As they are put on the inactive rolls, we continue to pray for them and minister to them whenever they are in need.  They are not counted; however, as official members of the church.  I have been asked why we bother keeping them on any rolls.  The critique is that if we keep ministering to those who have chosen not to be active disciples of Christ, then why would they want to be active?  Wouldn't that be ideal to be ministered to in times of need, but not having to take responsibility as a disciple of Christ?  I've been thinking about that this morning.  And... the only answer to what will motivate them to return to the sheepfold that I can give is the love of Jesus Christ, active through all the disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit.   We continue to minister to them because that is what our LORD would have his followers, his shepherds to do.  Are we not about praying for those in need, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, etc.?  We continue to minister to those who are absent from our midst because our LORD would have us seek out the lost sheep and bring them safely back into the fold.  (Matt 18:12-14 Luke 15:3-7)

Christians are and, at the same time, are not an elite group of people.  We are elite because we belong to the family of God.  We are not an elite group because we know that without Christ we are nothing.  We are not elite because Jesus died for all who would believe - not just us.  We welcome all people whom Jesus died for into our communities, into the family of God.  We welcome all people when we leave the safety of our sanctuaries to go into the world to make disciples; baptizing and teaching all that our LORD has taught us.

I often look around me and think about how small the "remnant" might actually be.  But, it does not stop me nor should it stop the church on earth from reaching out to gather in to God's family all His children.  I firmly believe that if we are active disciples ourselves, following the command of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in the great commission, the census will be great!  The census of the generation of Israel that received the promised land will seem very minute in comparison. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Death or Life?

Numbers 25

Journeying through the old testament can be difficult.  There are some chapters I would really like to ignore (but I won't).  This is one of them.  It is a reminder that we should not yoke ourselves with unbelievers.  It is not helpful to living lives in relationship with God to marry someone who worships other gods.  Yes, indeed they may come to the LORD through our faithful witness.  But, we may also be led away from Him, by their witness and life lived in worship of other things. 

God was pretty zealous in His jealousy to send a plague in destroying thousands who turned away from Him.  Death was the penalty for being led astray.  And... what led them astray in the first place?  Lust.... It started with sexual attraction.  The men of Israel lusted after the women of Moab, who they followed down a path to the sacrificing and the worshipping of other gods.  They forsook their God for sex.  As we journey through the Bible you will notice that the relationship between God and His people is often likened to a marriage.  When we go after other gods (idolotry) we are committing adultery.  What happens in a marriage when adultery is committed?  Most usually jealousy - sometimes it is so painful - that deaths do occur.  Most often the pain that is endured because of adultery - feels like death.

Now, I don't believe that God is going to strike down every human being who turns away from Him with a great plague.  But, death and not life is inevitable for those who turn away from Him, for those who reject Him and worship other gods.  We know life when we are in relationship to God.  We know death when we are not.  Think about those times in your life when it felt like God simply wasn't there for you - when you felt like you were completely alone.  Think about the times when you were busy chasing after other gods.  Did you not feel like you were dieing?  There may have been times when you even wanted to. 

But, there is hope.  Jesus said,  "I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:9-10 NRSV)  The thieves are false prophets, false shepherds, false gods.  We do well if we recognize them and stay far away.

And... Jesus told Thomas, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)  The only real life, the only abundant life is found in Jesus the Christ.  Real life is experienced when we live in relationship with Jesus.   Through Him we come to live in close relationship with the Father.  And I add, by the power of the Holy Spirit...  For without the Spirit there is no breath in us to proclaim his wonderous love to you. According to Jesus: "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." (John 6:63) 

Death or life? That is the question today...  False gods or the one God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  Who or what will you live your life in this world in relationship with?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Open Our Ears To Hear - Listen!

Numbers 22 - 24

Now here's a familiar story to many Sunday School children.  The story of Balaam and the talking donkey... But, there is more to the story.  I'm asking you to read all 3 chapters today so that you can get the more of the story.

First off, Balaam does not appear to be an Israelite, one of God's chosen people.  Otherwise, wouldn't he be with the rest of the crew wandering around in the wilderness?  Instead, he's off to do the bidding of Israel's enemy.  Balaam is a diviner of sorts.  To put it plainly:  Balaam is a false prophet.  But, even this false prophet knows that when the LORD speaks to him, he'd better listen.  Instead of cursing the Israelites as Balak has commanded him, Balaam blesses them as the LORD commanded him to.

Balaam, the gentile listens - at least he attempts to hear.  That doesn't necessarily mean he worships God.  Doesn't even mean that he expected to hear the LORD Himself talk to him.  He may have been expecting another voice.  Scripture doesn't say - purely conjecture on my part.  But, when God does speak, he has enough good sense to do as he is told.  Course, even though his ears may be open, his eyes are shut to the angel of the LORD.  The donkey can see the angel, but Balaam cannot - at least not until the LORD opens his eyes. 

Open our eyes Lord that we may see.  How many of us go around and never see.  Our youth at Zion are doing a play during Advent based on the story of the Christmas Guest, a poem written by Helen Steiner Rice, which was actually based on the short-story "Where Love Is, God Is" written (retold) by Leo Tolstoy.  It's the story of a man who is expecting the LORD to come and visit him.  It turns out that he gets three visitors in need, whom he helps.  At the end of the day, the man is still waiting for the LORD to visit only to find out that the LORD had already been there in the three visitors he has helped.  His eyes could not see the LORD while they were present with him.  But, God opened his eyes after he had helped them.  "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in..." (Matt 25:35 NIV) 

Open our ears Lord, that we may hear.  When was the last time that you were actually still enough, quiet enough, to hear the voice of the LORD, if He chose to speak to you?  I think that part of our noise pollution problem comes from the fact that we're afraid that if left alone in sheer silence (1 Kings 19:11-13) we might hear actually hear what the LORD is trying to say to us.   Do we fear that we might hear and then, like Balaam, be compelled to do as we're directed - because it is God asking?  Would you really tell God no?  It's much easier, I think to avoid hearing God's will by cranking up the television or the music.  It is better to be blind and deaf - then we don't have to do anything.  We won't have to acknowledge His presence in our lives or in the lives of others.  We won't have to acknowledge His will for us.  Do we hope the sound of the television and our choice (or not so choice) music will drown out the sound of God's voice that might be heard as a whisper if there were silence?

I wish that more often the whole story of Balaam would be told to our children.  Balaam, who was not one of God's chosen people, when confronted by God - even Balaam had enough sense to listen.

Open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts Lord so that we might see and hear and know you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Complain, Repent, Healed

Numbers 21

With all the complaining that the Israelites did, it makes me wonder how God could have chosen them.  They complain against Moses and God.  God sends a plague.  The Israelites repent.  God continues to bless them.  He blesses them, in this case, with some major military successes.  They conquer the people who would come against them. 

There are so many days when I hear the complaints of the people against God.  I hear how much we don't have, yet want in this world.  I hear complaints that reveal a lack of faith in God and I wonder how long it will be before God brings His hand down against us or maybe He has already and we just have so little faith that we can't even see it?  Have we been struck with poisonous venom and not even know it?  Could we be so slow of heart and mind?  Slowly dieing and yet refusing to repent of our lack of faith in God and refusing to turn to the one who was lifted up on a cross so that we might be healed. (see Isaiah 53:5 and John 3:14 - read the whole chapters - it all pertains)

We are not so unlike those Israelites, with our constant whining.  Yet, we are unlike them in that we are so hard-hearted that we refuse to turn (repent) and give thanks and honor and glory to the one who was lifted up on the cross for us, by whose stripes we are healed.

May the Lord remove our hearts of stones and give to us new hearts; hearts filled with the desire to love and serve God and all His children.  May the Spirit of God touch us with His healing love.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Lord Provides

Numbers 20

The Israelites are thirsty and wishing again that they had stayed in Egypt to die rather than following Moses around in the wilderness to die.  I don't quite get it - why grumble when either way they will die.  They grumble against Aaron and Moses.  They make life generally more difficult with their complaints.  Moses, when told by God to take his staff and command the rock to bring forth water, appears to do that with vengeance.  He strikes the rock with the staff twice and says "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?"  I am emphasizing the word we here.  Is Moses taking credit for what the Lord provides?  Is Moses claiming the glory that belongs to God?  After all, God's response to Moses' action is to reprimand Moses and Aaron for not showing His holiness before the eyes of Israel.  God lets Moses and Aaron know that because of their actions (attitude?) they will not enter the promised land. 

I have to tell you, this reaction of God's toward Moses makes me just a little nervous.  Here is the man who God chose and called to lead His people out of slavery.  Moses didn't want the job.  But, he took it and did the best he could.  He got a little cranky with the people now and then.  He was human, afterall.  But, was he any more cranky than any of us would have been?  I think he probably acted much calmer than I do when people start complaining because they do not trust God and when they want to start trusting in the world enough to want to sell themselves (their souls) back into slavery.  For the most part, I think I remain pretty calm.  But, there are times....  And I usually repent afterward as it is obvious to even me that I was being obnoxious. 

Moses' sister, Miriam, dies at the beginning of the chapter.  His brother Aaron dies at the end of the chapter fulfilling God's promise that the generation that had rebelled against God as they were led out of Egypt, the generation that refused, in fear to face the people of Canaan and enter the land promised to them, when God first directed them to, would never enter the promised land. 

What can we learn from this chapter?  Maybe that it is that the Lord provides.  Quit grumbling and trust the Lord to provide.  Follow Him!  Anticipate and receive the gifts that He has given without looking back thinking it is better to be a slave rather than to trust that the Lord will provide.  It is the Lord that provides us a place to dwell.  It is the Lord that provides us water to drink when we are thirsty.  Just like Moses and Aaron, we too sometimes (often) forget that it is He, not we or any other human being, who is God.  We forgot that God has given us water to drink that will refresh us and sustain us for eternity. God provides.

     Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  
     "Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
     Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:10-14 (NIV)

Thanks be to God for the waters of life that have been given to us, through Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Soap and Water

Numbers 19

Got no real clue!  As I read the ritual of the red heifer it strikes me that they are being instructed on how to make some type of soap to cleanse themselves of any impurities, diseases, that they may come in contact with when a corpse is touched.

This is not your usual offering.  The entire ritual is done outside of the camp - outside the temple - and it must be in a clean place.  The sacrifice is female which is most unusual.  A female would not be considered a sacrifice for sin.  This ritual, I think, is simply a ritual to cleanse a person to reduce the risk of disease from spreading through the camp.

We all (hopefully) have personal rituals for cleansing to keep from spreading diseases.  Some are more concerned about contact with others that might cause them to be ill than others.  During or Worship Services, right after the sharing of the peace, while the offering is being received, and just prior to preparing the table for Holy Communion, I disappear into the sacriste for a moment - just long enough to use some of that waterless anti-bacterial soap on my hands.  I have in the past had comments about all that hand shaking and holy kissing spreading diseases.  A few persons have expressed concern in the past that I may pick up germs and pass them on to everyone else as I distribute Holy Communion.  I have never known of anyone becoming ill  by receiving the body and blood of Jesus, except maybe for those who receive the sacrament without discerning the body. (1 Corinth 11:29-30)  In any case not to offend anyone, I step into the sacriste to cleanse my hands to help those who are uncomfortable with the possibility of contracting a disease from the other members of the congregation and myself.  I have a hard time comprehending all this, but I understand it is a fear of some and do not want to be the cause of anyone staying away from the table.

Soap and water will get us clean on the outside - most of the time.  But, what will we do for our spiritual cleansing?     

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gift and Responsibility

Numbers 18

God gives to Aaron and his sons the priesthood as a gift (vs 7) and as a responsibility (vs 1). 

Being called to serve God is indeed a gift.  I first felt called to this pastoral ministry when I was about 11 or 12 years old.  For many years, I worked other positions, denying the gift, denying the call.  But, then again when the time was right everything fell into place.  I think that the Lord had to prepare me in other ways, besides just the academic, before He was ready for me to serve Him.  There had to be a lot of training and learning in the wilderness first.  The gifts that I received to prepare for the gift of ministry took a long time to cultivate in me. 

But, ministry as a pastor is also a great responsibility.  I believe the hardest part of the responsibility for me is to try  to help the lost sheep get back on the path.  I'm not talking about those who make no claims to Jesus, those who have never heard the good news.  Rather, I'm talking about those who are called to share the good news with those who have never heard.  I'm talking about those who say they believe, but do not follow.  They may be right in front of you, but it is apparent that they have no clue in which direction to turn.  They are lost in plain site.  For whatever reason, although they are baptized and professed Christians they can not seem to know the way, which is Jesus the Christ.  It is difficult for me when someone I care deeply about is following another god, following in a way that will lead them to destruction and they do not even know it.  They cannot even acknowledge that they have lost their way.

I can understand why universalism has crept into the church.  We do not want to accept that some whom we love may not enter the Kingdom of God because they have turned their backs on Him in this world.  It would be nice if God would say, OK everyone will go to heaven.  We want everyone we love to enter that kingdom.  But, that is not what He says.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:21  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." 

When we know the Lord, when we truly love Him, we will do the will (or at least try) of our Father in heaven.  But, how can we know that will apart from His word given to us in the Holy Scriptures?  We cannot.  The reading and hearing of scripture is necessary for us to be able to grow in faith - to grow in love.  And... without faith and love nothing is accomplished through us. 

Remember that children's song that goes "and they'll know we are Christians by our love."?  Last Wednesday, we discussed in Bible study how so many people have been baptized, but if you met them on the street and talked to them, you would not have a clue that they know Jesus.  Probably because they don't.  They are counting on water baptism to save them.  The gift of Baptism has been taken for granted.  The gifts received in Holy Baptism have been tossed aside.  It is, some feel, enough to go through the ritual.  I was asked at the study how one could know if someone they met were a follower of Jesus.  I went to a Marine Corps birthday party the other night.  It is more of a ritual observance than a party.  There were only a few active duty Marines there, most of them were no longer active.  They all consider themselves Marines for life whether they are active or not.  If I met any one of them for the first time on the street or in the grocery store, I would be able to tell that they were Marines.  It's part of their very being, it is who they are.  However, if their service had been of a nature that rendered dishonorable discharges, I would not be able to tell that they had been in the Marine Corps.  Whenever we have clergy show up for worship who I do not know, I can tell they are clergy, just by watching them.  They don't have to be wearing their collars.  You can just tell.  The same goes for all Christians.  When one strives to follow Jesus, to live in God's presence, in the kingdom of God even now, one can tell.  It is who they are.  But, there are many today who have been baptized who do not know Jesus, who have not taken the time to know our Father's will and so when we meet them on the street we cannot tell - they are not distinguishable as a people set apart by God.  One could never tell that they follow Jesus.

We have all (all Christians) been called to the ministry - it is what 1 Peter (2:9) refers to as the royal priesthood.  This whole priesthood has been called to proclaim the praises - declare the goodness of God.  As baptized Christians we have all been given the gift of ministry.  Along with the gift comes the responsibility to declare the goodness of God. 

Well, now I am rambling - gotten off topic a bit again!  Each year that passes I wonder more and more at how it is that we can take God and our call to serve Him so for granted.  May God help us to proclaim His great love for humankind in all that we say and do. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Staff

Numbers 17

A few years ago, while preaching at the annual campground meeting at the Zeba Methodist Indian Camp, I was given a gift of a hand-made staff.  It is a treasured gift.  It was hand-made by one of the members from the tree that stands outside their little church.  It has a cross carved into the top.  Just below the cross, Zeba, the name of the community it comes from is carved and below that are 12 slashes (tribes, disciples, churches?) are cut deep into the wood.  Whenever, I use it, I wrap my hand around the staff, clinging to the cross.  Yes, I use it.  I use it when I go for walks in the woods.  It's good for turning stuff over to see what's there, to help me keep my balance, and it also give me a little added comfort when I'm out walking in the woods as it can also be used as a protective weapon.  But, mostly I use it when I'm praying.  Not just for my daily prayers, but in those times when something is laying especially heavy on my heart and mind.  I pace and pray with it, either here in the house or up and down my long winding driveway.  Sometimes, those prayers are simply: Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy... as I cannot find the words to pray.  A mercy begged each time the tip of the staff touches the ground.  The prayers can get pretty fast and furious, depending on the level of frustation I'm experiencing over the need for God to intervene quickly to help - to save someone.  Other times, it might be God bless so and so.  With a different name spoken aloud everytime the staff touches the ground.   It is usually parked beside my desk or the back door of the house.  But, sometimes, I carry it with me as a reminder of my responsibility to pray for and care for the children of God here in this place. 

Apparently, the heads of the households of Israel were just a bit jealous of Aaron's authority, his call to serve God. To put it simply:  Aaron is first in God's eyes.  They are last.  And... they are jealous.  So they are told to each bring a staff with their name written on it to the tent of the meeting and God would choose whom he would choose and that should put an end to the issue.  And lo and behold....  Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, sprouts blossoms and bears almonds.  Almonds, the first fruits of the land, sprout from Aaron's staff, validating his call to be the first-fruit of God's people.  Reinforcing his early call to be an offering for the people to the Lord, dedicating his whole life to serve God in the temple. 

May God help us to cling to the cross of Jesus, dedicating our whole lives to His service, to His people.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Excommunication or Death?

Numbers 16
First apologies - I have no clue how I managed to jump from Numbers to Deuteronomy yesterday!  Someone should let me know when I do this kind of thing as it's not too uncommon for me to get confused like that and I could use a little guidance now and then...  Maybe God figured I needed to hear the message for yesterday.  Maybe it's just the shingles disturbing my focus again.  Don't know - but - today we are back on track - I hope - with Numbers 16.

Antagonism and dissension in the congregation.  When we encounter it, we should know that this is not a new thing.  A few chapters back, Aaron & Mirian were questioning Moses' authority to lead.  Now we've got a whole bunch of men grumbling against Moses and Aaron.  I'm afraid we can't fix the antagonism the way that it was fixed in our reading today.  We can't say "God, if they are guilty, let the earth swallow them up" and immediately there is an earthquake to destroy the dissenters, removing them from the congregation, removing the "bad apples."  We have to find another way.

There have been lots of books written out there on how to deal with dissenters and antagonists in the congregation before they divide the church.  Some have fairly good advise if there is intervention before it gets too far out of hand, others are not so good.  Jesus gave us an outline on how to handle this and he didn't promise an earthquake to swallow up the evil doers. 

Recently, my congregation rewrote their constitution and included a section on what to do in cases of antagonists who might be causing problems and divisions in the congregation.  We used Matthew 18 as the guide.  Hopefully, we will never have to get to a point of having to remove anyone from the congregation - excommunicating anyone.  But, in all honestly, private admonitions are not all that uncommon. They're not every day events, but they are also not non-existant.  Maybe, that is why we have never gotten to a congregational intervention or confrontation. 

However, in all fairness, although he had assigned "judges" to help him settle disputes, the congregation that Moses led was way too large for him to be able to be aware of everything going on and "nip it in the bud" before the hostility blossomed.  Most of us have the opportunity to actually be with and know the people we serve so that we are more aware of problems brewing before they become problems too big to handle. 

It's not easy to have to confront someone when they are stirring up trouble in a congregation. It is a very uncomfortable position to be in.  But, it is necessary for the sake of the congregation, for the sake of mission.  It is necessary to do that confrontation or intervention early on.  Do not wait, hoping it will die out (it usually doesn't), until the congregation is split.  I have only personnally known of one excommunication in the Lutheran Church in my life (not my congregations).  It's not a pretty picture, by any means.  But, neither is what happens to a congregation if something is not done. 

May God help our congregations to keep their hearts and minds on Jesus, so that we will not be distracted by the evils, the false gods, of this world - and - we shall live and serve in peace. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remember That You Were A Slave

Deuteronomy 15, 16

Remember that you were a slave...   God gives more of His ordinances to the people and He tells them to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and to diligently observe these statutes.

Remember that you were a slave...  We too were in bondage - bondage to sin.  But thanks be to God we have been freed, by the blood of Christ, to become children of God.  You are His child!  You are an heir of His Kingdom!  How will you give thanks to your Father in heaven? 

Will listen to Him?  Will you gather with your brothers and sisters to worship and give thanks and thanksgiving offerings to your Father?  Will you observe His ordinances? Will all that you say and do glorify your Father in heaven? Or will you sell yourself back into slavery of sin by following false gods?

Sadly, I think many of us claim God as our Father on Sunday mornings (or at least a few Sundays a year) then go off and live as if He were not our Father, disrespecting Him by what we say and do.  We claim that we have been freed in Christ then we go off and do our own thing, doing nothing to glorify our Father, doing nothing to show how grateful we are that Jesus was willing to die that we might indeed become children of God.  That's not freedom, that's slavery to sin. 

We like sheep have all gone astray.    Remember that you were a slave...  Remember that you were in bondage.   We have not listened to our Father who has freed us from bondage and adopted us as His own children.  Turn away from serving false gods, from serving yourself.  Turn to the Lord, your God, the one who bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed. Remember that you were a slave and return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul. (see 1 Peter 2:24-25)

"But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir."  (Galatians 4:4-7)

Let us remember that we were slaves and rejoice...  Let us rejoice that we have been freed from bondange.  Let us rejoice and give thanks to God, not just on an occasional Sunday morning, but every day so that the whole world might know about the precious gift of freedom that we have received through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What To Do With Rotten Apples?

Numbers 15

One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel...

Offerings were made to the LORD if one or the whole congregation unintentionally failed to observe the commandments of the LORD.  However, if one intentionally or high-handedly failed to observe the commandments they were to be put out of the congregation, the community.  No rotten apples were allowed to stay in the community to taint the whole bunch. This applied to residents and alien visitors alike.  Visitors were welcomed, but they needed to follow the laws of God, just as the Israelites were expected to.

The story of a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath is given a death sentence for purposely violating the Sabbath law of God to show us how serious God is about the breaking of his ordinances.  The people weren't sure what to do, so they asked God.  God told them to take him outside the camp and stone him.  Contrary to popular opinion, it was not just the religious leaders of Jesus' day that took the Sabbath laws so seriously.  They did not initiate these laws.  These laws began way back, in the beginning, as God gathered His chosen people together to lead them through the wilderness.  There could be atonement made with offerings for those who broke God's laws unintentionally.  But, there was none for those who sinned purposely. 

The Israelites were ordered to wear fringes on the corners of their garments to help them remember and do all the commandments the LORD gave to them.  We have the cross of Jesus to remind us that we have not been able to keep His ordinances.  We have the cross that reminds us that we are all rotten apples.  The cross reminds us that one who could follow His Father's commands, suffered and died for our sins, that we might not be cast out of the community of God, but remain and live eternally in the presence of God, as we are led through the wilderness to the promised land. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fear of the Promised Land

Numbers 13, 14

The land of milk and honey that had been promised them was before them.  A single cluster of grapes so large it had to be hung on a pole between two men to be carried.  But, the Israelites shrunk back in fear of the people there.  They would not possess it as the Lord commanded them to.  They fear the people of the land, too much.  They did not trust the Lord.  They did not follow Him.  For their lack of trust in God the promise of the land was taken away from them and given only to their children and those who believed - those two men - Caleb and Joshua - who had been willing to enter Canaan as the Lord directed.  For their lack of trust in God and their fear of the people of Canaan, they were destined to wander in the wilderness for forty years and to die without entering the promised land.

How often does fear and not trust in the Lord direct our comings and goings?  How often is it that fear regulates what we do and what we leave undone?  God had promised us the "promised land", the kingdom of God, through Jesus Christ.  That kingdom broke into this world - the gates were flung wide open - at the death of our Lord, for us.  Yet, have we entered into that kingdom, to live in God's presence, to allow Him to guide us every inch of our way, our days?  No, I think not.  For whatever reason we shrink back from living life in that kingdom, in God's presence, to it's fullest. We shrink back and cling to the things, the ways of the world.  We keep following the same old paths, wandering around aimlessly, in fear.  I wonder sometimes, if it is maybe because we fear a possible face to face with the Lord.  If that were to happen, what would He say to us?  Would He call us to places that would require more changes in our lifestyles than we are willing to make?  Would he call us to places where we'd rather not go, because of our fear?

It is fear, not faith that keeps us wandering in the wilderness.  We come to the edge of the promised land and we shrink back in fear.  We are afraid of the people - of what others might think or say about us if we took that step forward to enter into God's presence more fully.  And so... we turn our backs on God and His promises to us, just as the Israelites did when the Lord was ready to lead them into their promised land.

May God help us to follow wherever He would lead us clinging to hope of the promise of His Kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Lord. May He help us to enter that Kingdom in joy.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Numbers 12

Miriam and Aaron have become a bit jealous of their brother Moses' authority and standing in the community. I guess they just don't quite understand how heavy the burden is that he was wrestling with in the last chapter.  They're busy rumbling (that would be gossiping) about Moses and trying to tear him down.  First, it's the Cushite woman he married that they try to use as a mark against him.  Then they point out that the Lord also speaks to them, so why would Moses be elevated above them...  

Jealousy rarely gets us anywhere except in trouble.  Trying to usurp the authority that God gives to one, only ends in disaster.  When God chooses, God chooses.  It's not for man to overrule God.

God's a bit angry because they questioned Moses' right to authority and His right to decide who should be entrusted with His whole house.  He's a bit angry with them for gossiping about the one whom He has called and turns Miriam leprous.

Aaron apparently begs for Moses' mercy fast enough.  Moses, the humble man he is, begs God to change His mind about punishing them for their disrespect.  Aaron does not become leprous and Miriam is destined to only seven days, rather than a life-time outside the camp.  But, for the jealousy, the gossip of the two, the whole camp pays.  They must stay put in that place until Miriam is brought back into camp.  Seven days are not spent journeying to the promised land, but waiting for Miriam to complete the consequences of her sin.  Their mission is stalled for seven days.  They wait for the issue to be resolved.

I note this waiting seven days, because I'm not much on waiting around for a mess that someone else created to be fixed. I'm getting better at it as I've had lots of practice.  Seems like over the years, I've spent a lot of time waiting to get something done and sometimes never getting it done simply because too many people have control issues.  They want to be in charge (usually because they have their own agenda) and in coveting that position, they step all over someone else - usually someone who is much humbler than themselves.  The gossip starts... and when the gossip starts, trouble starts in the congregation and the community, shutting everyone and everything down.  Mission comes to a standstill.  Strife begins and intervention is necessary.  Unfortunately, I am not as good an intervention specialist as God is and it can take a bit more time than seven days to end the problem and continue with mission. 

Not sure why there always has to be jealousy, control issues, strife...  It would just be very nice, much more fruitful, if we could learn to use the gifts that God gives to each of us together, so that mission could continue and God be glorified.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

God Answers Complaints

Numbers 11

     Complaints!  Moses gets to hear them all!  The Lord hears them all!  Delivered from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites have the manna to eat in the desert, but it's not enough.  They want more.  It is a temptation to always want more or something other than we need.
     Led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, Jesus would respond to the temptation to turn the stones into bread so that he could eat:  “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Matt 4:4; also Luke 4:4).  The Israelites have bread to eat.  They have manna.  They have the word of God, spoken to them through Moses.  They have God's presence.  They are aware of it in the form of the cloud and fire. But, they want more so God delivers them a months worth of meat to satisfy their cravings. 
     And Moses... Well, Moses is complaining too.  He's a little tired of being the only one whose shoulders all the Israelites' complaints and burdens fall upon.  He hears their complaints about their cravings not being satisfied and he complains that it all falls upon him to satisfy the desires of the children of Israel.  And God... fixes that complaint as well.  He has Moses pick 70 of the elders to help him bear the burden of the people.  They gather together (all but 2 of them) and God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the 70 elders. 
     Now notice this... God annointed the elders with the Holy Spirit.  Man did not.  There is no mention in this scripture that Moses had to go around and lay hands on every one of those 70 - in fact 2 of them were not even present in the assembly.  God filled them with the Spirit, without Moses' help.  So here I am going to say something that some of you may heartily disagree with...  The laying on of hands by man as is taught by some is not necessary to receive the Holy Spirit.  It is purely a work of God.  The laying on of hands is a good thing, even a needful thing during various prayers, but it is not necessary for the reception of the Holy Spirit.  It is totally up to God to fill someone with the Holy Spirit.  We can lay hands on someone and pray that they receive the Holy Spirit.  But, it is not necessary.  We can kneel at our bedsides alone and pray for this gift and if God chooses we will receive the Spirit.   God's actions, His gifts to us, do not depend upon anything that we might do. They are totally dependent on His grace, His mercy.
     That's good news!  Some more good news (at least for Pastors and Bishops) is that Moses doesn't have to carry the burden alone.  That, I believe, is the reason we have councils and committees.  God gives gifts of the Holy Spirit to many in our congregations in order to share the burden of caring for God's people.  When these gifts are used, no one has too great a burden to bear and their is a whole lot less complaining.
     The sad news in this story is that although the craving of the Israelites was satisfied, many (it appears only the rabble who had the cravings and complained) died of a plague and were buried in that place.  Will the children of God ever learn to quit complaining?  Will we ever learn to appreciate and give thanks to God for the gifts that He has given us?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Trumpets Sound

Numbers 10
May 2011 - Trumpeter Swans - Huron Bay, MI

I'm running just a bit late today on this blog.  Spent the night at camp; relaxed, played Scrabble, took what they call a Finnish Sauna (wood stove) in the U.P..  No internet out there so read the chapter, but couldn't write thoughts down anywhere.  My first thoughts when I read of the trumpets were the trumpeter swans that come and swim in front our home for about 3 days in both the spring and the fall.  It is that time of year again as when I was driving home this afternoon they were swimming in a bay not far from here. They are indeed glorious to behold!  And... are they tall! When they decide to stretch out and walk around they are much taller than me.  If they decide they're going to come and pay you some attention you will not just sit up, you will stand up and take notice.  I wouldn't want to be on the ground with those big birds hovering over me.  Standing is a good position to be in when one of them comes to say hi.

When the trumpets sounded, all of Israel took notice.  They paid attention.  When both of the trumpets were sounded everyone stood up, took notice, dropped what they were doing and gathered around the entrance of the tent of meeting.  Can you imagine that!  Everyone in the community, everyone in the congregation, assembled at the door of the tent of the meeting when they were called.   God calls - the people gather to hear what He wants to say to them.  Let the trumpets sound!  Let all God's people respond as the Israelites did!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Listen, Trust, Follow

Numbers 9

They listened to the LORD.  They had ears to hear.  Moses as mediator presented the Israelites' case before the LORD.  They asked, Even if we are unclean why shouldn't we be allowed to observe the passover and bring the offering before the LORD?  The LORD told them, again through Moses, that they could.  Every Israelite and alien could and would observe the passover.  Those who did not, even though they were able, would bear the consequences of their sin.

They listened to the LORD.  They had eyes to see.  At the command of the LORD, they either followed the cloud as it led them through the wilderness or they camped when it stopped.   They did not venture out into the wilderness without the LORD's presence and guidance. 

Oh, but if we could follow as well as the Isralites did!  For sure, they made mistakes; they sinned; they complained against God while journeying in the wilderness.  Yet, their faithfulness in listening to Him when he spoke to them is amazing in comparison to the willingness and ability of God's children today to hear and follow.

Some will tell me....  But, it was easier then.  God spoke directly to the people in those days.  No, he did not.  He spoke through Moses who spoke through Aaron.  You, too, have His word given to you through the prophets.  He still speaks through them.  You have the Word of God, who is Jesus the Christ.  Listen to Him!  You have His words given to you through the Holy Scriptures.  You have His Spirit.  He is with you. He has promised to be with you.  He will lead you through the wilderness.  Trust Him as you make your journey through life.  Listen to Him, trust Him, follow wherever He will lead you.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Retirement at 50!

Numbers 8

The Levites are appointed as the Lord's.  They are prepared.  Every male from age 25 to 50 is set aside to serve in the tent of the meeting.  They must retire at the age of 50!  Now that's a retirement age! 

We dream about the day when we will have time to relax - to enjoy life.  We plan for our futures - the day when we will be able to sleep in and relax and generally enjoy life.  Sadly, that does not usually happen.  Retirement age keeps going up and up and our health and finances keep going down and down.  Sure, many of us manage to make ends meet on our retirement pensions (if we have one), even on Social Security.  But, there is little extra for the things that were so looked forward to in years gone past.  And our health, now that is another matter....  We just can't do the things we would have been able to when we were younger.  We find much of our past was wasted on dreams that would never come true.  We remember with sadness the years when we could have - should have - enjoyed the life that God has given us, but did not because we were too busy preparing for a future that never came to be.

This morning my mind keeps tracking back to one of the first books of the Bible that I ever read:  Ecclesiates.  It's actually kind of a depressing book.  But, I go back to it every now and then, especially when I'm feeling more worn out than usual.  This morning, I have to confess my thoughts and writings are tainted (and probably read/sound disjointed to you) by a major attack of the shingles.  My head is pounding and my left eye blurry.  I woke up wondering when I would feel like really moving and enjoying life again.  The writer of Ecclesiates tells us:  "I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live:  moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil." (Eccl 3:12-13 NRSV) 

Many young people today just cannot wait until they retire to enjoy the gifts that God has given them.  My warning this morning to anyone who is thinking like this is to enjoy today - don't wait for tomorrow to appreciate and enjoy the gifts that God has given you today.  Tomorrow they may be gone.  Tomorrow you may be gone.  Somehow we need to learn to enjoy and to give thanks for the moment; each and every moment that God has given us, whether it is in work or play.  If we could do that then it probably would not matter to anyone whether they retired at 50 or 80. 

Those Levites who were ordered to retire at age 50 no longer held the positions, but they were allowed to continue to serve by assisting those who took their places.  Most Pastors and Priests today never really retire.  They may retire from a specific position, but they continue to serve.  Ministry is not a job.  It is a lifestyle.  It is a part of who we are and whose we are - Christ's.  I only know one, maybe two, Pastors who have actually dropped out of ministering to God and to others after they retired.  Service to God and others becomes such a major part of our lives that there is no way it will ever really end.  Service to God, in a very real way brings us closer to his presence each and every day, until we join Him fully in that Kingdom prepared for us by His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dedication Offerings

Numbers 7

The altar has been annointed, the dedication offerings brought before the Lord, and the Lord speaks to Moses in the tent of the meeting from above the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. 

When I look at the dedication offerings of the 12 tribes, I am absolutely amazed at their willingness to give so abundantly.  Our budget committee came together yesterday to work out a budget for 2012.  Overall we decreased the budget.  We agonized over the fact that there would be no increases in benevolence.  We agonized over many things.  Understanding that we are economically depressed today, it is still a tough pill to swallow (at least for me) that any congregation that is dedicated to the Lord would have such a hard time making ends meet.  It is a tough pill to swallow as I am quite aware that we are not as economically depressed as some would have us believe.  I personally see it as more like we are really spoiled and God does not get our first fruits.  I know the people well enough to know who or what gets the first-fruits.  Sometimes, we want what we want and God gets the left-overs if there are any.  There are many faithful givers in the congregation.  Without them, there would be no congregation of the saints here in this place.  There does need to be a place where people can gather to hear God promises, to teach God's children, to fellowship.  There are days (like when I'm informed paying bills after one more Sunday rather than when they are normally paid) when I just want to give up the pastoral presence and move over to a more prophetic presence.  That would probably not be too good, either.  But, it is a serious temptation...

Our stewardship is a sign of our spiritual well being. Where our treasure is, there is our heart. (Matt 6:21) Where is your treasure?  Where is your heart?  Who or what is your first love?  It is kind of scary to think that after so many years as professed Christians we are willing to give so little to the service of a God who gave us so much - who gave us our very lives. 

May God help us all to dedicate ourselves to be better stewards of the gifts He has given us.  When He speaks to us, may God have mercy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Separation to the Lord - Nazirite

Numbers 6

The Nazirite vow - a vow to dedicate oneself to the Lord for a specific period of time.  They vow to separate themselves to the LORD and from all wine, any other strong drink as well any grapes or grape products.  They also vow not to cut their hair during this time of separation.  Samson is probably the most famous of Nazirites, although his separation was permanent and he really had no choice in the matter as it was ordered by God beginning from the time when he was in his mother's womb.

Whenever I think about the Nazirite vow, I remember fondly the young men who were at the Youth Correctional Facility I served at years ago.  I was the Substance Abuse Director so those who were in my groups (almost all of the 100 or so) knew that I did not drink any alcoholic beverages.  My hair is long - down to about my waist. I don't go to beauticians.  It's easier to keep it long and straight and just trim it every now and then myself.  Upkeep on hair do's take up a lot of time, energy, and money.  I also usually refrain from eating any of the prohibited unclean foods, not for religious reasons, but because they tend to make me ill.  I was one of the few staff who was allowed to work in small groups alone (confidentiality purposes) and did more than one nose to nose intervention alone - since I'm short and some of those boys were over 6' tall those interventions were more like nose to chest interventions.  I usually did not have to call for help in restraining anyone as I was most often able to deescalate the situations before they went that far.  For that, I was thanked by more than one of the young men who really didn't want to be in more trouble than they already were.  I also volunteered to lead chapel services from time to time and they all knew I had served as a missionary to a Lutheran church without walls prior to going there.  I don't know who started the rumor, but eventually one of the young men in a small group asked me if it was true that I was a Nazirite.  My only response was to smile.  The rumor kept up and I kept them guessing. 

At the correctional facility, one of young men, who had gone through the drug/alcohol treatment program twice (after the first time, he decided he had not been fully honest with his 5th step - so wanted to work through it again); anyway, this young man was in training to be a barber so that he could cut the other boys hair with electric clippers.  We set up a shop for him at the facility just prior to my leaving the facility for a call at a 2-point parish.  I volunteered to be his first client - mainly to dispell the Nazirite vow theory before I left.  It had never crossed my mind that because he was in custody that he wouldn't have access to scissors.  When I sat down in his barber chair and he pulled out the electric clippers, it threw me for a bit of a loop.  I asked the other staff to please find him scissors.  Jaw hanging, he looked at me in amazement that he would be allowed near my head with a pair of scissors.  My response was that he wasn't coming near my head with those other things.  He did a fine job.  It's the last time I've had anyone other than myself trim my hair.  Every now and then I check the Michigan State Correctional Facility website to make sure he's not back in the system.  It's been about 14 years and I'm happy to say that he has not been in jail since.

No, I'm not a Nazirite.  But, as Christians, each and every one of us are called to separate ourselves to God; to separate ourselves from the ways of the world that will cause harm to ourselves or others; to separate ourselves from ways that will not bring glory to God. 

At the end of this chapter is the priestly benediction.  I've read it a few times, but I don't recall reading it in connection with the Nazirite vows before.  I use this benediction often and not just at the end of worship.  The confirmands I teach close every class praying this benediction for one another.  One of the girls I had last year, pointed out to me that I have changed the words.  I do not pray that the Lord give you peace, rather I pray that He give you "His" peace.  I didn't realize that I did this.  But, I think maybe I've done that subconsciously as a reminder that there is a difference between peace in the world and living in a world where there is much chaos with the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and grant you "His" peace.  Amen.