Friday, January 31, 2014

Matthew 17:1-13 - Mountain Top Experience

"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus." (Matt 17:1-13 NIV)

How did they know? How did they know that the two talking with Jesus were Moses and Elijah? Scripture does not tell us. Maybe, it was from the content of the conversation. Maybe, their history and their traditions stirred something in them so that they just felt it and knew it within their own spirits. Maybe, the Holy Spirit moving upon them, inspired and told them. Maybe it was a little of all these things combined.

How can we know anything? We can know by the testimony of two or three witnesses. This testimony, of three, is found in our reading today: "While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!'” (Matt 17:5)

The same words spoken by the Father at Jesus' baptism were spoken at his transfiguration: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. listen to him!"

The three disciples, in fear and trembling, witness the glory of Jesus Christ, our LORD, at his transfiguration. May God prepare our hearts and minds to witness the full glory of God. 

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S. I am going to have to break some of these chapters down into sections for daily readings. There is just too much in them to even attempt covering it all....

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Matthew 16 - The Cross and The Kingdom

I have run into a slight problem in the New Testament. There is so much to consider in each chapter, that I can't possibly cover everything in a blog post! So, I have resorted to choosing my personal favorite verses.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?'" (Matt 16:24-26 NIV)

Take up your cross and follow Jesus! What does this mean? Where exactly did Jesus lead us? He took up his cross, forsaking his own life, that other's might live. He took up his cross and died. He went to the grave. But, the grave could not hold him. He lives and he reigns in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is what Jesus calls us to: cross-bearing self-sacrifice, death, and ultimately the Kingdom of God.

I was greatly surprised at some of the comments at our Bible Study on Wednesday. It showed me that ears have been open to hearing the proclamation of this Kingdom. The greatest concern that I heard was that we should live in God's presence in His Kingdom, even today. The fear of death was not an issue for those at the study; rather, the concern was and is how can we live more fully in God's presence, following in the footsteps of Jesus today. The question was asked how can we have the faith needed to experience God in our lives, present every minute of every day, in this world? We discussed faith and baptism extensively. Ultimately the answer to the questions: how can we believe; how can we follow; how can we live in His Kingdom today was: "ask." "Ask and you will receive." (John 16-24) Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism on the third Article of the Apostle's Creed: "I believe that by own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith."

Faith, the ability or strength to bear our crosses, life in the Kingdom of God; these are not things that we earn on our own or even choose to do. They are all gifts from God. Thanks be to God!

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S.  If you want to know more about the cross-bearing life or the Kingdom of God that is at hand, join us in Bible Study at Zion. It does not matter what book or chapter we're studying; you will almost always find us discussing the Cross and the Kingdom.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Matthew 15 - What To Wear?

“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.'”  (Matt 15:1-2 NRSV)

On occasion, I have heard a whisper or two about how someone dresses "for church" or how a child misbehaves in "in church." (I have church in quotes, because the term in church is used rather than the term "at worship.") Tradition has taught us that there are certain ways we should dress for and act in "church." These are traditions that have come down through the generations. I'm thinking Jesus probably did not change clothes to go to the temple or to preach as he was traveling from city to city. During the time Jesus ministered, here on earth, one of the big "no, no's" was to not wash before you eat. There were whole rituals set up to ensure that hands were washed - rituals that were not to be broken.

We have the religious and we have the faithful. The religious might also be faithful, but often they will remind us of the Pharisees and scribes who faithfully accused and persecuted Jesus. The man-made laws and traditions certainly set them apart from other people; but did they set them apart because of their faith in God or because of the faithfulness to man-made traditions and laws?

Not long ago, one of our members was dropped off by one of their children for Worship. I invited the daughter to join us - but - she said she couldn't come in because she had a pair of those pants on that sort of look like pajamas. Consider this, who exactly are you dressing for? Who are you afraid of offending? Man or God? Do you not pray at home, in the shower, in your pajamas, in the garden, in your running clothes, at work? Do you run to change clothes before you go before God to speak with Him, in prayer, on all of these occasions? Personally, I don't think God cares what we're wearing.

As that child of God, who felt that she was not dressed for "church" declined my invitation to join us at Worship, I thought of Adam and Eve in that garden, naked. God didn't care that they were naked. After they ate of the tree of knowledge, it was they who cared, not God. Since they were ashamed, God made them clothes to cover themselves with and then closed the garden off to them so that they might not eat of the tree of life and live forever.

I like tradition almost as much as the next person; however, let us be mindful that sometimes these traditions separate us from God rather than bring us (and others) closer to him. It is faith in the One who shed His blood for us and not what we wear that reconciles us to God, our Father, in His eternal kingdom.

"This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines." (Matt 15:8-9)

God's Peace - Pr. J
P.S. The winter that I was snow-mobile trail boss in southern Ontonagon County, I often went to Worship Services in my snow-mobile suit, simply because I did not have time to change and had to get back out on the trails immediately after worship. It was either not change or not Worship. Which would you choose?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Matthew 14 - Lord, Save Me!

"Peter answered him, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.' He said, 'Come.' So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'" (Matt 14:28-31 NRSV)

Jesus heals the sick; feeds five thousand men plus women and children; and walks on water. I'm thinking that if one didn't believe that he is the Son of God after witnessing all that, there may have been a problem with their vision as well as their faith. 

Peter has witnessed all this and so wants to walk on the water, too. He begins, fully trusting in the LORD. But, then his faith waivers and he begins to sink. How many times do we begin a venture, trusting that God is with us? But, then we become frightened. Maybe the project is too big, the obstacles too many, and rather than to keep our trust in the LORD we begin to trust our own weakness; falling fast and hard. This is what usually happens when we trust our own abilities or inabilities over the power and ability of almighty God. We fall. We begin to sink. We so not have the power to save ourselves and so we cry out to the LORD "Lord, save me!" He will save. Have faith.

Have faith, that the LORD is with you, at all times and in all places so that you might stand. "Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong." (1 Corinth 16:13)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, January 27, 2014

Matthew 13 - The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Like...

Jesus tells parables to explain what the Kingdom of God is. But, not everyone understands them. He has to explain them even to his disciples.

I find it so very sad that no matter how many times, I proclaim the Kingdom of God, there are many who still don't get it. They don't totally get it (or they forget it shortly afterward as in the parable of the sower) and thus miss out on living an abundant life in that kingdom, even now. I'm not talking about abundance as is taught by some prosperity gospel preachers. I am talking about the abundant life we enjoy that comes from just living in the presence of God - being with Him. I am talking about the joy that Jesus likens, in his parables, to finding a treasure hidden in a field or the joy of the merchant who finds a pearl of great price. Jesus is that pearl and when we realize what a treasure we have in our relationship with him, we are willing to give everything so that we can keep that treasure. There are no riches in this world that can even begin to compare to the richness of God's love for us, through Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior.

May God help us all to live in the richness of His love.
God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Matthew 12 - Blood That Is Thicker Than Blood

     "While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
     He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”" (Matt 12:46-50 NIV)

Family... There is a blood that is thicker than blood. It is the blood of Christ that was shed for you. Because he was willing to die for us, we are willing to follow Him, doing our Father's will. We can say "Our Father" because through Jesus we have been made children of God. We have been adopted.

Jesus was not disavowing his mother. He loved his mother; for, even as he suffered on the cross, he appointed John to look after Mary. He was making the point that those who believe and follow are his family. Thus, we have the Church; the family of God.

There is the blood that is thicker than blind. It binds us together, forever. It is the blood of Christ shed for you.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Matthew 11 - I Will Give You Rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-29 NIV)

So many people seeking rest for their souls in the world today. Yet, they seek it in all the wrong places. There seems, at times, that there is nothing one can say or do, to help them to understand that Jesus truly can give us the rest we need. Unwilling to take up his yoke and learn from Jesus; we take upon ourselves a much heavier yoke, stumbling and often falling.

If, today, you find, that you are weary and burdened with the cares of the world, toss aside the yoke that is holding you down and find rest at the feet of our LORD and King, Jesus the Christ. Go to Him and He will give you rest.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, January 24, 2014

Matthew 10 - Good News of the Kingdom

"As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'" (Matt 10:7 NIV)

There is a lot in this chapter to cover; but, if you've read it and you know me, you already knew that I would pick out this verse. You knew, because I am adamant that the Kingdom of God has come near, for you, is the Gospel. The Good News is the Kingdom of God through Jesus the Christ.

Jesus sends the twelve out to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons and to proclaim this Good News. (vs 7, 8) Jesus, himself, proclaimed this message. So why do so many, today, think that there is another Gospel?

The Kingdom of Heaven has come to us. It is more than a place. It is a way of being; a way of being as a child of God; reconciled to our Father in heaven; to Jesus Christ, our brother; to one another, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It has come through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Think about the temple curtain being torn in two at his death. We often think of it in terms of us being able to enter into the Holy of Holies. But, consider that it is more like the heavens being opened and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at his baptism. As that curtain was torn in two, the Spirit of God, even His Kingdom, was poured out into the world. "The kingdom of heaven has come near."    

I am sorry, but I cannot adequately explain the Kingdom in a few paragraphs. Want to hear more...? I preach about it all the time... After all, that is the message we are sent to proclaim.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Matthew 9 - Your Sins Are Forgiven

We have, in chapter five, six different episodes or movements. Jesus is busy healing both physically and spiritually. In the episode in which he is eating with the tax collector Matthew whom he has called to "follow" him, Jesus is questioned regarding eating with sinners. His response connects the physically ill with spiritually ill:  "On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9:12-13 NIV)

Sadly, I have witnessed many a person who, for whatever reason, do not have as full relationships with Jesus Christ as they could have. Although, they confess Christ, they have not quite gotten to the place where they fully trust him for their daily needs; to forgive them their trespasses; or that the kingdom has come for them, even now, through his death and resurrection. They live day to day, suffering in many ways; without really being able to enjoy the life that God has given to them. Ultimately; although, they are still quite young, they are quite worn out spiritually, emotionally, as well as physically.

This is definitely not to say that we don't need doctors. God has provided us some tremendous gifts in the advancement of medicine and many men and women who know how to apply that knowledge and gifts. It is a reminder that the physical and spiritual work hand in hand. When our spirits are low, often we are more susceptible to physical ailments and when we are physically ill our spirits are in danger of becoming ill as well. The whole person must be cared for. In order to be made whole, we need to be able to hear and receive these words: "Your sins are forgiven."

Jesus did a lot of wandering around, getting in trouble, for forgiving the sins of others. Ultimately, he died on the cross to take away the sins of the world. "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) He died that we might be made whole.

But, there is a whole world out there that does not know this. They do not the great and awesome works of God. Someone must tell them.

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matt 9:35-37)

As Jesus, called that sinful tax collector, Matthew, to follow him, so he calls you. Will you follow? Will you have compassion on those who are harassed, helpless, and like sheep without a shepherd. Is the Lord of the harvest, asking you to go out into his harvest field?

But... before you head out to that harvest field; take this bit of knowledge with you: your sins are forgiven you, too, in the name of Jesus Christ.

God's Peace - Pr. J.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Matthew 8 - Jesus and Storms

Faith is a major theme in our chapter today. Trusting in the LORD to make us whole. In today's reading we find Jesus healing the sick and kicking out demons. He, also, tells everyone that there will be a cost to following him. One must be willing to leave everything else behind them in order to truly follow him.

But, the story from chapter eight that has always really intrigued me is the story of Jesus calming the sea. You see, the part that is often missed in this story is that the storm does not begin until after the disciples follow Jesus on to the boat. They join him on the boat and then the rain comes down, the wind rages, the seas roll. Jesus is resting peacefully as if there is nothing to be worried about and there is not anything for them to worry about. Jesus is with them. He has the power and the authority to calm the most raging of seas.

As we leave behind the safety and comfort of all that we have known to follow Jesus there will be many storms. As you get on board with Jesus you will face many obstacles. But, fear not. Jesus is with you through each and every one of them. He will calm your storms. He will calm your fears. Have faith. He will save you.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Matthew 7 - Judge Fairly

Today, I get to say something about this often misquoted and misinterpreted verse from Matthew. It is usually quoted without considering the context of this whole chapter.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged." (Matt 7:1 NIV)

Often I hear people remind others that no matter what someone does we can not judge them. Let's look at verse 2: "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." That is; when someone is to be judged, it should be done fairly, based on the facts. We don't get to go around falsely accusing someone of something without hearing all of the facts. Everyone deserves a fair hearing. Everyone deserves the opportunity to present their side of the story. We do not want an innocent person judged guilty because we were not willing to hear all of the facts. Likewise, someone who has gravely damaged others should not be left off of the hook, just because we were unwilling to use discernment of hurtful behavior or to judge between right and wrong. We would not want someone judging us without being able to present our side nor should we be judging anyone without hearing their whole story, either. But, sometimes the rest of the story must be told and a judgment made, once all of the facts are made known (but, not before).

Verse 6, of this same chapter of Matthew. gives us an example of why we need to judge fairly, although it must be an honest and fair judgment. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." In order to follow these instructions, it is necessary to use a good deal of discernment and, yes, even judgment. But, be cautious again as to what measuring stick you are using to do the discerning. Verse 16 tells us,  "By their fruit you will recognize them."  Everything must be weighed and judged appropriately. "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S. Be careful that you do not advocate sin, by your silence, because you think that God does not allow you to judge between right and wrong. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Matthew 6 - Lord's Prayer

WOW! So much in one chapter! Read all about giving to the needy, prayer and fasting, treasures in heaven and why you should not worry in Matthew, chapter six.

I remember being questioned by a Christian from another denomination as to why Lutherans (as well as many other denominations) insist on praying the Lord's prayer every time we gather to worship. The answer is very simple. Jesus instructed us to pray in this manner.

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.'"  (Matt 6:9-13 NIV)

It should be our daily prayer. It is not just for Sunday mornings. It is an awesome prayer for those times that you are feeling lost or helpless or hopeless and do not know how to pray, but have a need just to have a talk with our Father in heaven, then pray it as often as you need even if it be seven times seventy times in one day.

And... the Sermon on the Mount continues....

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Matthew 5 - Sermon on the Mount; Two-edged Sword

Chapter five of Matthew begins the "Sermon on the Mount," the most awesome sermon ever, at least in my humble opinion! I usually deliver this sermon in its entirety at least once a year. Although, many see it as pure gospel, I hear it as a prime example of the two-edged sword. Depending where you are in your journey, you might hear it as good news or you might hear it as law.

I know that there are a few out there who would dispute that the "Sermon on the Mount" is both law and gospel so let me give you an example of how I have come to this conclusion.

The first time I proclaimed these words in their entirety for a sermon. I was up on a mountain, working at a youth correctional facility. I did not edit. I did not do or say anything else. I did not try to elaborate on it's meaning. I simply stood up and gave the "Sermon on the Mount" and then I sat down. I was reported the next day, by a young man, for telling him that he and his mother were going to hell. I did no such thing! The word of God - which is a two-edged sword both convicts and it heals, according to what God feels is the need of the people.

Where are you, today? Does this sermon of Jesus' bring you conviction or hope?

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Matthew 4 - Temptation Will Come

Following Jesus baptism, he is tempted. After the temptations, which he resists; he goes out to preach and heal.

I have noticed that there seems to be, for many people who are baptized as older youth or adults or those who affirm their baptisms, a similar order to these things. I warn everyone who comes to me expressing their desire to be baptized or affirm their faith that they need to be aware that following in the footsteps of Jesus is not something that should be taken lightly. I also warn them that once they are baptized or affirm their baptisms, they will most probably see an increase in temptations. Faith affirming activities do not please the devil. Or, maybe they do. Maybe, he delights in the opportunity to try our faith through temptations.

I no longer can keep track of the teenagers and adults that I have known, who once they were baptized or affirmed their baptisms, who have never again gathered with God's people to worship. Well, maybe some have come back for a wedding or funeral....

Take it seriously, even as Jesus was tempted, we will be tempted. Following in the footsteps is not something for the fainthearted. You will need strength, courage and above all the faith with which you have affirmed publicly. It makes me real edgy to hear the affirmations of young people who are profess their faith only as a practice of ritual and have no real sense of what they are about to step in to. I care about these children and fear that they do not really understand what they are promising God. If they are not actually armed with the faith in Christ that they publicly profess they are going to have a rougher time than any of them expect..

It is wise when we affirm our faith and share the good news to be prepared to cling to the one who was able to resist temptation so that we might make it through those troubling times (which the devil will indeed tempt you with) with our faith still intact.

God's peace - Pr. J

P.S. The Sacraments and rites of the church are more than empty rituals; more than stepping stones on life's way. Playing with them, without any understanding of them is as dangerous as a baby playing with fire. There is a purpose to each of them for the growth and the edification of the Church and for you. If you're not sure about them, see me or better yet; come to Worship and/or Bible Study and get the bigger picture.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Matthew 3 - Brood of Vipers; God's Children

John the Baptist is one of my favorite characters. Can you imagine if I went around saying to people, "...You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance..." (Matt 3:7-8 NIV) Well, actually I do say things similar to this at times, I just don't recall actually calling anyone a viper. Oops, I take that back, too. I do recall an occasion or two when I've let someone know that they were acting like a snake.

Here is John, baptizing with water for repentance and along comes Jesus, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, to be baptized by John.
     "But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
     Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
     As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:14-17)

Anointed by the Spirit of God at baptism, we hear from that same Spirit, that same God, welcome us into His family with these reconciling words, "You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased."

A brood of vipers, we are. Yet, by His grace, we are His children.

God's Peace - Pr. J 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Matthew 2 - Magi, Children, Martyrs. and Moves

From the very beginning, attempts were made to do away with Jesus. Today we have the popular Christmas story of the Magi's visit to Jesus. Unfortunately; King Herod, heard that that they were seeking the king of the Jews, who was due to be born, so that they could worship him. Herod became anxious over the possibility of another "king" and plotted to kill the infant Jesus.

He did not succeed. But, in his attempts every boy child, two years old and under, in the region of Bethlehem was slaughtered. These babies became the first martyrs for Jesus.

Fortunately; an angel was sent to warn Joseph that Jesus' life was in danger. So he took Mary and Jesus into exile in Egypt to protect his family. They moved to Nazareth upon hearing that Herod was dead.

I often listen in amazement when I hear people say that they will not leave the area where they are born in. I know people who have never left the Upper Peninsula of Michigan even for a vacation. They simply will not leave what they know. Yet, Jesus, including the trip he made, still in the womb, to Bethlehem, was moved three times in a course of a few years.

Yes, I love Upper Michigan, too. But, there has been more than once in my life that I have been uprooted and called to move. I recall very vividly arguing with God about yet another move. When we are called to go; when God sends us a message to move... it's just a really good idea to do that. He has His reasons; whether, we like them or even know them. He was with Joseph and Mary and Jesus and was guiding them (i.e. sending his angel messengers) through these early years so that Jesus would be around for the purpose that he was sent for. No matter what it is that God calls us to do; no matter how hard it may seem; He has a good purpose for it. Listen and follow...

Take just a minute to thank the LORD that we have no Herods in power, in this country, today! There are, after all, still places and people in various regions of the world that do not seem to have a problem massacring even the children.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Matthew 1 - He Has Come!

     "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”)." (Matt 1:22-23 NIV)
     Finally... out of the prophets and into the fulfillment of them. We begin the New Testament today with the fulfillment of the promise that a Savior would come. God, Himself, would come to us, of the lineage of Abraham and David; He would come to us as any man comes into the world, born of a woman, through a natural childbirth.
     "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (Isa 7:14)
      But, I repeat myself... Of course to make a point. In spite of all the warnings to those who break God's law in the preceding books, that are found in the Old Testament, there was grace. The promise was there that a Savior would come for God's people. As witnessed by those who walked the earth when Jesus walked the earth; He has come!
     My granddaughter is home schooled. A few years ago, I sat listening in on one of her online (public school) history classes, in spite of her objections to me being there. The instructor was giving the class definitions for C.E. (common era); B.C.E. (before common era); A.D. (Anno Domini - The year of our Lord) and B.C. (before Christ); She looked at me and said "you mean Jesus is real?" I replied, "Are you serious? All this time, did you think I was just telling you fairy tales? Yes, he really was real."
     This history class was a very good thing. Without purposing to do it; this class verified, for my granddaughter, the reality of Jesus' life and death. We hear Matthew doing the same thing today in our reading; he begins his writings using a bit of the history of Jesus' ancestors to verify that Jesus is not just the Son of God; but, the Son of Man, as well. He really is real! Matthew uses history to remind us that a Savior, from the lineage of Abraham and David, would come. He has come!
God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Malachi 4 - Rising Sun

Years ago, I was helping a group of teen-agers form a church youth group. It was their idea to start meeting regularly as a group and they wanted to have a name for the group. There were quite a few suggestions, which I do not recall. But, there was one suggestion that I will always remember. One teen-age boy suggested they should call themselves "The Rising Sun." My mind immediately went to "The House of the Rising Sun," a song, by the 60's band, The Animals, whose lyrics are not exactly fitting for a church youth group. The other "Rising Sun" that came to mind was Japan.

So, I asked him why he thought that would be a good name. I was surprised when his response took us directly to Malachi, chapter four. He actually knew book, chapter, and verse.

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves." Malachi 4:2

That a Jr. High youth would even know this verse, I found quite astounding! Who taught this child? It certainly wasn't me! How many adults have read this verse and then actually remember it if they have read it? It is certainly not one of those verses that I had committed to memory. But, he had. I spoke with him not long ago via a chat box on the internet. He is happily married and happily a father. And, to my delight he is still studying his Bible and actually knows about and what some of our great theologians of the past (and present) taught. God has put His Spirit in that young man (everyone seems young to me lately). The "Rising Sun," "The Sun of Righteousness," has shone upon him. Thanks be to God!

May the sun of righteousness rise with healing in its wings and shine upon all of you.

God's Peace - Pr. J. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Malachi 3 - Annual Reports; Budgets

So much I'd like to cover in such little space....

First, the prophecy of the coming of John the Baptist:
"I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty." (Mal 3:1 NIV)

Next to consider the word of God when He says: "I the LORD do not change." (Mal 3:6) I'm going to let you think about that one on your own.

Thirdly; I have been working on annual reports and budgets and benevolence comes up a lot when I do that. So the following verses kind of jumped out at me.

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty." (Mal 3:-8-12)

It is no secret that I and many others in this community think that we live in a delightful land! It is a friendly and caring community. The people who live in this place are very generous when it comes to helping those in need. We do all that we can to help others in need. (See Mal 3:5) As a congregation reaching out to others we have grown in many ways over the years.

Back to the annual report.... Thanks be to God, our budget is also being managed quite well and even grows - slowly but surely. We have some very faithful stewards. I have to admit that I get a little antsy at times when it comes to budgets (maybe even a little cranky - especially if someone intimates that our storehouse is for us and not to help those in need). Our congregation budget, in the end, is one of those things that we (I) have to say, from year to year, that we will just have to trust the LORD to provide. He has, after all, an outstanding track record of consistently providing for us and for others, through us, in various ways. I was quite surprised to find out that almost 40% of our general fund offerings, this year, came from non-members and I want to take this opportunity to thank God, in all of you, for supporting our ministry. We are a small congregation and a small community; but, thanks be to Christ in all of you, the ministry in this place does not just exist, but thrives.

You have been good stewards of God financial gifts. How's your stewardship of the Word and word going? Are you actually reading your Bible so that you can know His word and Word? That, after all, was the intent of this blog to help you get more involved in daily Bible reading and studying. Make sure you read the rest of Malachi 3. There is much in just this one chapter to understand.

God's Peace - Pr. J
P.S. Just a little clarification for those who may be wondering why I refer to both "word" and "Word." When I speak of the word with a small "w", I am referring to the Holy Scriptures. When I use a capital "W", I am referring to the Word who is Jesus the Christ.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Malachi 2 - Keeping the Covenant; Semper Fi

  "Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?" (Mal 2:10 NIV)
     Good question, hey?! Malachi is speaking specifically regarding divorce. Why would we break the covenant we have with the one whom we have committed to share our whole lives with here on earth? Malachi reminds us that one of the issues in many divorces is that one partner in that commitment may strive to keep the covenant that has been made with the one true God; while the other serves another or, maybe, many false gods. Sometimes (often) the one who worshipped God will turn away from him. More and more often, the tension, caused by not having God in the relationship, will bring the union to an end. If we truly intend to keep our covenant of marriage then it is a very good thing to base that covenant on the covenant that God has made with us. It is a good thing to have the marriage blessed; but, it is also imperative that we trust God for the blessing. If we do not live in the covenant we have with God, it is going to be pretty rough going trying to keep our covenant with another human being.
     It reminds me of a motto the U.S. Marine Corps has been fond of: "God, Country, Corps." That might sound trite to some. But, it is not. When someone commits to the armed services, it is much like a marriage. It is a 24/7 and 100% commitment. However, in order to keep the commitment to country and Corps, it should be recognized that God must come first in our lives. He will help us keep our commitments. (Of course, this motto was used much a few decades ago. They may have done away with it, by now, to be politically correct.)
     Semper Fi - Always Faithful - is another U.S. Marine Corps motto. May God grant that we should always be faithful to Him above all others as well as to those whom we have committed to share our lives with here on earth.
God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Malachi 1 - Unwanted Fruitcake; God's Offering?

     We have finally come to the last prophet and the last book of the Old Testament. Next week we will begin to read the New Testament. I am relieved in a sense that the many dire warning from God will cease.  Well, no, they will not actually cease.  We are warned over and over again in the New Testament to turn to the LORD and to give God the glory; but, we will see much more grace as we hear about the God who was willing to die for our sakes. We will hear much more of the Good News of God's reign in the Kingdom inherited by us, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
     That is what Malachi, chapter one is about: sacrifice. God is not at all happy with the sacrifices of the people or the priests. They do not bring the first fruits. They bring defiled food. They bring blemished animals to the altar of the LORD. Can you imagine giving God our left-overs? Of course we can! It's like giving God that fruitcake that we got for Christmas, that we didn't want. So, instead of the trash can, you give it to God. The Good News, that we know, is that God, Himself, will provide the unblemished lamb, His only begotten Son, as a sacrifice for us. What we have failed to do, God has done for us.
God's Peace - Pr. J
BTW - I love fruitcake!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Zechariah 14 - Judgment and Mercy

     On that day... On the Day of the LORD... there will be both judgment and mercy. It will be an awesome day for those who worship the LORD. It will not be so good for those who reject Him. It will be a day of destruction, but it will also be a day to rejoice in the LORD.
     I pray often (daily) for the lost. Their suffering and pain is so extreme. Yet, there is nothing that I can do to help them; except, to pray for them and continue to encourage them to turn the LORD for He is our only Help and Salvation.
      Do not think that because all is not perfect in the world; that He does not exist. He is there with you. He sees all that we do; whether we worship and serve in His Way or not. We continue to try to assist those who are suffering. We hope that their hearts will be opened so that they might receive the love of God and truly live. Yet, many will not and we grieve. It is most grievous to witness the suffering that exists because hard hearts will not let the love of God live in or through them.
     On the Day of the LORD there will be both judgment and mercy. May God be merciful to you and grant you His peace.
God's peace - Pr. J

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Zechariah 13 - Prophecy Dead?

     “On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land. And if anyone still prophesies, their father and mother, to whom they were born, will say to them, ‘You must die, because you have told lies in the Lord’s name.’ Then their own parents will stab the one who prophesies.
     “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of their prophetic vision. They will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive." (Zech 13:2-4 NIV)
     So, is the gift of prophecy a gift that is received today? Absolutely! I remember years ago being told that prophecy is not a gift for new covenant people. It died when the first disciples died. They based (and some still do) that assumption on scriptures like this one that we find in Zechariah. But, this scripture refers not to prophets that the LORD has called. It refers to false prophets. It refers to prophets who not only call on false idols, but those who prophecy falsely in the LORD's name. I am sorry to say that both abound today. But, that does not negate the fact that God still calls prophets. They are around for the benefit of the people. They are around to remind us of the LORD's will and of the Way in which we should be going.
     In today's culture we often think of a prophet of someone who predicts the future. But, it is not normal for a prophet of God to do that. A prophet's message usually includes the warning of what will happen if we do not worship the one true God and only Him; if we do not follow in His Way.  Thankfully, many of the prophets of old (as well as today), also included a promise to those who would gift thanks to and glorify God before all others.
     I find it quite sad that so many who profess to be Christian today are running around supporting false prophets; so many who are seeking a prediction of their future; seeking a word from the dead; rather than seeking the will of God and standing on God's promises of eternal life in His Kingdom for all who believe. May God bless you with that the reassurance that He is with you. He will provide for you. He will keep you in His Kingdom.
God's Peace - Pr. J
P.S. Today's blog came easy as yesterday's Bible Study at Zion related to the gift of prophecy, as well as the gift of tongues. We had an excellent discussion on 1 Corinthians 14. Join us next Wednesday at 9 a.m., if you are able, for chapter 15 and the resurrection of the dead. BTW - haven't been able to figure out why anyone would seek guidance from supposedly dead spirits when they can seek it from God who sees all and knows all; and, has already provided His Word.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Zechariah 12 - Danger Will Come As Will the Spirit of Grace

     It is prophesied that the world will come against God's people; against His Church. He also promises that those who would do so will do it at their own peril even while He pours out upon His people a spirit of grace and supplication.
     This spirit of grace comes through His Son, Jesus the Christ.
     “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." (Zech 12:10 NIV)
     Zechariah prophecies that God, Himself, will be pierced for us in the Person of the Son, Jesus the Christ, as His hands and feet are nailed to the cross; as His side is pierced by the soldier to verify His death.
     "But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water."  (John 19:33, 34)
     If the world should come against God, will it come any less against those who follow Him? Yet, even so, God is with us. He is for us even to the point of willing to suffer and die for us. Thanks be to God!
God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Zechariah 11 - Covenant and Unity

     "So I shepherded the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock. In one month I got rid of the three shepherds.
     The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them and said, “I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.”
     Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations. It was revoked on that day, and so the oppressed of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord.
     I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
     And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.
     Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the family bond between Judah and Israel." (Zech 11:7-14 NIV)

The two staffs of a shepherd: one to help steer the flock in the way they should go; the other with a crook in it so that they may be pulled to safety when they venture too close to danger. Zechariah sees a vision of these two staffs. One is called Favor and the other Union. They are broken. God's word is that the favor He has given to the people in His covenant with them; as well as the unity between Judah and Israel will be broken. The LORD's warning is that He will no longer be their shepherd. He will leave them to the worthless shepherd who has no heart for the people or for God.

The Good News, though, can be found in the thirty pieces of silver. This is the price that Judas was paid for betraying Jesus the Christ and it was with this money that the field where Judas committed suicide was purchased. This may not be good news for Judas; but, it is for us. For without the betrayal; without the death and the ultimate resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we would have no hope of entering into the Kingdom that has indeed been prepared for us. Even as God promised to break the covenant He had with the people, when He broke the two staffs of Favor and Unity; He has given us a new covenant. This new covenant is for the unity of all people in His Kingdom through the blood of Jesus the Christ.

Ultimately, God provided a Shepherd who can and will guide us in the way we are to go. He will keep us safe within the flock - united with God and with one another.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, January 6, 2014

Zechariah 10 - Vacations

I have been on vacation for almost two weeks and I admit it has made me to feel guilty. I have thought, more than once, about passages like the following from Zechariah.

“My anger burns against the shepherds,
    and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord Almighty will care
    for his flock, the people of Judah,
    and make them like a proud horse in battle." (Zech 10:3 NIV)

I did not go anywhere. Basically, the vacation time was there so I am using it before the year runs out. I have done more than a few visits during this time and have been working on the annual report and statistics at home. I have spent a lot of time in prayer. Yet, there have been moments when I felt I should have, could have, been using the time that God has given me more wisely, more fruitfully.

Ministry, for me, has always been something other than a job. It is a calling. It is a way of life. I know from experience that pastors (I) need time away; time to be alone with God; time to be able to talk to Him; time to be able to really listen to Him; time to be renewed and refreshed. But, I also know that the suffering of the people does not stop when we (I) take vacations. So when trouble happens in the congregation and community; while I am resting; I grieve that I was not there. I find consolation only in the knowledge that the LORD is with us. He is with you (and me) and it is He who will care for His flock when I fall short. The Lord will strengthen us and in His Name we will live securely. (vs 12)

So pray for me and pray for all of our shepherds; that the LORD will strengthen us even as He will forgive our human weakness.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Zechariah 9 - Rejoice Greatly!

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
    today I declare that I will restore to you double." (Zech 9:9-12 NIV)
Zechariah predicts trouble, but in the end: Good News! And, the even better news for us today is that the King has come!
Sadly, even as this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus entered Jerusalem in the days before he was betrayed; (Matt 21:1-11; John 12:12-15); even as he was not welcomed by all people then; he is not welcome by many today. He was viewed, by many, with suspicion then. He is viewed with suspicion and fear today.
Set aside those doubts and fears! Our hope is in Him! Let us rejoice in the Good News that our King has come! He reigns!
God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Zechariah 8 - Come With Me

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Come, let us go to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.'" (Zech 8:20-21 NIV)

"Come, with me. Let us seek the LORD together." When was the last time you heard words like this? When was the last time you offered this invitation to anyone?  The LORD offers peace to all people, but who will receive it? There are Christians who would look down on others who do not worship the LORD; thereby, breaking any possible bonds of peace between themselves and others. Rather than look down on those who do not know the LORD; how about an attempt or two or more to help them get to know the LORD? Invite them to worship so that they might hear the Word; that others might hear and believe and we might live in peace, reconciled to God and one another.

St Paul wrote to the Romans: "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?  And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ." (Rom 10:14-17)

How are they to believe, if they do not hear? We can all be evangelists; inviting our neighbors to come with us to seek the LORD of hosts so that all people might know Him and be reconciled to Him and one other in His peace.

Invite your neighbor to worship, so that they too might know the promises and the joy that those promises bring.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, January 3, 2014

Zechariah 7 - Resolution To Show Kindness and Mercy

The people wanted to know. They wanted to know if they should continue fasting in the fifth month as they had been doing for so long. The response they received....

"The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another." (Zech 7:8-10 NIV)

It is the beginning of a new year; a time when many decide that they will give up; they will fast from things that they have been indulging in that were harmful to themselves. They plan to change their lives for the better. How about if instead of giving up something (fasting) to make our own lives better; the change takes place in the form of adding something to our lives to make the lives of others better? Things like reaching out to others. Instead of ignoring the person you meet on the street; greet them with the peace of God. Instead of gossiping about the single woman down the street who is trying to raise her children by herself; you get to really know her and support her and her children? How about we pray for those whom we think are our enemies rather than persecute them publicly? I wonder what would happen in and to the world around us if we used (fasted) a bit more of our time and energy in showing a little more kindness and mercy.

 I know, I've suggested these types of changes (resolutions) a thousand times and some may wish I'd quit suggesting it, already.  Many hear; others refuse to unstop their ears. It is the same for many today as it was when Zechariah relayed God's message to the people in captivity. "But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear." (Zech 7:11) 

Unstop your ears. Listen, to the word of the LORD. Live showing kindness and mercy that it may be well with you and with your neighbor.

God's Peace - Pr. J


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Zechariah 6 - Four Winds of Heaven

Zechariah has yet another vision: four chariots being pulled by horses of various colors. The angel tells Zechariah that "these are the four winds of heaven going out, after presenting themselves before the LORD of all the earth." (Zech 6:5 NIV) The four winds (spirits) of heaven are anxious to go to the four corners of the earth: north, south, east and west as they patrol the earth.

God is in charge of even the wind - even the wind obeys and answers to Him. This portion of the vision is symbolic of God's presence, through His Spirit, throughout the world. He is not absent as some would think He is absent. He is not a God far off; but, is very near. His Spirit abides with us always. He sees and knows all that we say, and think and do.

He sends His Spirit to gather to Himself, to His Holy Temple, people from every corner of the earth. He sends His Spirit to reconcile, even you, to Himself.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Zechariah 5 - Problems/Wickedness

I am on vacation; but, no, I did not take a vacation from this Bible Study Blog. It appears that we are missing the days from December 25, 2013 to January 1, 2014. I wrote them, but I also just moved them back over to Jeremiah. Linnea just let me know that somehow after chapter 4 of Zechariah, I jumped back to Jeremiah 5. Guess, I just wanted to stay with this project a year or so longer...! This, I think, is what happens when one leads three evening worship services, gets home at 1 a.m., sleeps for a very few hours, and gets up to focus on anything. I got lost! Forgive me and thank you, Linnea, for helping me to see the problem!

In Zechariah's vision today, the woman sitting in the basket is a major problem! She is "Wickedness." Two angels (women with wings) carry this basket to Babylon (Shinar) to build a house for it. Wickedness is to reside in Babylon, presumably as a punishment for the captivity of God's people.

We all make mistakes. Some can be fixed quite easily; others not so easily. Often, I find myself praying "Please, LORD, let not my mistakes be the cause of trouble or pain for others." On this New Year's Day, let us consider how we will approach this new year. Will we take care not to make mistakes that will damage others?

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S. If you want to see what I wrote since Christmas morning 'till now you will have to go back and start at July 14th. There you will find double entries for some of the chapters of Jeremiah :)