Friday, August 31, 2012

Esther 8 - Saved!

King Xerxes has published an edict.  His edict is law.  It cannot be undone.  But, he can publish another and he does.  He allows the Jews to assemble and defend themselves against the first edict.

God's law has been published, through Moses.  It cannot be undone.  But, He can and has helped us with a defense against the law.  He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, to be our defense.  He died that the law, which we can not keep, would not destroy us.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."  (Eph 2:8)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Esther 7 - Careful Which Way You Lean

“Impale him on it!” (7:10 NIV)  Haman is to be executed on the pole he had set up for Mordecai.  For all his scheming, it all backfired on him.  Mordecai will not die.  Haman, who sought Mordecai's life, will.  The saying "what goes around, comes around" is surely true for Haman.

Let us seek good for our neighbor and pray for our enemy.  In the end, not devising harm against those whom we are jealous of or angry with, may be most beneficial to us.  "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matt 7:12)
When my children were young, I would often remind them that a good reason for following this golden rule is that so often what we do to others, will be done to us.  In most cases, we will be treated as we treat others.  If we are ugly to others, they will be ugly back.  If we are generous and kind, we will receive like treatment.  And... if we plot to build ourselves up, by destroying them, we will probably fall. 

Which reminds me, I watched the movie, the "Lorax" with the grandkids the other day.  The Lorax asks (hopefully I remember it correctly):  "Which way does a tree fall?” And... the answer:  "A tree falls the way it leans.  Be careful which way you lean." 

May God help us to not lean too far to either the right or left.  But, help us to stand upright, withstanding many winds of temptation.

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S.  Looks like I have figured out how to post blogs in advance of them actually posting for you to read.  This is going to work! Yeah! I can take a few days off from the internet to go kayaking, without regret!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Esther 6 - More Ego!

Haman's ego really busted him, now!  That gallows he put up for Mordecai doesn't look like it's going to be used.   Instead, Haman is going to make sure that Mordecai is honored.  This Jew is certainly going to be Haman's undoing.  All does not go well for thoe man who would persecute the people of God.  Playing games with God's people, I'm think is probably something we should all try to avoid.

I am going to try to do some manipulating of my own.  My granddaughter, Cassie, and I are leaving tomorrow to spend a few days kayaking and camping before school starts.  Here's the problem:  I've committed to reading one or two chapters and writing a blog daily so that those who are reading the Bible from cover to cover will not have any interruptions and there is no internet on Lake Superior!  So I will write them in advance and try to schedule them so they don't show up 'till the day...

God's Peace - Pr. J


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Esther 5 - Ego

Oh my... Haman has some serious ego issues.  Invited to eat with the King Xerxes at Queen Esther's table he's so excited, he's running about bragging how important he is.  He does not even suspect that Queen Esther is dear and related to the man at the gate, Mordecai, whom Haman desires to be destroyed.  He does not suspect that he is walking into a trap.

Deluded..  Haman is pretty delusional.  He has been blinded by his own glory!  Haman thinks he can manipulate people for his own purposes (personal and political) and get away with it.  He will not. The tables are turning and Esther is playing the game.  She will use his ego to save her people.

Ego - will blind us to reality and prevent us from living lives in God's glory.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, August 27, 2012

Esther 4 - Nothing New Under the Sun - Money Buys Just About Anything?

Has anything changed under the sun?  "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago." Eccl 1:9-10

Mordecai's life is in danger.  Esther's life is in danger.  The death of all Jews is imminent.  Their deaths have been secured with payment to the king's treasury by Haman. Esther, although the wife of King Xerxes, finds it out, not from her husband, but from Mordecai. And... yet, she is reluctant to go to the king to intercede for her people.  The king is not aware, yet, that she is a Jew and what is more anyone who enters (including the queen) the presence of the king without being called is in danger of being put to death.  I think maybe she thinks that somehow she will be immune from the destruction that has been decreed upon all Jews.  She's got a pretty good chance of dying either way.  When she finally agrees, she asks that all her people, all of the Jews, spend the next three day fasting.

The payment is my concern this morning.  Has anything changed under the sun? Money has been known for changing the way we live for the good or bad.  How much money is spent in manipulating (lobbying) for specific interests that in the end changes our lifestyles and sometimes to the degree that it has killed a lifestyle?  Since, we just finished with a week of confirmation classes, the commandments "thou shall not kill" and "thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor" come to mind.  How much money is spent on false advertising to undermine opponents.  And in the end, how much of this bearing false witness actually affects the lives of both the candidates and constituates?  How many spirits are weakened by this lack of integrity?  According the Luther's Small Catechism what is the meaning of the 5th commandment about murdering mean? 
     "We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help    and befriend him in every bodily need [in every need and danger of life and body].

So does what goes on in politicing prior to elections actually help or harm our neighbor?  Will we do what we need to do to help all people or will we first think, as Queen Esther did, about what the best thing to protect our own lives is?

Just wondering....

God's Peace - Pr. J


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Esther 3 - You Shall Not Bow Down

"And God spoke all these words:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.""  (Ex 20:1-6 NIV)

Mordecai, Queen Esther's mentor of sorts, would bow down to no one but God.  He would not bow down to Haman, so "Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews." (vs 6 NIV)  And.. he found it.  He convinced the King Xerxes to allow him to have the Jews destroyed. 

We just completed a week of confirmation, at which we spent much of our time on the ten commandments, so these verses from Exodus are still at the top of my mind.  What does this mean?  Simply this:  You shall have no other gods.  You shall not bow down to other gods.  No one, nothing, should come before the LORD your God.  Mordecai held fast to this, even to the point that he could be killed. 

How about us?  How fast will we hold to keeping God first in our lives?  How many other things in our lives do we allow to replace the worship of the one true God - the one who has freed you from bondage? 

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Esther 2 - Marriage Made In Heaven?

A marriage made in heaven?!  Well, actually knowing the outcome of the whole story, God's hand probably was guiding this whole transaction.  But, what a way to find a wife!  Not so unlike today!  Try them all out, first! 

Here's the difficulty that I have with the whole thing:  the women allow themselves to be treated like property, like clothes in a department store - tried on for size with the very real possibility of being cast aside.  Then and now.  I just don't get it.  Of course, so many women are trying on men, as well.
And when a husband or wife is finally found, suitably fitting one's ego, now is that a marriage made in heaven?  No wonder there are so many divorces today.  With so much unknown baggage being carried into the marriage, it's no wonder there are so many divorces today.  Course, there are quite a few marriages being entered into, that begin, with the mindset of King Xerxes - try it - see if it fits - if not - send them back to the harem they came from. 

Yes, I am being a little cynical this morning.  I see how so many of our young people (not just young people - they've learned well from the older generations) treat their relationships.  Like shopping in a department store for the fanciest or most expensive (name brand) clothes or like when that old pair of old blue jeans don't fit any longer, casting them aside.  Sometimes divorce may be very necessary. (We'll get to that in the New Testament) But, just because you find something, someone, who pleases you more at the moment is not a reason to end the covenant you've made with someone else.

Marriages made in heaven?  I don't know about that.  But, I do know that when you ask God to bless your union - He joins you as one 'till death parts you.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, August 24, 2012

Esther 1 - Feasting - With Wine

Ok... I'm confused.  After about a half of a year of showing off his kingdom, King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) declares a seven day feast, during which there is much wine drunk.  Seven days of partying.  Then on the seventh day when King Xerxes is in high spirits from the wine (drunk), he sends for his beautify wife, Queen Vashti so that he can show her off to his company.  She refuses.  He is embarrassed and there are consequences for her. 

What is this? Would this king have commanded her to come so that everyone could ogle her, if he'd been sober.  Would she have said no, if he and his company had been sober?

The book of Esther; however, I think we will enjoy.  Scene 1:  Xerxes gets rid of his present wife, the queen.

(Edited title on 8/25/2011 due to typo - feasting not fasting.)


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nehemiah 13 - Giving Way To The Adversary

I remember writing a blog some time ago, titled "Keep Your Friends Close, Enemies Closer."  It was about David's kindness to Mephibosheth from 2 Samuel.  The thing to remember is that keeping them closer is with the hopes of knowing their strategy against you, if they have one, and to maybe open their hearts and minds to another way of being through love and generosity. However, the point is not to let them run you over, control your life, or change your heart and mind.  If mingling with the adversary means that you are going to allow a change in your lifestyle so that God is not honored, that His will is not followed, then you probably should really look at the people you are associating with.

Eliashib, the high priest has given space in the temple courts to the adversary, Tobiah, to live.  Tobiah is not a priest.  He doesn't appear to be a Levite.  Tobiah does everything in his power to thwart the attempts to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.  Yet, he is so close that it is apparent that at least he knows about keeping your friends close and enemies closer.  The Israelites, it appears, are still straying.  They are not keeping the Sabbath!  In fact, they are profaning it. 

But, God has sent Nehemiah, to remind them and, with a firm voice and hand, to guide them in the way that they should be going.  In the end, God's will is done.  But, by compromising with the adversary, all could have been lost. 

The safest way to know God's will is to actually read the Holy Scriptures.  Whenever the priests or prophets would read the scriptures, the hearts of the people would turn once again to God.  If you're going to consort with the enemy, it's kind of good - actually, it is necessary - to know God's will and that, my friend, comes from His Word.  Stand firm.  Be strong in the LORD.  Take up the sword of the Spirit, which is His Word.  (Eph 6:17)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nehemiah 12 - Celebrate

What a celebration!  Everyone comes together to celebrate the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem.

Out here in Arvon Township and surrounding community we have a lot of celebrations:  Music Fests, picnics, etc.. Crowds gather in this small community, coming from long distances.  On September 2nd we will have a dedication at the Aura Lutheran Church.  We will be dedicating an organ to the glory of God.  I am hoping for a crowd - that - many will come to hear God's word and celebrate this gift given for His glory. 

Every Sunday, we gather at Zion to give thanks to God for his gifts.  We dedicate our lives over and over again to him.  At times, we are a small group.  We don't have multitudes like they did at Jerusalem.  But, we have faithful people who give of their time and talents so that worship will be a genuine celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Let us think and pray on this:  Everyone comes together in celebration!  And now I have to head to Zion so that I can study with the youth as they prepare to dedicate their lives to God in the Rite of Confirmation.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nehemiah 11 - God Bless the City Dwellers

Not sure what to make of this...
     "Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in other cities.  And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem." (vs 1-2, NIV)

Was it really that horrible to have to live in the city of Jerusalem, that the people drew lots to see who would have to live there and blessed those who willingly offered to live there?  The text doesn't exactly inform me as to why this would be.  Then again, for some reason, I did not sleep well last night and I may not be thinking so well this morning.  Maybe, I'm just not getting it!

But, I sure can empathize with the thinking that living in a city would be a sacrifice.  I know that there are people who would have it no other way.  But, coming back from the NALC Convention in Golden Valley, MN last week and driving about 10 mph all the way through the Twin Cities on I-94 was a good reminder that I did not want to ever live in a city again.  Personally, I like the woods!  I enjoy the solitude.  I can hear distant cars.  But, when I wake up in the morning it is the birds chirping and some of the larger birds even squawking that I hear.  During the warmer seasons, the frogs and crickets sing me to sleep at night.  One New Year's morning, I heard a baby bear crying as (I assume) it was being born.  Much better sounds to me than roaring engines and screeching brakes and neighbors partying.

Yes, let us pray for and bless all those who live in the cities and in the country, too.  Bless all whom God has called to serve as they serve, live where they live.  And... God bless you too.  

Pr. J. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nehemiah 10 - Promises Made - Promises Broken

The covenant is sealed.  Promises are made.

Today we begin the first day of confirmation classes.  At Zion, we have classes one week during the summer for two years during which time curriculum will include "Experiencing Real Living," published by Sola Publishing..  During the school year, the youth will participate in an online course, .  Adults are welcome to join us for the educational part of the classes.  Youth will also be expected to participate in service projects both within the congregation and the wider community.  They are also expected to participate in worship as well as help lead at least two worship services each year.  This is all done to prepare them to make certain promises at the end of the two years as they are confirmed and then to continue to live according to the promises they have made..

Just a reminder of some of the promises those affirming their baptisms make...
     First off, they are asked to renounce the devil, the powers of this world and the ways of sin that threaten to draw us from God.  After affirming their faith with the words of the Apostle's Creed, they are asked if they intend:
     1.  to continue to live in the covenant God made with them in baptism.
     2.  to hear the word of God and receive the Lord's Supper (this necessarily means they will
          continue to attend worship)
     3.  to proclaim the Good News (they will share Jesus with others in both word and deed)
     4.  to serve all people (as Jesus did when he died on the cross for our sins)
     5.  to strive for justice and peace in all the earth (and this might mean that have to be just a little
          less concerned about their own welfare as they seek justice for others)

Each of them will respond with:  "I do, and I ask God to help and guide me."

Now here's the question(s) for this morning.  Do they, will they, do you?  Do you remember the promises you made?  Have you seriously asked God to help and guide you in the keeping of these promises?  So often many people think of confirmation as merely a rite of passage and we push our young people through the classes.  Here's the problem with it, as I see it.  They will make promises to God at the end of the two years.  Do they actually intend to keep those promises?  Will I ever see them again at Worship except for Christmas or Easter?  Do their parents and godparents intend to encourage them to keep those promises.

Israel got in a lot of trouble by going consistantly back on their promises to God.  God is the only one who has been known to keep His promises consistantly man cannot.  Thanks be to God that His grace is enough to cover us when we fall short of keeping our promises.  But, should we be making them if we really don't intend to keep them?

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nehemiah 9 - Recall What God Has Done

The people confess their sins and remember what God has done for them.  They celebrate and give thanks for His mercy is great. 

It is important to recall who God is, what He has done for us.  But, you cannot remember or recall what you have not learned or acknowledged.  I know I have talked about this before and will probably do so again.  But, there are days when I want to shout:  "Quit following in the ways of the world and follow in "The Way" of the LORD.  When worship, which includes hearing the word and the Word, and bible study are neglected, what and from whom are we learning?  The answer is simple - the world.  There are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week.  If we were to tithe our time to focusing on God's Word, to giving God thanks, that would be 2.4 hours per day or 16.8 hours per week.  2.4 hours per day and how many, who say they are Christian, even give that many hours per week?  This must be said:  Christians desire to hear God's word for them.  They desire to worship and give Him thanks.  He has shown us great mercy through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus the Christ.  Do you rejoice and give thanks for that gift of life even weekly, let alone daily? 

Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life."  (John 14:6) Christians follow in that way and that way is indeed to the cross and through it, unto eternal life.  Times will not always be easy as a Christian.  But, as the Christian confesses that they have not been faithful to God and remembers, recalls, the mercy that God has bestowed on us, we remember and we give thanks!  We do this by devoting time for the devotion of God and the study of His Word. 

Please, don't buy into the various religions (self, money, ego, etc) of the world by thinking that separting yourself from the church on earth is the way a Christian should go.  Hear the example from Nehemiah:  "Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers."  (vs 2 NIV)  Take the time to separate yourself from the world, even if it is only one hour a week, and join with your brothers and sisters in Christ to give thanks to God, for His mercy is great.

"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."  (1 Peter 2:8-10)

Put aside the ways of this world and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Walk with Him, that you might know His peace.  If you want a deeper relationship with Jesus, you really need to get to know Him. Recall the stories - but - in order to do that you have to know them - read them - hear them as they are read to you, as the people of God gather as a community to give thanks for His great mercy.  It is Sunday morning... See you in a few hours!  And if you don't live near - find someplace to worship and hear God's word, His will for you. 

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Nehemiah 8 - Faith Comes By Hearing

I love it... "...all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law." (vs 3 NIV) and "Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground." (vs 6)

These people gathered together to hear the word.  They took it seriously.  They bowed before the LORD and they wept.  But, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites told them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep." (vs 9)

So often, I hear others say that you don't have to attend worship to believe.  Well, here we have the children of God and until they gathered together to hear the word found in the book; until they heard it proclaimed; they did not, seriously, take it to heart.  But, when they hear it, they wept.  But, this news that they hear is for their edification.  They are to rejoice that the LORD cares for them so much. 

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  (Rom 10:17 NKJV) 

Please, wherever you are, find a place to worship the LORD, in the community of God's people.  Hear His Word.  Hear the Good News of the kingdom, so that you too may rejoice in what the LORD has done for you.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nehemiah 7

Neoptism, maybe favoritism?...  Wonder how well this is going to work for the people of God?  Recording the families... ? Making records, keeping track, shutting and the locking the doors 'till the sun is high in the sky?  Sounds like a lot of busy work...and not enough living.  I tend to think that this world tends to make too much work for themselves, that is unnecessary.  How about taking a bit of that time to live life?  To live in communion with all the saints?

Last day of NALC convocation today and all I can think of this morning is why do we have to join federations, why do we have to vote to be in communion with other members of the Body of Christ? Are we not already in communion by virtue of the blood of Christ?  Are we not the community? It all seems too political to me - that is to vote to work and cooperate with someone(s). Could we, please, just proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom? 

GTG - God's Peace  - Pr. Judy

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nehemiah 6

Troubles will come... but do no be tempted to sin.  Stay on the course that the LORD has laid out for you.  Follow in His way.  Sometimes troubles come because of the LORD - because the LORD is with you.  Not everyone appreciates how the LORD leads His people.  They become jealous or envious, even fearful and strike out at God's people.  The adversaries were a little troubled because the work of the LORD was being accomplished so quickly.  They continued to try to sabotage what the LORD was doing through Nehemiah.
So far they are unsuccessful.

It seems that there will always be adversaries in the church.  There will be troubles to contend with - trouble that is intended to halt the progress of the mission.  Do not be troubled.  It is by the LORD's hand that the work will be accomplished.

God's Peace be with you.  Pr. J

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nehemiah 5

Nehemiah, the governor...  Well, I didn't catch that, previously.  The alarm didn't go off this morning and I have about 10 minutes left to finish this before I head for Minnesota so don't have time to go back and see how or why I missed it. 

1% interest!  I think today most of us would think that would be quite the deal!  However, the people were very poor.  They were in the midst of a famine.  They were selling their daughters into slavery so that they could eat.  Nehemiah puts a stop to usury.  With compassion, he leads the people, in their endeavor to rebuild the wall. 

The ways of that world, long ago, are strange to me.  But, then the ways of todays world seem quite strange, as well.  People will pay up to 19% interest for things that will not sustain life; for televisions and electronics, for name brand stuff!  This done, while the children go hungry - hungry for food that will sustain their bodies and for food that will sustain their souls - the bread of life, Jesus the Christ.

When will it end?  Most of us probably cannot imagine selling our children so that we might live.  But, in the end maybe that is what has been done to a large degree.  Have we not given our children and their care over to the world so that we might have the time to indulge our own self-interests?  Just saying... It's only Tuesday and I have seen enough in the first two days of this week to be quite tired of the way the world cares for and brings up children.  If we sell them (give them) to the world, shouldn't we expect them to grow up in the ways of the world? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Nehemiah 4 - Right to Build Walls

Defending their right to rebuild the wall, the men wore their swords at all times, even as they continued to work on the wall.

Of course there were adversaries.  There will always be adversaries to come up against those who try to build up something for themselves and for the people they love.  One doesn't have to protect oneself unless you anticipate or already have adversaries.  One doesn't have to build walls if you are safe.  And, this it seems to me, was/is a very good reason for a wall.  It is a safety feature that will enable the people to better monitor who will come and go within the confines of the city.  The gates can be shut, if need be, to guard against wolves who would enter, steal, and destroy.

Why do we live in square homes with walls?  Is it not to protect ourselves from nature, from people, and to keep our property safe?  Do most of us (in America) not lock our doors? How many fences and gates have you seen?  And... why?  To protect not only their property, but the people who live on that property as well?  Walls and gates...  It would be nice if we lived in a society, in a world, where neither were necessary.  It would be awesome if things like greed, jealousy, anger did not exist.  But, we do not live in Paradise.  And... the people who built the wall around Jerusalem did not, either.  It was tough going for those who had just returned from exile to a city that had been destroyed.  There were those who wanted the city to stay destroyed.  That was evident by the fact that in order to build it, they had to be armed.

Ok.... So I've done my best this morning not to show my bias'.  I think I may have failed.  My point is (and it is only my point - you may very well disagree with me - and that, too, is your right):  who are we to judge if people build walls to protect themselves and their property? 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nehemiah 3 - Building the Church

The rebuilding of the gates in the wall...  So many men used their energy, their skills, to rebuild the walls and it's gates.  I remember stories of how the first church's, for that matter homes, businesses, etc. were built in this country.  Everyone pitched in!  The history of our church building at Zion in Skanee is not unlike that!  Every now and then we get visitors who will tell us what part their grandparents had in building the church.  Everyone used their gifts to be used in raising up that physical building.  Building a church was a community event.  Building up the Church, which is the Body of Christ, also involves community - the whole community.  The gifts and talents of everyone are necessary to the building up (to grow and edify) of the Body of Christ, which is the Church.  But, I have to add it is not we who build the Church, but Christ in and through and around us.  (Heb 13:21 NIV)

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:15-17)

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 12:20-21)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Nehemiah 2 - Building and Rebuilding

The city had been burned.  The people exiled from Jerusalem, the temple, their place of worship.  Years later, they return.  Nehemiah returns, with King Artaxerxes' blessing, they will rebuild.

I have just read the obituary of Rev. Antti Lepisto.  He lovingly and faithfully served as President of Suomi Conference, USA since 1993 (after retirement).  Our primary (but, not only) mission was/is, with the help of God, to help rebuild and grow the Ingrian Lutheran Church in Russia.  He had a deep love for the people and a great desire to see the Gospel proclaimed throughout the region, as well as here.  At least once a year he would include in his travels, a visit with me (and other members of the Sumi Conference board) for purposes of soul care.  He was about building and rebuilding the Body of Christ by sharing the Good News of the Kingdom.   

As a young Pastor, Antti, served at Wainola Lutheran Church, MI.  Very many things have changed over the years.  Attendance dwindled down to about a dozen or so as the population of the whole area declined.  The congregation felt that they needed to do something different in order to more fully proclaim the Gospel - to more fully do God's will.  They are now an Lutheran Congregation in Mission for Christ (LCMC) congregation.  I have volunteered as their interim.  At least that is what they call me.  I am more like a mentor as I am working with three lay men (Joe, Mike and Mark) from Wainola to train them to lead worship, preside at Communion, visit shut-ins, bury the dead....  The congregation is growing once again.  The building is there.  It is intact.  The rebuilding of the Church that is needed there includes much soul care.  Our goal is, with the help of God, to build up the Body of Christ in Wainola.

Please keep Antti's family in your prayers and say an extra prayer or two for one of his first congregation's, Wainola Lutheran Church, as they rebuild their church, their congregation, with the help of God.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nehemiah 1 - Walls Are Down

What an awesome prayer to an awesome God!

God's people had sinned and were sent into the wilderness in exile.  They finally return, but find that the walls had broken down.  They are in trouble and disgrace.   Nehemiah prays daily for Israel.  He confesses their sins and asks God to bless them.  

Walls have been torn down.  By our own sinful desires, walls that should be standing no longer exist.  God's people have turned their backs on Him and find themselves alone and in exile.  What is to be done?  Pray...

Open your ears, dear LORD.  Hear the prayers lifted before you daily for all who have been scattered into the wilderness.  Bring them back, gather your people, and bless them by your almighty hand, your great power.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ezra 10 - Infidelity

Now this had to be a very sad day!  All the men who had been unfaithful to God and married foreign women sent the women and the children they had with them away. 

Oops... Not sure if the text really says that.  I think that they probably did or at least most of them.  At first most of the men agree to do this.  They vow to send the women away.  But, then the leaders get together and decide what must be done.  I found one note to verse 44 that says the women were sent away with their children.  But, I couldn't find a translation that actually said that.  It says that they each gave an offering of a ram of their flock for their sin.  So this morning, I'm left wondering, probably more like hopeful that they didn't.  Divorce is a sad thing and this a mass divorce!

I'm thinking this morning, that this chapter and yesterday's probably should have been read together.  The point is infidelity - unfaithfulness - to God by taking unbelievers into one's life and home.  Why is that bad?  Mostly, I think, because it lends itself to serving two gods.  You cannot serve two gods...  It is only natural that you will direct your attention to the god of your spouse.  Their god will get in your way of worshipping your God.  If you have invited a false god into your home by way of a spouse - that false god is there whether you like it or not and he/she/it will distract your from full worship of your Creator who is your husband-whose name is the LORD Almighty-the Holy One of Israel who is your Redeemer; the God of all the earth.  (see Isaiah 54:50) 

Here ends the Book of Ezra.  Tomorrow we begin with the prophet Nehemiah. Have a blessed day and may God help you to be faithful to Him in all things.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ezra 9 - Marriage With Non-Believers

Intermarrying with those who are not people of God.  This was not a good thing! 

And... for those who have married and still marry those who are not of the same faith it is still a pretty tough thing.  I can't even begin to remember how many marriages I have attended or officiated at where one was at the time a Christian faithfully worshipping God and the other was not.  The marriages may endure, though there are so many more trials and tribulations for them to endure.  How many times I have heard of the sadness of the believer that their spouse cannot share their faith - the loneliness that is felt as they go off to worship on Sunday mornings - alone.  On rare occasion, the faith of the non or marginal believer (if there is such a thing) will grow thanks be to the witness of Jesus Christ through the believer.  But, more often, the one who was once faithful begins to follow in the ways of the world, in the ways of the spouse and they are no longer seen communing with the Body of Christ, either.

Because of the grace of God, all things are permissible, but not all beneficial.  It sure would make life easier if we would take into consideration the faith of our future partners in life when we make that commitment to love them until death parts us.  Our relationship with Jesus Christ is like a marriage.  When we choose to bind ourselves to things or people of this world that would draw us from him, that is adultery and it leads to idolatry. 

No matter which way we look at it - marrying an unbeliever has you treading on dangerous ground.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ezra 8 - You Are Free!

Well, here's a puzzle this morning:  Who wrote the book of Ezra?  I realized as I was reading the chapter this morning that the author is now speaking in the first person rather than the third.  I have always assumed it was Ezra who wrote it, but if he wrote it, the transition from third to first person is kind of confusing to me.  I know that if this were being discussed in the Bible Study on Wednesday mornings, we'd have a great time trying to figure it out.  But, in the end, does it really matter?  It is a great story - history well worth reading.

As I read the first section of the chapter with the list of fathers and their children who left captivity together, I wondered how many Christian parents today desired that their children would be able to live without bondage to the false gods of this world and live freely in Christ. 

May God help all whom we love to understand, to see, that Christ freed them from sin, death, and the power of the devil, to live life in him and to live it abundantly. 

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage."  Gal 5:1 NIV

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ezra 7 - Taxes and Tributes

Ezra is on the scene...

But, I think I really like this King Artaxerxes - no taxes or tributes are to be charged to any of the servants of the house of God!  Having just paid estimated income taxes in June, more due next month, and began paying property taxes this month, (It usually takes a couple of months to get them all completely paid) I can really appreciate this edict! 

Two things Americans have to be careful to budget for, as they are major parts of our expenses, are insurances and TAXES!  Between the various insurances and taxes that I pay, I am estimating that about 50% (maybe more) of my income disappears and believe me I am not in the upper class income tax range - definitely lower middle-class income.  So this morning, I am marveling at a leader like Artaxerxes. 

At the same time, I thank God that He abundantly supplies all my needs so that I am able to pay these taxes and tributes! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ezra 5, 6 - Confess

Hopefully, you all are actually reading the chapters as they come up each day!  There is so much in each one and I only hit on maybe one or two points that catch my attention.

And... that one thing for today is the fact that the people of God acknowledge that it was due to their own sin that they lost the temple and were sent into exile in the first place.

Such a novel idea... confessing one sins!  How many public confessions or admissions have you heard lately?  Actually, admitting or acknowledging that we have sinned and responsible for our own troubles is a very good step to recovery, to healing and wholeness.  It makes us take a good look at ourselves so that we can change things in our lives, so that our lives and the lives of the people around us can be live more fully in God's presence. 

Acknowleding that it was by their own sin that the trouble had come to them was what those ancient people of God did.  And... what happened?  King Darius gave them permission to continue rebuilding the temple.  He also promised that any of the adversaries that try to interfere with the rebuilding of the temple would be stopped and stopped quickly by hanging them from a gallows made from their own homes.

Rather than complain about the circumstances of our lives, may we always remember to confess our sins and turn to the LORD worshipping Him above all things. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ezra 4 - Adversaries

Whenever anyone tries to build something for the good of the people, it seems that there is always someone who is trying to stop growth.  A lot of times it is simply because of jealousy or personal greed or even the fear that someone will become stronger, more powerful than them, and not support them any longer. 

The adversaries of Judah and Benjamin tried and tried to stop the building of the temple and they finally succeeded thanks to their plying King Artaxerxes of Persia with the fear that he would lose power and authority over the released exiles.

It is troubling.  Instead of working together for the good of all people; we often find ourselves struggling to defend the work that we do.  A lot of time is wasted as we go forward and then find ourselves falling back as we take the time to answer and defend the reasons we were going forward in the first place. 

Adversaries surround us, trying to infiltrate, as did the adversaries in our lesson tried to infiltrate to sabotage the building of the temple.  In fact, in the whole visible church on earth, the adversary has infiltrated and we need to be on guard against those who would teach us to go in another way than we are directed by the Word.  That does not mean we have to throw them out, but rather we need to have patience and love as we teach them a better way; rather, than accept their false teachings.

I am mostly thinking of some of the so called "New Age" teachings that are so prevalent in the church today.  There are many things that are taught that absolutely are not what Christ taught, but so many refuse to read their Bibles, refuse to attend worship to hear the Word regularly, that people simply do not know the truth.  Unfortunately, the consequence of this has been to replace the one true God, with lesser gods.  And... the sad thing is that so many don't even realize they have done this. 

May God help us to stand fast in the truth and follow in the way He would have us go.  And... Please attend worship wherever you are this morning!  Hear His Word!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ezra 3 - As One Man

 "...the people gathered together as one man (3:1);" and "...Jeshua with his sons and brothers, Kadmiel with his sons, and the sons of Judah, arose as one to oversee those working on the house of God" (3:9)

Worship and sacrifice begins once again as the people return from exile.  Joined together, as one, they duly honor and give thanks to God for freeing them from bondage to another people.  They are so united it is as if they are "one man" - united in heart and mind.

And... with one heart and mind the priests rise up to lead the people in the remaking of the temple. 

It often seems that when we pass through a major crisis or a major event, participation in worship jumps up a bit.  Immediately following the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City, the attendance in churches across the country surged.  People got together as one to worship God.  The surge did not last for too long, though.  Once everyone became a bit more confident that the "government" could protect us with additional security measures (whether it's true or not), attendance went back to normal.  Everyone went their own separate way.

Years ago, not many years after I began serving at Zion, we had a major building project.  The addition included an office, library, Sunday School rooms, and an elevator.  It was major for this small community.  It brought the people together as one.  They rose up as one to complete that project to the glory of God. I believe that during the time of the building project; because of the enthusiasm the project generated, our attendance at Worship rose higher, more quickly, than at any other time in many decades.  It was a great time for evangelism!  Thankfully, attendance has not fallen off since then.  The congregation has grown a bit since then, but, not in any way like it did at that time. 

It is a little sad that we need crisis or trials or major challenges in order for us to turn and worship the one true God as one people.  But, it seems that is the way it has always been.  It took being sent into captivity in order for them to gather as one and serve the LORD, our God.  May God send His reconciling Spirit that we might rise up as one to Worship and glorify Him. 

By the way... that is a work of God, not man.  All the good intentions of man will not convince the rest of humankind that we should, as one, love the LORD our God and our neighbor as ourselves.  Only the love of God through Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can convince us.  It would be good though, if our stubborn hearts would not require exile in order for that to happen.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ezra 2 - Exiles Return!

What a company returning from exile!  Can you imagine the impact on the cities they moved from and to? 

I was wondering about all those people today who mark the box Christian or one of the various denominations on the various forms that ask for religious affiation.  Are they in exile?  Will they return to worship the LORD?  Now, I know someone is thinking that they can worship without the community of saints. They can sit under a tree and pray or on the golf course and thank God for the green.  Yeah, right!  Well, I don't play golf.  And... as much as I love to sit under a tree and pray, you still need the community of saints.  There is a whole Body of Christ out there.  Get connected to it!  I have said it before (multitudes of times) and I will say it again: 
     "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Rom 10:17

Please don't tell me you are a Christian, if you never take the time to hear God's word or even read it!  How do we develop relationships with friends or family members?  Maybe, by getting to know them?  It's no different for our relationship with Jesus Christ.  We get to know Jesus by hearing  about Him by others who love Him.

For those who claim membership in a church body and haven't entered that worship center in years - return from exile!  Attend worship with the congregation you haven't worshipped with in decades.  For those who do not presently have a place to worship with other saints, find one.  And... for the rest of us, we need to get busy seeking them out and help them as Cyrus helped God's people to be released from captivity.  Bring the word of God to them if they will not come to you.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ezra 1 - Cyrus More Faithful Than Us?

We begin the book of Ezra pretty much where 2 Chronicles left off...

     "...the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
     This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
     ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.'"  (1:1-3 NIV)

What would possess this non-Jew who had power and authority over the people of God to release them from their captivity and bless them as he sends them on their way to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem?  Scripture tells us that the LORD moved his heart.  Just as He moved others to come up against His people so that they would learn and turn to Him, He also moves the hearts of others to show grace and mercy.

Cyrus was not of Abraham's or David's lineage.  He was not a part of the promise; yet, he attributes his position over all the kingdoms over the earth to the LORD, the God of heaven.  He attributes it to the one God.  That just amazes me. 

How many of us, who claim to be followers, who claim to believe, claim all that we are and have and do, to the one God, our LORD?  In a very real sense, I think, that Cryus was more faithful than many (most?) of Abraham's children, than of David's. 

It is election year.  This may be a reminder to us that the one who claims (or others point out to be) the most Christian may not necessarily be the one whom God would have lead us.  For countries or world governments, it is not always the one whom we perceive as "Christian" who listens to the LORD's will for His people - and we are all His people.

May God bless each of us with the knowledge, the realization, of how much He has given us and help us to use those gifts to do His will, glorifying His holy name.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

2 Chronicles 36 - Last Chapter - Into Exile

Some peoples never learn.  Hard-hearted, after running through their last hard-hearted kings, the Israelites are given into to the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, by God, exiled to Babylon for 70 years.   One would thing the people would learn, but, no.  They ran through kings like water runs in a waterfall; yet, they would not repent.  They would not turn back to the LORD.  They lose their temple.  They lose their home.  They lose their freedom.  Into captivity they go. 

In the end, it is only by the softening of the Persian's king's heart, by God, that the people are allowed to return to rebuild the temple. 

Sometimes, it seems, we can be so hard-hearted toward the LORD, that it takes a non-believer, with a heart softened by God, to steer us back on course.  I have (and I'm sure if you think about it, you probably have, too) often been turned around by someone who worships others gods or as some would say they worship no gods.  For whatever reason or however He does it, God can use anyone to soften our hearts toward Him; to bring us back to Worship; to renew our faith.  The Holy Spirit is not limited to just work on and through Christians.  The Holy Spirit can do whatever the Holy Spirit wants.  He is God and God works in ways we can even begin to fathom.   

Well, I am back from vacation and heading to the church very soon for Bible study.  May God soften the hearts of all people (especially those who say they are Christian) so that they would study and hear His word more faithfully.