Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Zechariah 4 - Lampstand, Lamps, and Two Witnesses

What are all these symbols from Zechariah's vision?  Some of the visions given by the LORD can be a little difficult (if not impossible) to understand.

What, then shall we make of the solid gold lampstand with seven lamps? As today is Christmas Eve and our old testament reading is from Isaiah, I am proposing that the lampstand symbolizes the light of God that is to give light to the world. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." (Isaiah 9:2 NIV) Israel had lived in very dark times, indeed. They are rebuilding the temple of God that had been destroyed as they were taken into captivity.

And... at the right and left of the lampstand are two witnesses. These witnesses, for that time, are both political and religious. It is possible that Joshua, the High Priest and religious leader, and Zerubbabel, the political leader, were the two witnesses of this vision. Zerubbabel will see the completion of the temple in his day. Yet, it is not by any power or authority or might of these two witnesses or anyone else that the rebuilding of the temple will be accomplished. It will be done solely by the Spirit of God.

In light of the fact, that these two witnesses in Zechariah's vision are probably Joshua and Zerubbabel, it causes me to wonder about the similar vision in St. John's Revelation. "And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” (Rev 11:3-4)

I have a lot yet to learn and understand. But, on this Eve of Christmas it is enough to know that the light has come into the world and that the rebuilding of God's temple, that is the Church of God, is being accomplish by the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, December 23, 2013

Zechariah 3 - Joshua/Yeshua; God Saves!

The accuser, Satan, stands at the High Priest Joshua's right side before the angel of the LORD to accuse him. But, the LORD rebukes Satan. The LORD will take away the filthy garments that the priest is wearing, even as He has removed Joshua's sin from him. He will clothe him with new, clean garments, with holiness. This man, Joshua, along with the other priests are symbolic of things to come. They are symbolic of the High Priest, the very Son of God, Jesus the Christ, who is to come and who will lead the people in holiness and righteousness. In the same manner, Jesus came to take away our sin so that we would be clothed with His righteousness and His holiness.

May we all live in the righteousness and holiness of Jesus the Christ, our LORD and Saviour.

God's Peace - Pr. J

A bit of a language lesson:  Joshua and Jesus are actually the same name... Joshua is Hebrew for "God Saves." Jesus (Yeshua) is Greek for "God Saves." God indeed saves His people. He saves us through the blood of Yeshua.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Zechariah 2 - Good News! Release! Relief!

Good news! That's what chapter 2 of Zechariah is - Good News!

As I read this chapter, I was reminded of the vision of St. Teresa of Avila and her "Interior Mansion." What an awesome place this city of God is! In Zecharia, it is pictured as a city without walls. It doesn't need a wall because God, Himself, will be a wall of fire around it and He will be its glory within. (Zech 2:4,5)

And more... for all those who are oppressed - there will be relief - there will be release!

"For this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye—  I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me.

Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,' declares the Lord. 'Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.'" (Zech 2:8-11 NIV)

God, indeed, has sent His only Son, born in a barn, died on a cross, raised from the grave, and ascended to the right hand of our Father, so that we might be free to live in His Awesome presence.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Zechariah 1 - Four Horses

Zechariah had some awesome visions. Whenever I read of them, I am also reminded of St. John the Evangelist's visions. Today, we have the four horses.

The four horses (two red horses, one white, one black) of Zechariah's vision seems to have been sent out on a reconnaissance mission of sorts. The horses report back that they have gone throughout the world and have found it living in peace. But, this is not so for God's people. They are struggling under the rule of Persia and know no peace.

The four horses of the Revelation of St. John (Rev 6:1-8) are white, red, black, and pale (whatever color pale is!). Their mission is to conquer the world; bringing hardship, destruction and death. In fact, the red horse is sent specifically to take away the peace of the world - the very peace that is found in the world that the four horses of Zechariah's vision makes report of.

It is understood that the peace that is taken away is a worldly peace. It is not the peace that we experience when we abide in God's presence; for He is our peace. His peace is not dependent on the world's peace or lack thereof. It does not matter whether the world around us is in turmoil; it doesn't matter if the world claims peace when they, in reality, do not live in the peace of God. It just doesn't matter. All who abide in the Christ and He in them; know the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) no matter what level of peace or war the world is in. There seems to be times, when this peace of God seems to elude us, even His children. We fall back out of fear or anxiety when we begin looking to the world for comfort and peace; rather than God.

The vision from Zechariah is there to remind us that we are not to fear. God will save His people. The LORD will comfort us. We shall live in His peace.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, December 20, 2013

Haggai 2 - God Is With You; You Are Not Alone

"'But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'" (Haggai 2:4-5 NIV)

The temple is in ruins. The people are complacent. Nothing seems to be as it should be. Yet, the LORD promises the people the blessing of His presence.

It is almost Christmas. Advent is one of my least favorite seasons. It is a time of darkness for many. The sun rises later and sets earlier. The world is running around putting on their happy faces; while, inside hearts are breaking. There is so much loneliness, so much turmoil, so much fear. We simply cannot live up to the standards (maybe just the U.S.?) the world has set for our lifestyles during the pre-Christmas season. We are expected to spend... spend... spend... We are expected to be happy... happy... happy.... Even as we grieve the loss of loved ones... Even as we figure out how to pay the electric or heating bill or pay the rent... Even as we suffer through divorces or other broken relationships... As I visit our many neighbors and am out in the public more, I get to see - I get to feel - the pain and suffering - the need - all around. Suffering, sadness, loneliness are not the exception; they are the norm during the Advent season. How many tears I have encountered as doors are opened to me, I cannot even begin to tell you. There is really nothing I can do to fix it for anyone, except offer Jesus, share His love for you. Yes, there may be some things the church can do, like helping find a means to keep homes heated or pay the rent or provide food so that families are not hungry. But, that alone will not be enough. That will not help the heart-sickness that so many feel. For that kind of suffering there is only one answer - a trusting relationship with our God. There is nothing that I can do except to walk beside you on your journey through these dark days and remind you that the LORD is with you. Do not fear, but trust in the Spirit of Christ who lives among us. 

Do not fear... God is with you... You are not alone...

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Haggai 1 - Build Up The Temple Of God

A message from the LORD of Hosts through the prophet Haggai: 

“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands." (Haggai 1:4-11 NIV)

The people had become complacent; spending all their time caring for their own homes; their own needs rather than trusting God to care for them. Because they worried so much about themselves, they were neglecting the rebuilding of God's Temple.

The message today is simply this: build up the LORD's house - His Holy Temple. Now, I am not speaking of a building of wood or brick or mortar, but the Body of Christ, wherein dwells the Spirit of God. That Body is the Church. We (those who follow Jesus) are the Church. We are to be about building up this Spiritual Temple and we do this by hearing and proclaiming God's word, by receiving and sharing the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Yes, the church building is an important factor in the life of a Christian. It is where we gather to be nourished by God as a family.  A loving family gathers as often as they can at their home and cares for that home and others in it. We, who are members of the family of God; likewise, gather often to be nourished as brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow members of the Body of Christ, for the mutual edification (building up) of the Body of Christ, which is the Church, the Temple of God.

Build up the Temple of God - hear His Word, receive the Sacraments which He has freely given you by the very death of His Son, Jesus Christ our LORD. And... do not neglect to fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Zephaniah 3 - Blessed are the Oppressed; Woe to the Oppressors!

"Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled!" (Zephaniah 3:1 NIV)

Woe to those who oppress others. Woe to those who neglect and abuse others, whether it is by word or deed that is done or left undone!  Woe to those who continue in their unrighteous ways and know no shame. What is with that, anyway? What good is in it for anyone who persecutes others unjustly?

God dispenses justice. He so wants to dispense mercy and grace to all His children. He so desires that His children would turn to Him and love Him as He loves them. But, anger abounds; jealousy lives, and greed survives.

But, the story does not have an unhappy ending for those who love Him. He will save! He does save! He is with the oppressed. He is with the abused and neglected. He is, even now, gathering those who love Him, into the Kingdom that is prepared for us by Jesus Christ, our LORD.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:8)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Zephaniah 2 - Day of the LORD's Anger

"Gather together, gather yourselves together,
    you shameful nation,
before the decree takes effect
    and that day passes like windblown chaff,
before the Lord’s fierce anger
    comes upon you,
before the day of the Lord’s wrath
    comes upon you.
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
    you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility;
    perhaps you will be sheltered
   on the day of the Lord’s anger." (Zephaniah 2:1-3 NIV)

The LORD has given His children of Judah many, many opportunities to repent and seek the LORD and do His will. They appear to be more than just a little slow in the repentance department. But, here's one more call to repent, for them seek righteousness, humility, and to seek the LORD before the day of the LORD's anger falls upon them.

We are all given more than enough opportunity to seek the LORD. How many chances do we really think we deserve? I guarantee you the LORD has already given us more than we deserve. But, for His Son, who suffered on the cross for us, we would all be destined to fall on the day of His anger.

Thanks be to God, for He has been gracious and merciful to us.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, December 16, 2013

Zephaniah 1 - Fence Sitting Complacency

“I will sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds in the sky
    and the fish in the sea—

    and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” (Zeph 1:2-3a NIV)

Just imagine, for a minute, God with a big broom sweeping clean the earth. That's the picture Zephaniah provides this morning. The prophecy is a warning to those who worship false idols. It is a warning to those who worship false gods as well as feign to worship God. It is also a warning to those who are complacent; to those who think that God might be complacent.

"At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps
    and punish those who are complacent,
    who are like wine left on its dregs,
who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing,

    either good or bad.’" (Zeph 1:12)

There is only one God, either we are for Him or against Him. There is no in between. Therefore; worship the one true God with your whole hearts, soul, and mind. Do not be distracted by the pleasures the false gods would tease you with, which end up being not pleasures; but, troubles. For many years, I believed that to say that "I believe" was enough to save me. But, saying something isn't necessarily believing it with our whole hearts, minds, and souls. Complacency and sitting on the fence is about as useful to salvation as non-belief. At least that is the conclusion I came to for myself years ago, after reading, in the Revelation of St. John, the letter to the church in Laodicea.

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." (Rev 3:14:19)
Maybe, it's time to consider whether the church on earth (we) has become complacent. Are we sitting on the fence? 
May the God of all grace and glory fill us with a desire to worship and serve Him above all others.
God's Peace - Pr. J.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Habakkuk 3 - Hinds Feet on High Places

"The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights." (Hab 3:19 NIV)

"The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places." (Hab 3:19 KJV)

I remember a book I read years ago. "Hinds Feet On High Places," an allegory, written by Hannah Hurnard, gets its' name from Habakkuk 3:19 (KJV). The journey of Much-Afraid and her friends Sorrow and Suffering, as they follow Shepherd to the high places, where they will walk as on hinds' feet, takes them through many dangers.  It is a long journey. They must have patience. They must have persistence. But, in the end, they (we) will dance in the presence of God. 

I can't remember too many of the details of the book, as it has been quite a few years since I read it. But, I can look around me daily and watch (and even join) others as they journey through many difficult times in anticipation and the hope of the promised land.

Just as Habakkuk prayed and waited patiently for the LORD to deliver God's people from the enemy, from the many dangers that surround them; I, too pray and wait patiently (sometimes not as patient as others) for the LORD to deliver His people, who I also love, from the turmoil and dangers they encounter as they journey through the dark shadows of the valley of death.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Habakkuk 2 - Turn Back

Again, we are reminded that those whom God has sent against His people to help them turn back to Him; even they will fall. They will fall for their sins against God and others. They will fall for their idolatry. They will fall for taking unfair advantage over others.

That is the word of the LORD. Turn back then and worship the one true God for your only help is in Him. Peace can be found only in Him.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, December 13, 2013

Habakkuk 1 - Gentler Lives

Habakkuk appears to be a gentler prophet - less accusing than many others. He (like many shepherds/pastors/prayer warriors/etc. today) implores of the LORD:

"How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,

    so that justice is perverted." (Hab 1:1-4 NIV)

How long, LORD, must the people suffer at the hands of one another? We would like immediate help from the LORD; but, the truth is God has given us free-will in many areas of our lives and we choose to hurt one another. We choose to put our own wills before the will of God. We choose to put what we want before the good of the whole.

God will answer our prayers. But, beware; the answer may not be what we're hoping for. May God help us to lead gentler lives; lives that do not inflict violence or injustice upon others. May He lead us in His way so that we are not the wicked that others are praying for deliverance from.

May God grant us mercy and give us His peace.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nahum 3 - Rejoicing Over Fallen Enemies

Nahum warns that Nineveh will fall for her endless cruelty. Her victims will clap their hands; rejoicing for the vengeance God takes upon her. (Nahum 3:19)

We are often told that we should not rejoice when our enemies fall. In fact, we should not. According to the Proverbs: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them." (Prov 24:17 NIV)However, when one is persecuted so fully as Nineveh had persecuted, the people, according to human nature, will rejoice! They will rejoice that they are finally free. They will give thanks to God for taking away the enemy that has threatened to destroy them.

We give thanks to God for through the blood of Jesus we are free. We are free from the bondage that sin, death and the evil one would keep us in. We are free to give thanks to God for all things, including our freedom through Christ. Let us not neglect to give Him thanks and praise for all things and at all times and in all places.

Rejoice not that your enemy has fallen at the hand of God. Rejoice that even as Christ has been lifted up; so, too, have you. Rejoice that you have been saved from those age old enemies (sin, death, and the devil) by the blood of Jesus the Christ that was shed for you.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nahum 2 - Warning To Turn Back

God is against Nineveh. The people are warned to turn back. But, they will not.

I warn people all of the time to turn back to the LORD and worship only Him. Sadly, the warnings fall on ears that will not hear. I am often looked at like I am a silly old goose. I have been told that there is no God. Experience has taught me that there is, for sure. Experience has taught me what happens when one turns their back on the LORD and refuses to turn back to Him, again.

I know that I am not the only one whom the LORD has tried to teach these things to. I am not the only one who has been warned.  Let us all heed the warning that He will restore His children. Yes, the restoration of His people is a warning - it is a warning to those who would attack them. The LORD our God will deliver all who turn to Him from the enemy.

Which shall you be? A child of God or an enemy? Will you turn your back to Him or your face to Him that His light might shine upon you?

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nahum 1 - Avenging God

"The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
    the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
    and vents his wrath against his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
    the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,

    and clouds are the dust of his feet." (Nahum 1:2-3 NIV)

Nahum prophesies against Nineveh. He warns that those (in this case Nineveh) who go against His people will not go unpunished. Sometimes, in reading some of these prophesies it sounds awfully vengeful and hurtful. Well, vengeance is the LORD's to take and while it may appear to be really bad news to those who worship false idols and persecute those who worship the LORD, it is good news to the people of God. Those who find themselves attacked and persecuted by God's enemies have no other place to turn for hope except in the LORD and His promise that He will deliver them from the hands of their enemies.

He will deliver us! It is the LORD who saves! Thanks be to God!

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, December 9, 2013

Micah 7 - Blood Thicker Than Blood

Micah warns that no shall be trusted - all will conspire against the followers of God - even one's family. Throughout my life, I have gone through many changes. At first, I naively trusted everyone. Then, I trusted no one. Finally, as I came to have a closer relationship with God, I was able, once again, to have trust in others. Not that I placed my trust in others, but that I placed my trust in God so that I was once again able to help others. I knew and know that no matter what others might do against me, God is with me for the good.

Sadly, I witness over and over again how true Micah's reminder and warning is.
"For a son dishonors his father,
    a daughter rises up against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
    a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
    I wait for God my Savior;

    my God will hear me." (Micah 7:6-7 NIV)

Greed, envy, jealousy; these all affect family relationships. Pride in self is a killer of families. Even among family members, one will put their own desires before another; before the good of family. When I worked at the youth correctional facility, I would warn the young men to please not move home when they were released. Many of their problems came from parents who put their own lives (often addictions) before the children. To move back home because of family blood ties would spell "prison sentence" for them in the end, as I knew that many of their family members would continue to lead them in lives of crime for the sake of their own desires. As the spiritual counselor, as well as the substance abuse counselor, I would remind them: "There is a blood that is thicker than blood and that is the blood of Christ shed for you."  

In Him we can trust.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Micah 6 - Walk Humbly

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8 NIV)

It would be very good indeed in this world, if we all just did the good that the LORD has shown us. Can you imagine what the world would be like if every professing Christian actually made it a priority to act justly and love mercy as we walk humbly with our God?

One of my favorite descriptions of humility was written by Washington Allston. He wrote: "Humility is also a healing virtue; it will cicatrize a thousand wounds, which pride would keep for ever open."

Let us then set aside our pride as we walk humbly with our God, so that justice and mercy might prevail.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Micah 5 - Savior Out Of Bethlehem

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,

    from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2 NIV)

The prophecy of the one who would be born in Bethlehem... The people of God looked for and waited for this savior to deliver them - to bring them peace. He is the one whose birth we celebrate on Christmas morning. The Christ child, Jesus, was born in a stable in Bethlehem as God, through Micah, promised. The savior has come. The bringer of peace is here. He came to bring His peace so that the people of God would be one with God and one with one another. The wall that separates would be destroyed as it has been for all who would live and abide in His name, through His death; His resurrection and His ascension.

During this Advent season, we remember how the people longed for this savior to be born. We remember and, as children of God, we prepare for Him to come again in full glory.

Remember always and prepare your hearts for He has come! He is Risen! And... He will come again!

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, December 6, 2013

Micah 4 - Mountain of God

 "In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say,
'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.'
The law will go out from Zion,

    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Micah 4:1-2 NIV)

Now, this sounds really good to me! If we are in the last days, as many say we are, I'm  wondering why so many are not streaming to the mountain of the LORD. Yes, of course, there are many. But, there are also many being left behind. It is a very sad thing to know that so many do not know the peace that only God can bring.

The LORD has promised that even though many will walk in the name of their gods, we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever. (vs 5) And...

“'In that day,' declares the Lord,
'I will gather the lame;
    I will assemble the exiles
    and those I have brought to grief.
 I will make the lame my remnant,    those driven away a strong nation.
The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion

    from that day and forever.'" (Mic 4:6-7)
Since God, our Father, has promised us so much, through our LORD, Jesus the Christ, why would we not desire to go to the mountain of the LORD?  Why would we not desire to be taught His ways and walk in His paths, that we might live in His presence for all eternity?
Come let us go to the mountain of the LORD so that we might learn to follow in His Way and live in His Peace.
God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Micah 3 - Leaders With Hearts For The Peoples' Hearts

“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,
    you rulers of Israel.
Should you not embrace justice,
     you who hate good and love evil;
who tear the skin from my people
    and the flesh from their bones;
who eat my people’s flesh,
    strip off their skin
    and break their bones in pieces;
who chop them up like meat for the pan,
    like flesh for the pot?”

Then they will cry out to the Lord,
    but he will not answer them.
At that time he will hide his face from them

    because of the evil they have done." (Micah 3:1-4 NIV)

Personally, I think these verses pretty much speak for themselves. It's seems to me it's all about personal power, authority, wealth... for many (maybe all - I can't figure out for certain) of our elected leaders. Are they really concerned about actually helping people or helping their personal agendas? It seems to be a lot about creating more mandates, more hoops to jump through and actually providing less or no services for the tax payers dollars.

There seems, to me, to be a mental health crisis in this country and specifically in the county that I live in. We have a 16% unemployment rate; the dark days of winter are upon us; people are suffering from alcohol and drug addictions as well as depression and anxiety; children and their needs are often neglected. So what to do about it? What are our leaders doing about it? Nada, Nichts,
Hичего не, Nothing (or a whole lot close to nothing)!  And... unless you are willing to go to the emergency room or call an 888 number and tell them that you plan to commit suicide or kill someone; then there is virtually no help. There is no help for those who have not yet reached those stages. With all due respect, we do have some pretty good programs in this county for substance abuse related mental health problems - through 12-step programs and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and there are programs for severely mentally ill persons if you can get past the call to the 888 phone number. But, for the multitudes who are suffering from countless other mental health issues - pretty much nothing.

Recently, I contacted two of our elected leaders from Michigan (one Democrat/one Republican) regarding this. Both responses were very lacking in any real understanding of the real needs of the people. One of the responses to my queries from those in authority lately has been that Obamacare will eventually fix the problem. When I asked "how long," I was told that it would probably take a couple of years...

So, thinking that maybe our elected official aren't the answer and we might have to turn to a grass roots, community effort; I checked out government web-sites for grants to implement counseling or treatment programs for those who are not yet in the crisis stage; yet, are still not living lives anywhere near to full. I couldn't find one. You can get grants to research mental health and illness. You can get grants to start community coalitions to talk about the crisis. But, I could not find one grant that would actually help a community set up a treatment program/counseling service for those who are not in the crisis stage. You know... the kind of counseling that might help people who are heading toward being non-functional due to depression or anxiety; counseling for people who are having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning; or leaving the house; counseling for people before they get to the stage where they are contemplating and planning to committing suicide or even murder.

Our LORD does ask of us to help and serve one another. So where's the help from the leaders that we, in good faith, have elected? If our leaders will not do it, who then?

Right now, I'm praying that God will figure out (and reveal) a plan for us that doesn't include elected political leaders; unless He has a mind to change their hearts and minds. In the meantime, the only answer that I can give anyone is one I overheard my granddaughter give a friend of hers who was heading into more trouble than he was already in - who was constantly complaining how life was treating him: "You really just need Jesus." That is true - a closer relationship with Jesus would help us a whole lot - in fact it would save us. But, God also gave us gifts, gift to be shared with those in need. Those gifts include professional counselors and therapists who can help us better to understand how to live life more abundantly.

I have often been asked to counsel people in the community. I am trained in substance abuse counseling. I am trained in spiritual counseling. Beyond, that... my gifts at counseling are very limited. Years ago, I use to be able to refer people to other counselors when it went beyond spiritual counseling; but, the places I can refer you to now are really limited and you might have to travel quite a ways to get those services. 

May God lift up leaders who have a heart for the people's hearts.

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S. I read Michigan's Mental Health Act the other day. If you live in Copper Country of Michigan and are in crisis, even though the people at the 888 number, during your telephone assessment, have deemed you not in crisis - ask for a second opinion. They will, according to the act, set you up with an appointment, locally, for a one on one assessment. This means you will actually get assessed in person rather than over the phone!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Micah 2 - Follow the King

"Woe to those who plan iniquity,
    to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out

    because it is in their power to do it." (Micah 2:1 NIV)

The word of the LORD through the prophet Micah. How many would prefer to hear this word; this prophecy of woe, or as Micah tells it like it is, would prefer to hear a prophecy more on the following lines?

"If a liar and deceiver comes and says,
    ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’
    that would be just the prophet for this people!" (Micah 2:11)

Woe, indeed! When we spend our lives planning trouble for others and worldly indulgences for ourselves. Even more woe to those who spend their time in a bar planning iniquity, publically, against others. Woe, indeed!

But, Micah has some breaking good news. The time will come when all this will end. "In Heaven There Is No Beer." No, sorry, that's not the good news - couldn't help but throw that in. The good news of deliverance is prophesied to come through Jesus Christ, our LORD and King.

“I will surely gather all of you, Jacob;
    I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.
I will bring them together like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture;
    the place will throng with people.
The One who breaks open the way will go up before them;
    they will break through the gate and go out.
Their King will pass through before them,
    the Lord at their head.” (Micah 2:12-13)

Let us follow the King who has broken through the gateway of death and destruction for you.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Micah 1 - Mourning For Children

"Shave your head in mourning
    for the children in whom you delight;
make yourself as bald as the vulture,

    for they will go from you into exile." (Micah 1:16 NIV)

Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, sounds an awful lot like Isaiah. He continues the warning to the people of God that their ways are going to lead them into exile.

It is Advent and at the beginning of every Advent I see depression and other forms of mental illness begin to escalate. Part of that may be due to the lack of sunshine here in the U.P. of Michigan and the fact that the lower temperatures keep people indoors more with much less exercise and sunlight. Part of it; though, I believe is due to the holiday season which does not resemble Holy Days all that much. at all.

As we prepare for Christmas, there is a lot of frustration. People seeking what the world seeks; rather, than seeking a relationship with the Christ, whom we celebrate. There is much financial stress as people feel pressured by society to "buy." There is also much emotional stress as many face a day (season) that is suppose to be cheerful (because the world says so) without a loved one that they have lost and miss grievously. They feel quite alone (exiled) as there is a chair at the table that is empty. There also tends to be a lot more "parties" in December and on into January. For some reason people think they can treat their loneliness and depression with alcohol (or other drugs). Alcohol, my friends, is a depressant. There is only one cure for loneliness and that, my friends is being in a healthy relationship; a relationship with God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ and with one another.

Advent is supposedly a time to prepare for the coming of the LORD. But, is that what we do? Or are we busy trying to keep up with the world; ending up depressed; feeling alone and exiled? For many, I am afraid it is the latter.

What are we teaching our children? Where are we leading them? Into loneliness? Depression? Exile from the relationship that God intends them to have with Him and His whole household?

It is probably past time, to join Micah in lamenting for our children. It is past time to start asking ourselves: What have we done? What have we left undone that would have brought them peace?

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, December 2, 2013

Jonah 4 - Jonah Is An Angry Man

God calls some of the most unlikely people to do His will. Jonah is an angry man. He's upset because after going through the ordeal with the fish; then relenting and doing God's will by going to the people of Nineveh to warn them to repent; they repent and God saves them! And... Jonah is angry. After all of his trouble, God saves the people, anyway. Jonah is angry because God did not destroy the people.

Jonah goes out to the wilderness to pout under the shade of the tree that God provides for him. God sends a worm to destroy the tree and Jonah is angry because God destroyed the tree.

"But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10 NIV)

Jonah is an angry man. Are you an angry person, as well? Have you ever considered the trivialness of those things that upset you; that make you angry? Think about some of those little things that you allow to take away your peace. Is it really worth it? Should we rather not take pity and pray for those who can't figure out their right hand from their left rather than lose our peace by being angry with them?

Trust in the LORD. Trust that all that He does is for the good of those whom He loves and He loves you.

May the peace of the LORD be with you always.  Pr. J

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Jonah 3 - Nineveh Repents

"When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened." (Jonah 3:10 NIV)

Yes!  We finally get to read about a people who were warned by one of God's prophets to repent, to turn from their evil ways, and they actually listened! The LORD's voice through Jonah was heard. Amazing! How refreshing it is to hear of a whole city repenting and turning to the LORD. The people of Nineveh repented of their sin; they turned to the LORD, and God relented and did not bring the destruction He had planned for them.

If only we could all be more like the Ninevites, with ears to hear. In fact, we are like them in that we are all sinners. May God remind us of our sinful ways so that we might turn and be delivered from all calamities; from even ourselves.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Jonah 2 - Begging God

"From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:
'In my distress I called to the Lord,
    and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
    and you listened to my cry.'
And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land." (Jonah 2:1,10 NIV)

Here's what happens when you go in the opposite direction of where God is leading you: you end up begging Him to save you from your very poor decision.

Been there... Done that... Prayerfully and hopefully, I won't do that too often in the future. But, being the sinner that I am, it is highly probable.

Thanks be to God that He loves us enough to have mercy and to keep calling us to Himself!

God's Peace - Pr.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Jonah 1 - Just Do It!

The story of Jonah... Guess what? I believe the story! That is the bottom line... Anyway, the point of the story is not to give us a reason to debate whether a great fish is able to swallow a man and then spit him out later; rather, it is about this man who was called by God to serve Him and His people and decided to go in a different way.

How many of us have done that? I've known that I was called to serve as a pastor since I was about eleven or twelve years old. It took me decades to follow in the Way He would have me go. I heard the call many times. Repeatedly, I rejected it and put my priorities and the priorities that others set for me before His priorities. Repeatedly, I went the wrong way and found myself frustrated and unhappy and in more trouble than I anticipated - way more than I wanted!

My point is this: If God is calling you; if He is sending you somewhere to do His will; just do it. You most probably will in the end anyway; because, He will keep calling. Just trust Him and go for it!

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Obadiah 1 - What Is Done To Others; Will Be Done To You

We won't be lingering many days studying Obadiah. It is the shortest book of the Old Testament with only one chapter containing twenty-one verses.

It is a prophecy concerning the fall of Edom (Esau) for not having his brother Israel's (Jacob) back when they were under siege. It was not that they, themselves, attacked. But, they stood by and did nothing as their brothers were taken into captivity.

"On the day you stood aloof
    while strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,

    you were like one of them." (Obadiah 11 NIV)

Our sins encompass more than what we have done; but, what we have left undone, as well. How much of what we have done and left undone have led to our brothers' harm? And.. if you care not for your brother than consider Obadiah's prophecy:

“The day of the Lord is near
    for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;

    your deeds will return upon your own head." (Obadiah 15)

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S. BTW - today is the National Day of Thanksgiving in the U.S.. Do you have a neighbor who is alone, today? A family that cannot afford dinner? What will we do for them so that they are not so all alone? What will we leave undone? 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Amos 9 - God's Promise Thru Amos

After many warnings of destruction to those who do not listen to God, Amos ends with a promise.

“In that day
'I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
    I will repair its broken walls
    and restore its ruins—
    and will rebuild it as it used to be,
so that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations that bear my name,'
declares the Lord, who will do these things.
'The days are coming,' declares the Lord,
'when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
    and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
    and flow from all the hills,
    and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.'" (Amos 9:11:14 NIV)
God's awesome promises - the Good News of His Kingdom - is for all nations who will bear His name. Shall we then bear His Holy Name - proclaim it to all people - that all might live in His loving grace?
God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Amos 8 - Famine

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
People will stagger from sea to sea
    and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,

    but they will not find it." (Amos 8:11-12 NIV)

Always searching, never finding... So many seekers out there... hungry... thirsty... but, never being satisfied. The word of the LORD is available. But, it is not available in every church, from every pulpit. It is there. But, sometimes it is difficult to find.

Just as in the days of Amaziah the temple is used for worldly proclamations. In chapter 7, we heard Amos declare that the temple was his and that Amos was not to be proclaiming God's word in it. The same applies today. The church, it seems, belong to the people, a worldly people, who want their "ears itched" and pastors who are reluctant to say anything that will not scratch those ears. This causes a lot of thirsty and hungry people to wander, searching for the water that will quench their thirst. Jesus is that living water. The proclamation of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can satisfy the thirsty or hungry soul.

I rarely get a chance to attend worship services other than at Zion or Aura Lutheran. However, when I am away from the pulpit, I attend worship services wherever I am. Some of the messages leave me excited and fully fed with the word and the Word. Others do not. They leave me empty and actually wanting to run out and find some real nourishment. Not long ago, I attended a funeral service for a Christian man. There was no proclamation of life in Jesus Christ! It was a very long eulogy (not a sermon). Only one time was Jesus' name mentioned during the sermon and that was in reference to Jesus approving of the man; not because of Christ's work on the cross but because of the man's life, itself.

The days of famine have come. Not a famine of food or water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Jesus' instruction to those who claim they love him was to feed His sheep. Feed them... Feed your neighbors, your friends, your family, with the Word of God... Share the love of God, who in Christ Jesus, was willing to die that we might live abundant lives in His Kingdom, reconciled to God and one another, beginning even now!

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, November 25, 2013

Amos 7 - Microphones and Hearing

"Then Amaziah said to Amos,  'Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.'” (Amos 7:12-13 NIV)

The king Amaziah does not want to hear the word of the LORD. He does not want the people to hear it, either. His desire is that Amos not speak it any longer at Bethel, lest the people turn and hear the word and worship the LORD, rather than him.

A few months ago, I quit using my lapel mic. I just started speaking louder and using the mic on the pulpit more during worship. You see, every few weeks, someone would turn the mic down and I wouldn't find out until after worship that very few had heard anything I said. I would go back into the sound room after worship and turn the volume up, again. A few weeks later, the volume would be down again, but only on the lapel mics. So, I decided not to keep fighting it and just keep my own volume turned up by speaking louder.

In September, after a summer break, our Sunday school resumed helping to lead worship more often. They pray the prayers of the church every Sunday and on the last Sunday of the month they also read lessons, gather the offering, and usually provide an offering of song as well. They do this mostly from the pulpit so that everyone can hear. During the sharing of the peace, one of our members who wears hearing aids let me know that he couldn't hear a thing. I asked him if it was just the children that he couldn't hear, as they do speak much softer than I do. He replied that he couldn't hear me, either. So, I went back to the sound room. Sure enough, someone had turned the volume on the pulpit microphone down to almost nothing. Nothing else was touched, just the volume on the pulpit mic. I am not sure why whoever is doing this, is doing this. This is not the first time the sound has been turned down when our Sunday School was helping to lead. It has happened more often than I can count. A couple of years ago, it was during their Christmas program. Since, I was sitting in the congregation that time, I realized what was wrong and was able to get up during the middle of it and get it fixed.

Yesterday; though, I felt, for a moment, like we had been speaking to a brick wall; after all, there were many at worship, yesterday, who had not heard the word of the LORD during most of the service. They had not heard the scriptures read. They had not heard the sermon. They had not heard the prayers of the church.

"Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." (Rom 10:17)

Amaziah's intention was that he be lord of all the people. It was, he professed, his temple and the people would hear and listen to only what he wanted them to hear. I can't help wonder why anyone would want the voice of the LORD, His word not be read, by His littlest children.

May God help us to understand why anyone would persist in closing the mouths of the children. May God help us to pray for such a person and proclaim His grace to them.

God's Peace - Pr. J.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Amos 6 - Complacent?

"Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
    and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria..." (Amos 6:1 NIV)

We probably all get a little complacent from time to time. Complacency is when we get too satisfied with the way things are and don't care for or want anything to change. But, is that a good thing? Is it good to go through life without making any changes; with ourselves or the things around us?

We all need change. When I was young, I use to hear this quite often: "When you quit learning, you die." Everyone of us needs to keep learning and growing. St. Paul wrote: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Cor 13:11-12 NIV)

We cannot remain babies forever; not, in this world and not in the Kingdom of God. One day, we will all know the truth fully. That day has not yet come. But, it does not mean that we should be complacent and not strive to seek the truth or seek His face.

You think you know Jesus? How well do you know Him? Have you become complacent with a Sunday morning (or less) relationship?

 "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come." (Eph 1:17-21)  Amen!

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Amos 5 - "Seek Me And Live!"

“Seek me and live..." (Amos 5:5 NIV)

One of my goals during CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) was not to enable the perpetually needy who refused to seek the LORD. There are those who would have their or someone else's pastor fix everything for them. I (as many other pastors) sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time helping people who absolutely refuse to worship and trust the LORD; who absolutely refuse to make any changes to their physical and/or spiritual lives. They can take up so much time that there is not time for the soul care of others; there is no time to feed the hungry. I am not saying that the first group doesn't have genuine needs. They do. But, they need to understand that others can't fix everything for them all of the time. Our help comes from the LORD and, yes, often that help comes through other people. Pastors can help others spiritually; but, they are not a replacement for a genuine relationship with God our Father, God who is Jesus the Christ, and God the Holy Spirit. Genuine, abundant life comes from being reconciled to God; from being in a loving relationship with His Son, Jesus; by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I cannot fix you. I cannot give you a better life. I cannot save you. Jesus saves. I can, of course, help feed you and find you a warm place to stay and provide warm clothing. But, those things are only temporary and helping one person week after week and month after month is only enabling them to continue in a way that is hurtful to themselves and to others. There are many hungry people in the world. They all need feeding - both physically and spiritually. And... my resources are limited as are most peoples. Those who refuse to seek the LORD and follow in His Way; but, depend on the Christian to provide for them, take the food out of the mouths of those who are willing to listen; willing to follow; and desire to seek the LORD and live life more abundantly. Thanksgiving is next week and I'm reminded of the lepers that Jesus healed. Only one was made whole. He was the one who turned around in search of the LORD to give Him thanks. He sought out the LORD.

Where am I going with all of this? Decisions have to be made by me and all Christians. Sometimes we have to decide whether we are genuinely helping someone or enabling them to live in dysfunction as they seek the ways of this world and their own desires. Seek the LORD and live...!

God's Peace - Pr. J.

P.S. Here at Zion, since we live in a small community whose needs are not extreme in regard to financial assistance, have decided that we would help take care of individual physical needs by budgeting and actively raising funds for and support agencies throughout the county like St. Vincent DePaul's (a local Catholic charity), Toys for Tots (Marine Corps League), Baraga County Shelter Home. These and other agencies are better equipped than we are to discern how best to help those in physical need. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Amos 4 - Prepare To Meet Your God

More warnings... this morning...

"Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
    you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
    and say to your husbands, 'Bring us some drinks!'
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
    'The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
    the last of you with fishhooks.
You will each go straight out
    through breaches in the wall,
    and you will be cast out toward Harmon,'

    declares the Lord." (Amos 4:1-3 NIV)

And.. the warnings go on. The people bring their offerings and brag about them. Yet, they do not worship the LORD. They spend their time doing as they please; that is to please themselves. They put themselves before God and before their neighbors. No matter what God does to try to wake them up to reality, they do not listen. They do not turn to the LORD. So, in turn, they are told, "Prepare to meet your God." (Amos 4:12)

Advent is a little over a week away. Are we prepared to meet our God. I know that in our minds we have this picture of a God who simply ignores all of our sins. Does he? Does he not see those who pay no heed to His name? Does He overlook those who oppress the poor and crush the needy? Does He overlook the sins of those who spend their hours in drunken stupor? Does He overlook the sins of those who will not repent and live in fellowship with Him and one another?

For, those who believe desire to walk in His Way. Those who believe that Jesus died to save them, will indeed love as He first loved us. It is not an option for the believer because the Spirit of the Living God abides in you and through you and all around you.

Whether you like it or not; whether you seek His face or not, one day we will all meet our God. Are you prepared to meet your God and live eternally in His presence; in His love?

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Amos 3 - Straight to the Point

"It's not snowing!" That's one of the replies that I get from my husband, every now and then, as he responds to some of my queries about a plan for the day. This answer does not make sense and rather irritates me. I would much rather my questions are answered in a direct response; one that is understandable to me.

Today we read that God reveals His plan to us.
"Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing
    without revealing his plan
    to his servants the prophets." (Amos 3:7 NIV)

However, we read some pretty strange questions from the LORD in this third chapter of Amos. They are the kind of questions that make me a little frustrated and wishing that whomever was speaking like this would just get straight to the point.

"Do two walk together
    unless they have agreed to do so?
Does a lion roar in the thicket
    when it has no prey?
Does it growl in its den
    when it has caught nothing?
Does a bird swoop down to a trap on the ground
    when no bait is there?
Does a trap spring up from the ground
    if it has not caught anything?
When a trumpet sounds in a city,

    do not the people tremble?
When disaster comes to a city,
    has not the Lord caused it?("
(Amos 3:3-6)

It takes a while for the prophet, Amos, to get around to it; but, the point is that God has spoken against all of His people and there is going to be a consequence for the sins of His children.

Thanks be to God for Jesus the Christ, who, on the cross, bore our sin and the consequences of our sin for us. That is not confusing. That is straight to the point. Jesus died for us. Jesus died that we might live reconciled to God our Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God's Peace - Pr. J