Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My refuge is in the Lord! Psalm 11-13

David is the author of these 3 short psalms that contain both praise and lament.

David declares his strength and refuge in time of distress, "In the Lord I take refuge!"  He recognizes that the wicked seem to have the upper hand at times, but speaks of his confidence that one day judgment will come to the wicked and righteous men will see the face of God.  Can you imagine what David is saying in that last statement?  Moses was not allowed to see the face of God.  Even those chosen by God to good works cannot stand fully before God's holiness, but David declares that one day the righteous will see his face.  That is a glorious declaration that we who trust in the Lord will be made whole one day, that the sin that we must constantly repent of, that the love that we desire but do only haltingly will one day be perfected and we will stand in God's perfection before a perfect God.  What can we say to the thought of such a miraculous work except Thanks be to God for his wonderful works!

David repeats his question of earlier psalms when he asks, "how long, O Lord?"  All of us who seek to be obedient to God must have asked that question sometime.  It seems that the wicked gain ground and the widow and orphan are continuously abused.  "How long, O Lord?"  But then comes the faithful statement, "lying lips will profit for a time, but the word of God (and its promises) will endure for eternity."  Lying, deceit, cheating, stealing, dishonesty may have its 15 minutes, but God will avenge the righteous and our Faith will be made whole.  So for as long as you have breath, do as David did and take refuge in the Lord.  He will not fail you.

Patty and I will be heading to Annual Conference in Springfield later this week.  Duane Rathbun will be in the pulpit.  I hope that you will come to support him as he speaks about what God is revealing to him.  Have a blessed week!!

Monday, May 30, 2011

How majestic is your name! Psalm 8

Hope you have had a great Memorial Day weekend and that somewhere in your holiday you remembered to stop and give thanks for the gift that we have in America.....a gift that has been bought again and again by the sacrifice of brave young men and women who have given their very lives to protect us and keep us free.  I often worry that a three day holiday gives us so much time to recreate that we forget the reason that we celebrate.  Memorial Day is about remembering and giving thanks.

The 8th Psalm is one of my favorite.  How majestic is the name of the Lord.  For much of the early history of the people called Israel, The name of God was so holy that they did not speak it.....they didn't even write it....YWH was his name.  But they ascribed great wonders to his name.  The thunder that rumbled in the night and the lightning that flashed between heaven and earth was from God.  The billowing clouds, the cool night wind gave testimony to his presence.  There was power in the name...Jehovah, Yahweh, El Elyon-God most high, Elohim-Creator God, El Shaddai, Jehovah Jireh-my provider, Jehovah Raphi-healer, Jehovah Shalom-God of Peace and many, many more.  the name of God should inspire wonder and awe, it should cause us to bow our head and our knee.  All around us is proof of our God, how can anyone not see and/or hear and know.

One of the senior high youth said something most profound to me about our little faith the other day.  He said that we have the vision of a fruit fly.  That tiny insect that lives for but 24 hours.  Our understanding is but a fragment of God's glory and power.

Why not sit on your deck or porch or out in the yard tonight and look at the marvel and intricacy of creation around you.  Why not write your own psalm of praise.  Give God Glory...it is his due and it will get us in practice for the day when we stand before his throne and all the mysteries of the universe are revealed to us. 

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Psalm 3-7

Each of these Psalms are written by David.  The first is a lament and a cry for help when David's son Absalom rebelled against his father and sought to take the throne from him.  We read that episode in his life in 2 Samuel.  David expresses his confidence in God's protection against any and all foes.    God is able.

In many of these Psalms you will see the word Selah.  This indicates a place when we should stop and consider what has just been said.  Don't hurry through these readings.  When the Psalms were sung, selah would indicate a place in the hymn when the singers would pause to give full effect of the words that had just been sung.

Psalm 4 begins with a plea for God to respond to David's morning call.  David's psalms reflect an intimate prayer life.  He is unafraid to tell God everything that is on his mind.  He speaks of his sorrow and times when he feels oppressed.  He expresses joy and gladness.  He speaks to God of his most intimate needs and desires.  Would that our prayer life would be as rich and full and intimate.  Perhaps our spiritual relationship with God would be more reflective and aware of God's presence in our lives as well.

Psalm 5 is another prayerful plea for deliverance from his enemies.  "Declare them guilty, O God!" Before he completes his prayer he again indicates his confidence that God will bless the righteous and protect them with his shield.

David sees God at work in everything.  When he is ill he sees God's hand teaching, correcting and rebuking him.  In the 6th Psalm he is asking God to be merciful to him, to heal him and keep him from his anguish.  His question is our question when we do not see God's mercy at work in and around us..."How long O Lord, How long?"  But always he expresses his confidence that God will hear his prayer and vanquish his enemies of every kind.

God is righteous.  He is my shield and protector.  He is a righteous judge.  He will judge the evil and vanquish the wicked.  The righteous will give thanks for the goodness of God and we will sing praise to the Lord most high.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Psalm 1 & 2

These psalms are a refreshing read after the despair of much of our reading in Job.  Psalms can be divided into a number of sections.  Some are written by David, others by a variety of Priests.  Some are songs of praise; others seem to prayers of various sorts.  Prayers of thanksgiving and praise; prayers asking God's intervention and protections; prayers of contrition, remorse and repentance.  They were created for a number of reasons that we will try to speak of as we spend some time reading this beautiful part of the Bible that is often called the Psalter.

The 1st two psalms create a context for all that follows.  The first calls for obedience to the law and to Godly wisdom.  The 2nd indicates that only those who take refuge in Yahweh can hope to find success.  We do not know the author of the 1st psalm; the 2nd is attributed to David by Peter and John in the Book of Acts.  It is a royal psalm, written to be used at the coronation of a king from the Davidic lineage.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, but delights in the law of the Lord.  The righteous prevail and the sinner goes down to judgment.  No kingdom can stand against God's purpose in establishing David as king over Israel.  Serve the Lord with fear.  Blessed are those who take refuge in him.

The 1st verse of Psalm 1and the last verse of Psalm 2 provide blessings to those who who seek after the ways of Yahweh.

Would that we could order our days to serve the Lord in our rising up and our laying down.  How would the world be different.....be a better place if we could abide always in the ways that God has called us to.  Would their be less war?  Would there be less hunger?  fewer instances of abuse?  fewer children abandoned?  Why do the nations conspire and the people plot?  It is in vain.  God will judge and one day those who are found in Christ will receive an eternal reward and dwell in a land filled with milk and honey.  As I get older, I look more eagerly to the time when my eyes will close to the futility of this world and open to the glory that will be revealed.

I am eager to read the Psalms with you.  I know that we will experience some new insights into God's glory and our purpose as we share in these sacred texts.  God bless you on this Memorial Day Weekend.  I hope to see you on the Sabbath.

Friday, May 27, 2011

what does the story of Job mean? Job 41-42

God speaks to Job and asks him, "who can stand against me?  Who has a claim that I must pay?  Everything under heaven belongs to me!"  Job crumples in the dust.  He who has lived righteously confesses his sin.  It is not a sin as we think of breaking one of the commandments, it is a sin of questioning God's motives in the events of his life.  We are guilty of the same sin when we ask questions like, "How could a just God allow this to happen?"  Maybe we have done that when an innocent child is abused or neglected.  Perhaps someone has asked that question in the midst of a great natural disaster like the tornado in Joplin.  We seen events through a limited perspective or, as the scriptures say, through a glass dimly.  God sees the end from the beginning.  He has an eternal perspective.  He is the creator of the master plan.  Our sin is in questioning God's motive and his purpose.  One day when we stand before him in heaven, all of our questions will be answered.

Job, which is considered to be the oldest book in the Bible, points to the New Testament if you have paid attention to the questions that Job has asked.  Let me remind you.  1. 9th chapter, who will help us approach God with our questions and concerns?  2. 14th chapter, is there life after death?  3. 16th chapter, who will intercede for us with God in heaven?  4. 19th chapter, who can save us from the judgment that is to come?  5. 21st chapter, what is the most important thing for us in this life?  6. 23rd chapter, where can we find God?  The answer to all of Job's questions are found in the person of Jesus Christ.  How fortunate we are that God answered those questions for Job and for us.

Still there is the very human question of why is there suffering?  We may never know all of the answers.  Is Satan testing us?  Is God testing us?  Is our suffering the result of the brokenness in the world?  Is my testing to prepare me for future work or witness?  All we can do is claim the promise of Romans 8:28 and walk in faith, "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  Nothing can separate us from God's love.

I hope you have learned something from our reading of Job.  I know that some of it has felt repetitious.  I pray that you are being blessed for your faithful work in reading the scriptures.  All of it is God breathed and provided for our edification.  I am looking forward to some time in the Psalms.  God bless you on this Memorial Day Weekend.  I am hearing that many of you will be traveling.  Be safe!  We are still receiving items to build flood buckets for use in the disasters that have occurred here in Missouri.  Patty and I will be delivering them next week while we are at Annual Conference in Springfield.  Unless you tell us otherwise, this week's offering will be sent to provide relief to those who have been devastated in Joplin.  I think that is what God is calling us to this week.  Later we may try to send a mission work team, perhaps in the fall.  God bless you and keep you from the tempter.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

God speaks! Job 38-40

Job has received the advice of his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.  They believe that Job's suffering is the result of some unconfessed sin that his condition is a judgment from God.  Elihu believes that God is disciplining Job and seeking to teach him through the pain.  At the beginning of our story we learned that Satan believes that Job (and us) only believe in God when we are being blessed.  Now comes God to speak.  What will he have to say about Job's condition and his complaint?

Elihu has pointed out the approaching storm in chapter 36 and indicated that we should behold the greatness of God in the storm.  Now God speaks out of that same storm.  What must Job be thinking?  Remember that it was a storm that caused the death of his children in chapter 1.

"Do you know the secrets of the universe?"  Of course, we do not.  We ponder and pontificate; we conjecture and develop theories to explain the mysteries that we cannot know.  How did the earth come to be?  Was it the big bang?  How did we come to be?  Was it evolution?  The mysteries overwhelm us....the litany of whys.  How was one saved in the tornado in Joplin and another saved?  Why does Paul Splitorff, a man who has always kept himself physically fit, die of a skin cancer and another is healed of their disease.  How is a child born with a great physical abnormality, who is believed to have only hours or days to live, become a miracle and another seemingly healthy child taken by SIDS?  We do not know the answers, but there is one that we can trust with all of the situations of life.

We have a sense of human justice and fairness that we measure all things by.  The good should triumph, the evil vanquished.  We should be rewarded for our goodness....the right should be blessed.  When that doesn't happen we wonder, where is God in this situation.  Here is where we fail in this understanding; God is above any notion of human fairness or justice.  He is the standard and nothing that he allows, in his plan, can be above reproach.  Because we cannot see its purpose does not negate the possibility that it is in God's plan.  Whatever God does is right and just because he is God and no other bears that title or understands the end from the beginning.

Suffering as Job is enduring or as enters into our life should not cause us to doubt God, but rather should cause us to trust God for what he is and not what he does.  We honor God, not for the blessing that we hope for but because he is God, author of all life and the keeper of heaven and earth.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Do you wonder? Job 35-37

Job is struggling to understand what God is doing?  Have you ever wondered?  Do you suppose the folks who have been struck by tornado and flood are wondering?  Could some of us feel very much like Job is feeling?

Elihu, Job's young friend continues to berate Job.  He seems to be speaking as though he has some inside knowledge, that he has sat at the right hand of God.  In fact, he speaks with such confidence, one might think that he is speaking for God.  Any time you hear some one with such a Pompous attitude, you might move back a little.  No mortal man (or woman) has such an intimate understanding of God's ways as to be able to speak irrefutably for the Most High God.

Elihu insists that God rewards the obedient and the disobedient will perish.  I don't disagree, but their is too much evidence in this world to believe that the rewards and banishment will happen in the human lifetime.  We see evil winning too many battles and the greedy living to comfortable a life to believe that righteous living will always have its reward in this lifetime in this broken world.  Justice will win and righteousness will have its reward, but our understanding of that statement takes a much longer view than the span of a generation or two or three.  Israel dwelt in exile in Egypt for 400 years before God sent Moses to lead them out of bondage.  Should we believe that all of those who died as slaves where receiving compensation for their sin.

Elihu thinks that Job needs a great big dose of God's greatness and I don't doubt that we should all stand still for a little while every day and consider the wondrous works of God in every season.  Even today, in the midst of storm sirens and tornado warnings, to view the heavens is to remember that there are things that man cannot fully understand.  There are powers beyond our comprehension.  There is a God who rules from another demension and we cannot know all that he is doing when he removes his hand of protection and allows the forces of nature to rule the moment.  We must be a people of faith, walking in faith and doing all that we can to live righteously and in love; doing all that we can to love our neighbor, aid the widow and orphan and glorifying God with our words and our deeds.

Job is about to have a conversation with his Creator.  Have you talked to him today.  Find a quiet place and listen for God.....he might have something very significant for you today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

another voice heard, Job-32-34

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are silent.  They cannot convince Job that his woes are the result of his own sin.  And then another voice is heard from, a young man named Elihu.  Elihu is thought to be a nephew of Abraham and a citizen of the city of Buz (Genesis 22:20-21).  This dating lends additional support to the thought that Job is the oldest book in the Bible coming from a time near Abraham's presence in what will one day be Israel.

Elihu is younger than Job's other friends and takes a more humble approach to Job in his comments.  He references is deference to the age of the others and reckons his previous silence to his respect for his elders, but the "Spirit within" now compels him to speak and he does.  His dialogue is a defense of God which may be sin itself since God needs no defense by his creation. 

The basic premise of Elihu's remarks is that God does no wickedness and never perverts justice.  Whatever happens is in God's will and is exactly what is right since God can do no wrong.  "will you condemn him who is most just?"  Since God is, by definition, just, all of his actions are righteous.  Whatever befalls man, in this case Job, is what is deserved.  God is always right.  God's omniscience guarantees that all of his actions are, he never makes mistakes.

There is more to the story than any of Job's friends understand, even Elihu who is convicted by the Holy Spirit to speak.  One of the things that I am most grateful for is that I am not any man's judge.  I am fully aware that I am not God and am quite satisfied to leave all judging to the one who has all the wisdom and knows the motives of every heart.  Each of Job's friends fail in their arguments to understand that God is God and needs no defense for his actions.  We must be content to know that God has a plan and he may very well never expose that plan to us in its totality.  That is why we must be a people of faith in good times and bad.

Unrelated to our Bible reading, I am in the process of asking the church council and our finance committee to allow next Sunday's offering (May 29) to be used for tornado relief.  God has been very good to us and we are ahead of budget.  I believe that we would be acting in faith and love to use our 5th Sunday offering to assist in the relief efforts.  Please let me know if you have strong feelings about this plan (either agreement or disagreement)

Yours in Christian love.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Judgment Day? Job 24-31

"why does the almighty not set times for judgment?"  Lot describes all of the evil in the world and how you just want to know why God doesn't come down here and take care of the good and the bad.  Hand out some rewards and some punishment.  You know it is going to happen sooner or later, but wouldn't it be easier for the faithful if you just knew when it was going to happen?

Now isn't that kind of what we just finished with Harold Camping and the end of the world on May 21.  Won't we see some more of it with the publicity around 2012 and the Inca calendar?  Why are we in such need to know the mind of God?  Shouldn't we consider it grace upon grace every day that we have life and breath and another opportunity to do good and speak the promise of God's grace to our neighbors and friends?  Shouldn't we want doomsday to be pushed off as far as God's mercy will allow it so we can save another from the judgment?

God will come one day to judge the quick and the dead, on that we can be sure, but until that day comes we should be found doing good works and praising his name, even if we are afflicted like our friend Job.

Job's friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have tried to convince him of the error of his ways.  The have tried to tell him that his wisdom is false, that his hope is somehow twisted.  They have told him in previous chapters that wisdom comes from experience, but alert watchfulness of God's actions in the world, and from within the righteous man.  Lot listens but protests that wisdom does not come from any of these places, rather, wisdom comes from the Fear of the Lord (28:28)  This will be reinforced and restated when we come to the writings of Solomon in the Proverbs.  Even in his tumultuous state, in his sadness and despair, Lot is much wiser that his friends.

In Chapter 31, Lot defends himself by telling what he is not.  He has made a covenant with his eyes.  He has not victimized others, he is not an Idolator, he is not greedy, he has not taken advantage of his servants or widows or orphans or the poor.  He may err in this as we would if we seek to prove our righteousness by what we do not do.  None are righteous except the author or righteousness.  We are only made righteous by the Grace of God.  Having said that, we would all be better if we made the same covenant that Lot espouses when he says he has made a covenant with his eyes.  The eyes that observe the continuous onslaught of violence, sexuality, carnality and abusive behaviors become desensitized to the sin that invades our lives and our homes.  We are no longer to protect the innocent among us because the sin has been normalized....we accept it as "the stuff of life".  God forgive us for the downward spiral of the world that we have been given dominion of. 

When will God come to judge the wicked and reward the good? 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Know that my Redeemer lives; Job 18-23

Job's friends continue to assail him about unconfessed sin.  Their arguments are very much like those that we might hear today.  The joy of the wicked is fleeting.  Your troubles are the result of unconfessed sin.  God restores blessing to the good and rebukes the wicked.  Job asks the same question of his friends that we may have asked of God; why do the wicked prosper?  Whey are the righteous oppressed?  These are questions that hound us.  How often have I heard good people question God's presence when they have lived lives that are humanly righteous and yet bad things happen; bad health, financial difficulty, loss of loved ones prematurely.  Is this not Lot's question; where is God when evil assails the good.  and yet Lot speaks one of the profound truths of Christendom when he says in 18:25 "I know that my redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  After my skin has been destroyed I will see him!"  That is our hope with every unanswered question, our redeemer liveth and one day he will stand and every question will be answered, every tear will be dried, every secret will be revealed.  Justice will pour down like rain and mercy will be in abundant supply and the righteous shall reign forever.

The story of Job is our story.  Illness abounds, cancer comes, death stalks us.  As Paul says so eloquently, "the evil I would not, I do and the good that I would, I do not do.  Who can save me from my sin?"  The answer is the same for us as it was for Job.  Our redeemer lives and we trust in him.  though the world seems upside down today, one day, all will be restored and we will be at rest in the Glory of the God in whom we put our trust.

It is a good day to love the Lord.  I trust that this will be a blessed day for you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Though he slay me, Job 12-17

Job continues to have a dialogue with his friends (?) Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.  His chief complaint against his friends is their lack of compassion.  He is grateful for their presence but their criticism illustrates a sense of misunderstanding regarding Job's condition.  We could learn a lesson from their example as we minister to one another.

Job practices a speech that he would make to God if God would hear him.  How silly to think that God is not present in every moment. Our understanding of God's omnipresence and omniscience means that God knows our thoughts before we think them.  He knows our motives in our every action.  This means that he knows our sin before we commit them.  Our only hope is that his mercy will, indeed, go before us and make a way where our unrighteousness would not otherwise allow us to enter.

Martin Luther struck a blow for all of Christendom when we parroted Paul's proclamation that we are saved by faith alone.  Job speaks of this and tells us what will get him through this seeming oppression and great emotional depression when he says, "though he slay me yet will I trust him."  It is this unwavering hope that we have, this Faith in the goodness of our God, that will make a way when there seems no way.  When everything around us in shambles, when the tsunami has done its worst, yet I will trust that God has a plan for me and I can trust that the plan is for my good, that there will yet be blessing in the storm of life.  God save us from our refusal to hope in the righteousness of our Creator.

Unrelated to Job, I see in the papers that someone is creating a stir with his end times predictions.  I would remind you that Jesus said, "No man can know the day or hour."  I trust in Jesus, but even if tomorrow were to be the end, and it will for some part of humanity, I trust in the grace of God.  We who are dead in Christ will also be raised with Christ to immortality.  That is the promise of God for all who believe in the work of God through Christ Jesus on the cross.  I have no fear of tomorrow, my God has already sealed me for eternity through the blood of my Savior.  Tomorrow will be a great day! 

I am looking forward to Sunday and a celebration of our high school graduates.  Hope you will be their to pray for their future good works.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A question of God's goodness-Job 1-11

Sorry to be away from you for a few days.  Patty and I are spending a few days away and the place that we are staying does not have an internet connection.  Can you imagine that in 2011, how ancient?  I am writing to you today from a friendly Panera's (and the coffee is good!)  Please keep Virginia Swellick in your prayers.  I have talked to her by phone and she is suffering from very severe infection that may well hospitalize her.  She is very fearful and unsure.  Your prayers might make the difference.

Job is a remarkable book.  One of the mistakes I used to make in reading the bible was to think of it chronologically, but that is a mistake.  Job is perhaps the oldest book in the Bible.  Some experts think that it was written well before Moses and perhaps nearer to the time of Abraham.  Some believe that the reference to Jobab in Genesis 10:29 might have been Job.  Most think the writing was after Abraham because of Job's 3 friends. Zophar was a descendent of Huz who was a nephew of Abraham.  Eliphaz was a son of Esau and Bildad was a grandson of Abram through Suah.  Anyway, Job is considered one of the books of wisdom and is an example of poetry and great literature of old testament times.

Is it an allegory....a tale told to teach us?  You decide!  It opens with God having a discussion with a group of his angels, including Satan.  Job is an example of a righteous man who is blameless before his friends.   This is not sinless since no man is sinless, but Job is a man of impeccable character.  No human being can find fault with him.  Satan is the accuser, a role that he often plays in human affairs.  He says that Job is only blameless because of the great blessings that surround him.  Perhaps the misfortunes that befall Job are intended to be a lesson to the angels.  God removes his hand of protection and great calamity befalls him.  His children are killed, his possessions are taken and great bodily pain becomes his lot.  He suffers from running sores, nightmares, depression, failing vision, fever, agonizing pain and much more......for months.  His wife declares him to be of no value...."curse God and die".  He maintains his integrity..."naked I cam into the world and naked I shall go".  "The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."  "Shall we accept good and not adversity?"

Job's best friends come to comfort him.  They sit for 7 days and 7 nights without comment.  Presence is a powerful healer.  Then comes the well intentioned by foolish words.  Eliphz says that there must be some secret sin that God is seeking to reveal.  This must be God's correction.  Bildad reminds Job that this is cause and effect in action. This calamity has been caused by some error in Job.  Zophar tells Job to quit whining.  He no doubt deserves even more for his sin than he has received.

In every case, Job's friends believe that Job has brought this calamity on himself.  We often err in this same way.  God protects the innocent, he blesses those who bless him.  But we are confronted with the eternal question, "why do bad things happen to good people?"  Why, God?  Why?  We have all asked this question and it is the question that is an integral part of the story of Job.  And while there are many more chapters to this story, part of what Job is revealing to us in his comments to his friends is that he is beginning to understand that God is not subject to our understanding.  His ways are higher than our ways.  He is God and we are not.

We cannot be righteous before God and we cannot fully know what his purpose is in our lives.  We must trust that God's righteousness and justice will accomplish all that he desire in us and around us.  As Job has confessed, he (and we) need a mediator to carry our case to the God of the Universe.  How fortunate for us that we have such a mediator in Jesus Christ.

I hope that you will continue to read this story and see what else God may choose to reveal to us.  Hope you are having a most blessed day.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

God's Grace in the story of Esther, Chapters 4-10

Esther has to be one of my favorite Old Testament stories.  It is everything that a good book should be, filled with mystery, intrigue, a little romance, stories of loyalty, heroism and the good guys win.  How can you beat that. 

Haman, a descendant from the Amalekites, has risen to power and become Artaxerxes right hand man.  He has issued an official edict that will allow the enemies of the Jews to slaughter them and take their property on the 14th day of Adar ( 11 months later).  Esther has become Queen replacing Vashti.  Mordecai, Esther's cousin, has uncovered a plot against the king and saved his life.  Haman's anger grows against Mordecai and consumes his thinking because Mordecai will not bow before him.  Mordecai learns of Haman's plot against the Jews and appeals to Esther to intervene with the King.  Esther hesitates.  The law of the land is that no one can enter into the King's private chambers without being summoned.  To do so could mean death and it has been a month since she has been with Artaxerxes.

Mordecai's words are some of the best in the Old Testament.  "Do not think that you shall be spared because of your relationship.  If you are silent, God will raise up another to intercede for the Jews.  But think, God may have placed you in the King's household for such a time as this.  Can you imagine that you life has such meaning?  That God has placed you exactly where you are to do some work that is especially designed for you?  Can we be bold enough, brave enough to trust that God will complete the good work that he has begun in us?  Esther asks Mordecai to have all of the Jews in Susa to fast and pray for three days that she might be bold enough and wise enough to save her people from Haman's treachery.

Haman continues to plot against Mordecai and has a 75 foot pole erected in the city upon which he will have Mordecai impaled.  Esther grows bold and approaches the King.  He finds favor with and responds to her request to come to a banquet that she will hold in his honor and he agrees to bring Haman.  On the night before the banquet the King cannot sleep.  He asks to be read to.  The book at hand is the Chronicles of the events in his own kingdom.  A portion of that which is read retells the story of Mordecai's deed in preserving the king.  On the next morning the King asks Haman how he should reward one who has done a great service to the king.  Haman thinks the king is speaking of him and suggests that the King honor him by putting a royal robe on him and placing him on one of the king's own horses and parade him through the city streets that all will know that the king thinks most highly of this person.  Artaxerxes declares "so be it" and orders Haman to do so to Mordecai.  Imagine the humiliation to Haman and the fear that swells in his heart.

At Esther's banquet she asks the king for protection for her and her people from one who has falsely accused them of treason.  "spare my life and the life of my people.  we have been sold to be destroyed?"  The king responds, "who has done this evil thing."  "Our adversary and enemy is the evil Haman!"  There is a complete reversal of fortunes.  The oppressed have become the conquerers, the vanquished have become the victors.  The world has been turned upside down.  Is this not the final outcome for all evil.  Will not our Savior return to cast the evil one into the lake of fire and take his bride (the church) to live eternally?   Shakespeare in hamlet said of the villain, "he has been hoist on his own petard (a weapon of war)"  That which Haman meant for evil, God has turned against him.
Haman is slain on the very device that he had erected for Mordecai.

Mordecai is elevated to the right hand of Artaxerxes and is given the kings signet ring.  He is instructed by the King to undo that which Mordecai has set in motion and he does.  When the evil is undone all of the Jews gather to celebrate their deliverance on the 14th day of Adar, the date that had once been determined for their destruction.  This celebration is the Feast of Purim which is celebrated in Synagogues to this very day.  Israel's sorrow has been turned to joy and her mourning to celebration.  So, too, shall our tears one day be dried as our Savior delivers us from every evil that has beset us.  God will reign and his righteous rule will bring peace at last to every heart.

Consider all of the events in this story that God used to orchestrate the deliverance of the Jews: Vashti looses her crown, Esther is chosen to replace her and gains special favor in the eyes of the King, Mordecai overhears the plot against Artaxerxes, Haman's use of lots to set the day of destruction results in 11 months of time to deal with the threat, Haman's edict of death is to be carried out by private hands and not the king's army (that would have been more difficult to stop), Artaxerxes sleepless night on the eve of his banquet with Esther and the book at his hand is inexplicably opened to the events about Mordecai's loyal deed.  Some people call these accidents of fate, I chose to believe that God is at work in his people and he will complete the good that he has begun in us.  Praise be to the God of our Salvation and to his Son Jesus Christ who has bought our pardon and who stands at the right hand of the Father to advocate for that which is best for us, the children of his flock.

I hope that you have enjoyed Esther.  It is a wonderful story of God's presence among us.  Hope to see you on the Sabbath.  God bless you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Esther, Queen of Persia, part 1

Sorry I missed you yesterday.  Blogspot was down for repair.  Glad to be back up today.  Even though the daily blog takes some time, reading the scriptures with you is a great blessing to my life.  Hope you are encouraged each day as you read about God's presence in our world.

Esther is a wonderful story of mystery, intrigue, passion and God's purpose.  It has been the basis for books and movies(one night with the king is one of the latest).  It takes place in Persia around 480B.C.  The fact that a Jewish girl has been chosen for the King's harem is an indication of the acceptance of foreigners in Persia after the conquests of Cyrus and Darius.  Mordecai, Esther's elder cousin and guardian, is a trusted official and sits at the king's gate.

My friend Don Caslavka often wants me to preach from Esther because of the vignette in the 1st chapter.  Xerxes is giving a great banquet for all of the nobles and generals.  (probably before going off to war)  He calls for his beautiful queen Vashti to come to him.  No doubt, Xerxes has had too much wine and he just want to show off his beautiful queen and have her "strut" for his pleasure.  Vashti refuses and her refusal throws the King and his entourage into a snit.  Why, if the Queen refuses the King, women throughout the kingdom will refuse their husbands.  The lack of obedience and disrespect may well cause the sky to fall (my interpretation of the the mindset of the king and his wise men).  We have to keep these women in their place (Women's liberation, where are you when a good woman needs you?)

Queen Vashti is to be deposed and a new queen put in her place.  A national search for a new queen is planned.  (Does this remind you a little of Cinderella?)  Esther is chosen, along with many others, to be considered for the place beside the king.

Another story line is that of Mordecai who is a trusted citizen of Persia.  While city at the gate of the city he discovers a plot against the king and reports it to the proper authorities.  The possible assassination is averted, the potential murderers apprehended and the king is saved.  A notation in the official record makes note of Mordecai's good deed.

Haman the Agagite is also a trusted part of the Xerxes administration.  Remember an Agagite is a descendant of the ancient kingdom of the Amalekites who were enemies of Israel from the time when Moses was leading the Israelites to the promised land.  They attacked Israel in the Sinai and were driven off by Joshua.  The were always raiding Israel until Saul and David forced them from the land.  Haman is descended from this Canaanite band of Israeli enemies.

Haman grows in power and influence.  He is incensed that Mordecai will not bow to him at the city gate.  Of course, Mordecai is practicing his religion and bows (as did Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego) only to Jehovah.  Mordecai grows more and more angry at Mordecai and persuades Xerxes that there are a people who are plotting to revolt against the empire.  The must be eradicated.  He does this without revealing who they are.  Xerxes agrees with Mordecai that these insurrectionists must be put to death every one.  Mordecai trusts in the casting of lots to select the date of the mass execution.  The date is published and sent throughout the kingdom.  Every Jew is to be killed on the 12th of the month of Adar.  This is months away.  The Jews learn of their fate and their is great weeping and wailing at the holocaust that is coming.  Who can save them from this awful and unjust fate?

  I know that you know the story, but did you know that the word for lots (dice) in Persian is purim?  Did you know that the Jewish religious festival of Purim is celebrated on that date that was intended to be their eradication?  Have you noticed that there is no mention of Jehovah in this book, but it is clearly a story of God's divine intervention.  God is orchestrating people and events....Mordecai, Xerxes, Vashti, Esther and even Haman.....and, in his time, a mighty work is done.

As you read this wonderful story of God's grace.....consider how God has and is working in your life...orchestrating events in ways that will bring him glory and cause you to know that our God still reigns!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The wall is completed and Nehemiah calls all of Judah and Jerusalem to celebrate and dedicate God's mercy and blessing and the walls and gates.  The Levites are consecrated to lead the worship.  Two great choirs are assembled to sing praises to Jehovah.  Ezra is there to lead the procession.  The musical instrumentation includes lyre, tambourine, flute, trumpets, horns, bells and cymbals.  It must have been an awesome sight to see and a glorious time of worship.  Joyful praise filled the air.  The book of law was read again to the assembled masses and all were reminded of the history of Israel and of the significance of this moment as God blesses them and calls them again to obedient service.

Priests and Levites are dedicated to their particular service in the temple, the city and at the new gates to the city.  The people are reminded of the need for their obedience to the law of God that they had sworn to and reminded again that they are a people called out of the world and are to keep themselves holy.  Nehemiah returns to Artaxerxes as he had promised.  Some time later, he returns to Jerusalem and is overwhelmed by what he see.

People are buying and selling on the Sabbath.  Men are working their winepresses on the Sabbath.  Men of Judah are again marrying foreign wives.  The Levites have returned to the country villages and farms to earn a living because the offerings have not been given and distributed to those who were dedicated to service.  Tobiah, the same one who sought to keep the gates and walls from being built, has used his influence to obtain his own personal room in the temple.  This even though he is a foreigner and forbidden by God to enter the temple.

Nehemiah again cleanses the temple and sets things right as the law of God called him too.  He berates the sinful deeds of the people and again reminds them of how Israel and Jerusalem had come to ruin.  He again calls them to repentance and revival.  Nehemiah pleads with God to remember his constant effort to turn his city and his people from the evil that was in their heart.

The Nehemiah story is a great tale of accomplishing a seemingly impossible task.  It is a story about leadership and bravery and cooperation.  It is a story about revival and renewal.  It is a story that reveals that the human heart is a very difficult thing to change.  Ever since the days of Adam and Eve, humanity has demonstrated its willingness to defy God.  We do not keep the Sabbath, we do not honor our parents, we do not refrain from idol worship, we lie and steal and cheat and kill.  The law cannot save us because we cannot keep the law.  Israel's disgrace is our own disgrace.  We need a savior, one who can save us from the wages of sin.  Only grace can cure the disease of our broken hearts.  God did hear the prayer of Nehemiah.  He did not forget Nehemiah's great work and even more he sent one to love us back into a place in God's heart.

Tomorrow we begin the wonderful story of Esther.  I hope you will read it with me and see again how God can use the most unlikely of people to do a mighty work.  It is miracle stuff.....just like you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Israel Confesses-Nehemiah 9-11

The wall has been completed.  Jerusalem is now a secure city, able to protect its inhabitants from outsiders who would rob and steal and plunder the city dwellers.  In the absence of that wall it had become a ghost town, but now it can be a city again.

The former exiles have gathered before the temple and Ezra has read from the book of law to them.  They have celebrated the feast of booths together ( a reminder of God's presence as they came from Egypt).  Perhaps this combination of events (walled city, book of law & festival of booths) has created a real sense that they have been unfaithful to a God who has cared for them in extraordinary ways and they are brought to a great moment of true repentance.  They don sack cloth and ashes, the weep and fast and the confess that Israel has been unfaithful.  God has been merciful and just.  Even in their disobedience God has cared for them even to restore this tiny remnant to the place once promised to their forefathers.  They have sinned egregiously, but God has treated them with kindness that they have not deserved.  The levites and the Priests recount the days and years of God's goodness and presence and the stiff necked deeds of his chosen people.  Even the current state of affairs (subject to a foreign king a1nd subject to paying tribute to a pagan king and country), still God has given them hope. 

In their repentant state, they commit themselves to a new covenant with the God of their ancestors and with the God who can make them a nation again one day.  That covenant, found in chapter 10, restates the promises that were made in the days of Moses; to keep themselves pure, to honor the sabbath, to serve God, to support and maintain the temple as God's house and to keep and support the Priests and Levites whom God has chosen to serve him and the people.

Now the people set about to repopulate Jerusalem.  A city cannot be great without a populace.  Priests and Levites commit themselves to Jerusalem as well as new leadership for the city.  A lottery is established and a tithe (1/10th) of the people commit to return to Jerusalem and live within her new walls.

In the movie, "Field of Dreams", the farmer is told,"if you build it, they will come".  Nehemiah and Ezra before him did God's bidding with no such assurance.  they simply answered God's call to honor him with these tasks.  There was no one living in Jerusalem, there was no one depending upon the city for protection.  The temple had been in ruins for generations.  They rebuild because it honors God.

Out of their confession and repentance, Jerusalem rises as a phoenix from the ashes.  God uses repentant hearts to move mountains and to build great bridges of faith.  We like these exiles returned should look at our history and see the hand of God that has guided and protected and raised up leadership.  We should tell the stories of God's faithfulness and those stories ought to drive us to our knees where we should confess our failure to be obedient children.  God can use us mightily if we have contrite hearts and are willing to be fashioned by his loving embrace.  We might also be restored just as the temple and the gates and the city wall of Jerusalem.  A mighty miracle might be ours.  Perhaps we should begin this day to confess with our mouths and plead for mercy and forgivness and then praise God with righteous works of faithful service.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Staying the Course, Nehemiah 6-8

Nehemiah is a wonderful story for the Christian who believes him/herself to under attack.  Nehemiah returns to his familial homeland to bring honor to God by leading the returning exiles in rebuilding the wall that once protected the proud city of Jerusalem.  The odds are stacked against him.  He does not have sufficient manpower.  The aliens that surround them oppose him.  Their are threats and acts of intimidation. Nehemiah is even tempted by a false prophet to enter into the temple where only the priests have access and thus violate God's edicts and damaging his position among the Israelites.  Sanballat and Tobiah do everything in their power including lies and plots of murder to keep Nehemiah from completing the task that God has called him to, but he remains steadfast at his post.  The result of his faithfulness is that the wall is completed in 52 days, a miracle of human accomplishment.  The wall had lain in ruins for 150 years, the people were disorganized and dispirited; but a man who had a vision and who was fueled by God's holy spirit unites them in the vision and they celebrate a victory that honors God and is spoken of 2500 years later.

Nehemiah persist because he knows that the project is bigger than he is; God will complete the work if he is obedient to that which he has control of.  A lesson for every Christian; our only choice is whether we will be faithful or not.  God knows the outcome, God will have the victory.  Will we stand the test?  Will we be found faithful?  Or will we buckle under a little pressure from the enemy around us?  "Should a man (or woman) such as I flee?"  Or do we stand our ground and do the task that God calls us to. 

Certainly God calls us to faithfulness, to be wall builders, folks who will stand in the gap and provide prayerful coverage to those who are weaker and who are still trying to grow their faith until they too are able to stand against the spiritual forces that would discourage them and cause them to lay down their hammer and desert their post.

When we stand together and each one does that task which God has set before us, the world will say, as it did when Nehemiah accomplished his impossible task, surely the Lord is with them.  Now that will be glory for God and treasure stored in heaven for us to enjoy on the day of our resurrection.

Peace be with you.....stand in your gap and be faithful to the end.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The wall builder, Nehemiah 1-5

Nehemiah is one of the great stories of the Old Testament.  Chronologically, this story occurs about 1000 years after Moses leads Israel out of Egypt and 400 years before the birth of Christ.  Israel has been destroyed and Jerusalem lays in ruins.  The best and the brightest of God's chosen people have been carried away by their conquerors and have made new homes and new lives for themselves.  Proof of those successful new lives can be read in Daniel as Shadrach, Meshach, Abnego and Daniel rise to positions of responsibility and authority in their new homeland.  Esther becomes a Persian Queen.  Many have no desire to return to the ruined nation that was once their promised land.  70 years after their forced deportation began, they are set free to return, but only about 2% or 50,000 chose to do so.  When they arrive in the land of their fathers they find opposition and desolation.  The story of Ezra who came in the 2nd wave of returnees tells the story of the rebuilding of the temple.  Nehemiah's story is about making Jerusalem a place worthy to be called home as they rebuild her dignity by rebuilding her wall.

This story takes place about 150 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and about 15 years after Ezra's return and the rebuilding of the temple.  Nehemiah like Daniel and Esther has risen to a high a trusted position in the Persian King's court.  His the cup bearing to the king.  He has daily access to the King.  The king trusts him and relies on him in many ways. Nehemiah learns that Jerusalem, the city of David, is a city without walls and this knowledge drives him to his knees.

A city without a wall is a 2nd rate city.  It cannot protect its residents from raiders and bandits.  Nothing of real value can be kept their because of its susceptibility.   It citizens and their possessions are always at risk.  She commands no respect from her neighbors.

Nehemiah weeps before God and repents of Jerusalem's plight which is the result of Israel's failure to be obedient to God's edicts and commands.  He repeats God's promise found in Deuteronomy 30 where God promises to scatter his people if they fail to be obedient, but he also promises to gather them back to this place that he has promised if they will turn from their wicked ways and worship him as God alone.  He fasts and prays for many days.  The king notices that Nehemiah is in mourning and he asks him what he can do to help him.  Nehemiah speaks boldly and tells the king of the plight of his homeland and asks him to return him to Jerusalem armed with letters of permission and supplies to rebuild the wall that gives protection to Jerusalem.  The king agrees.  This reminds us that when we have made ourselves right before the Lord, that we should be bold in laying our needs before God for his blessing and before those who have the ability to help us honor God.  Nehemiah did just that and a Pagan king helps to accomplish the will of God.

Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and inspects the destroyed city wall and her gates.  He assesses the ability of the remnant of Israel to do the work and when he has made appropriate plans he calls the leaders of the tribes and families and presents it to them for their consideration.  They are ready to honor God with the gift of their labor.  Each family does its part and adopts sections of the wall and gates to repair.  Opposition comes from those who profit from the weakness of the city.  They threaten and seek to ambush and frighten those who are laboring for the Lord, but Nehemiah is a wise leader who prepares for every possibility. The opposition cannot stand against God's plan and his people's eagerness to accomplish his will.

One of the things that I like about this story is how Nehemiah calls the people to an equal sacrifice.  No man is exempt from laboring for the Lord, but he is not called to sacrifice the well being of his family.  Equal sacrifice means doing our share and that which we are capable of doing.  The wealthy have a greater responsibility because they have greater capacity.  They are asked to forgive loans and dispense with the collection of interest.  The poorest offers labor.  All contribute.  All sacrifice.   It is not the same sacrifice, but it is proportional sacrifice.  And the leadership of Nehemiah should be studied by all who seek to lead.  He fed himself.  he did not tax and become wealthy at the hands of those who worked even though he had the legal right to do so.  Those who lead have responsibility to lead by example and to proportional sacrifice as well.

They labor together.  They sacrifice proportionally.  They support their leaders and their leaders lead in a righteous and godly manner.  They provide mutual aid.  Does that sound like God's instructions to the Body of Christ?  It is indeed!!  When we yoke ourselves together and season our plans with prayer and Divine Inspiration, nothing can keep us from accomplishing God's good works.

I hope you enjoy Nehemiah's story.  It is a tale of obedience.  And a tale of God's grace that is seasoned by the good hard work of God's people.

It is going to be a warm week.  Find some time to walk in the sunshine and be blessed by God's goodness.  Hope every Mama had a most blessed holiday. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Are you still with me? Ezra 8-10

Do you know that we have completed nearly 1/4 of our journey through the Bible?  I am grateful for your faithfulness as we make this sacred trek through God's word.  My prayer always is that his divinely inspired word will bring blessing to your heart and a new commitment to his way.

Ezra the 2nd leader to bring a band of exiles back to the land of their inheritance.  Zerrubabbel was the first and now 60 years or so later comes Ezra with new orders from Artaxerxes, new wealth from the king's treasury and 1500 men and their families.  Ezra also comes with a determination to insure that the sins that led to Israel's demise will not be repeated.  He believes this journey to be a sacred task, a spiritual sojourn.

He gathers the 6-7,000 folks making this pilgrimage together and he calls for a fast.  He needs these folks to realize that what they are about to do is more than a return home, it is a sacred calling to the restoration of Israel.  They ask God to travel with them, to protect them, to keep them from harm and to give them spiritual success as they return to assist in the rebuilding of Judah and Jerusalem. 

Praying for safety might have been a real need since the gifts that they were taking with them from the treasury of Persia may have been worth millions of dollars.  A journey across the Sinai peninsula would take several months.  They would be at risk of robbers and thieves.  Ezra prayed that God's hand would be upon them.

Their journey took 4 months to complete.  After resting in Jerusalem for a few days, they presented their gifts of gold, silver and utensils to the Temple and their orders giving Ezra authority to appoint magistrates and judges and to teach the ways of God's laws to those who had authority from Persia to enforce the King's edicts.  All were well received.

And then Ezra sees the depths of the people's sin.  The chief sin of Israel throughout the ages was rooted in Idolatry.  They were seemingly unable to Love the Lord thy God with all their hearts.  The chief evidence of their continued failure was their marrying with the pagan tribes that surrounded them.  These marriages had always led to the adoption of practices that were disdainful in the eyes of God.  Idols from the Mideonites, Ammonites, Amorites and others were brought into the life of Israel.  In just 130 years since their exile from Israel had begun, they had already fallen again into this practice that invited evil into their spiritual lives.  Ezra ordered the men of Judah to divorce their pagan wives and put them and their children out of their country.

This is a difficult thing for us to get our minds around because it sound so unloving.  But the principal is also found in the New Testament when God warns Christians not to marry unbelievers.  God understands that our human love can and often does transcend our obedience to God and that leads us to sin.  Sin separates us from God and such separation can lead us to judgement.  It is like the nursery rhyme that goes, "for the want of a nail, a shoe was lost.  For the want of a shoe, a horse was lost.  For the want of a horse, a rider was lost.  For the want of a rider, a battle was lost.  For the want of the battle, kingdom was lost.  All for the loss of a nail."  God's ways are above our ways and our only decision is to choose to be obedient or to be lost. 

If you read the end of the 10th chapter you will see that the interviews with the men who had married outside of the Faith was to determine whether these women had accepted the worship of Jehovah or continued to worship their false gods.  Only those who refused to bow to God were sent away.  A total of 114 pagan wives were found who refused to accept Jehovah.  This continues to remind us that there will one day be a judgment.  We must chose who we will serve.  We cannot continue with one foot in the world and one in the temple.  Chose this day whom you will serve!  Salvation comes to the righteous.  Let us be found in service to the one true king and to the kingdom that will stand for eternity. 

It is Mother's Day weekend.  If you have been blessed with the love of a mother, say a prayer of thanksgiving for God's goodness in your life.  Say a prayer, too, for those who long to be mothers but are having difficulty in conception.  Say a prayer of thanks for adoptive mothers and those who mother children in transition.  In fact, say a prayer for everyone who has ever mothered (loved) in the image of the one who loves the best.

Hope to see you in church this weekend.  God's best to you.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ezra 5-7 God Blesses through foriegn kings

Interesting story told in Ezra.  The first wave of returning Israelites bear the blessing of Cyrus the Great.  The rebuild the altar and return to the worship of Jehovah.  they begin to rebuild the temple but are stopped by those who are jealous of the blessing that the returning Jews bear or who fear the influence of these who are returning or maybe just oppose the worship of Jehovah.  The people become discouraged, but God provides some encouragement.  Those encouragers are named Haggai and Zecariah.  Their stories are told more fully in the books that bear their names.  We will read them in the weeks to come, but suffice it to say that their encouragement did its work in the hearts of the Israelites and they picked up their tools and began to work on the temple again.  Their leaders responded to the officials that they were working under the authority granted by Cyrus the Great.  The difficulty was that Cyrus no longer ruled.  he had been succeeded by Darius.  A letter was sent to Darius asking that he have his servants research this claim by the immigrant Jews.  He does so and finds the original edict of Cyrus.  He affirms it and the important information that the cost of the building is to be born by the King.  Now that is an important piece of news.  The Israelites press on and complete the new temple.  It took them 4 years from the time they resumed their labors to finish.  The celebrated Passover; offered sacrifices and sin offerings in their new house of worship.

Now, even though he has written Chronicles and Ezra, we see Ezra actually become a part of the story.  Artaxerxes is now ruler.  Ezra is not a prophet....he is described as a scribe.  A scribe is an expert in the law.  He is being sent nearly 20 years after the first wave of exiles returns to Jerusalem.  Artaxerxes is sending him with instructions to establish Magistrates and Judges.  Isn't this a coincidence, Ezra is an expert in the law, the Mosaic law.  Artaxerxes, a foreign king, is sending an expert in Jewish law back to Israel to establish Mosaic law....to develop a system of magistrates and judges who will be responsible for justice as God had ordained through Moses.  Interesting how God works his will and way to achieve.  Not only does Artaxerxes send Ezra, but he sends him with great wealth to accomplish the task.

When things are bad, as they sometimes are, we need to be encouragers.  Ultimately God wins and we want to be found leading his people in a way that honors him.  Good words, kind words, encouraging words are God's will for God's people.  We don't need to be Pollyannas, but we do need to be a people who trusts that God will accomplish the good thing that he has started even in the face of adversity.  And who knows, maybe God will even use an alien king to accomplish his will.  It has been done before.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A fresh start? Ezra 2-4

Ezra offers a bit of a census for those who return to Jerusalem after their 70 exile in Persia.  Zerubabbel is a descendent of the last of the Judean kings and in the lineage of King David.  Jeshua is the High Priest and is the son of the High Priest slain as Jerusalem is destroyed and the temple demolished.  The names of those returning are all men.  We can expect that women and children and servants return as well.  The Jews were well treated in their exile and many prospered.  Most do not return to Jerusalem.  To those who do not return, they obviously do not consider Israel to be the promised land any longer.  It has been 70 years.  Most will not remember the place of their ancestors except in the stories told by their parents and grand parents.  According to our reading, 42,360 return in this 1st wave of exiles.  Some biblical experts believe that as many as 100,000 others return in additional waves of immigration.  Included in these numbers are remnants of the tribe of Levi, priests and those called to serve the temple.  They return to a devastated land.

The land that was once given to them by God is not empty.  Remember that the poorest had been left behind.  Others from other conquered lands had been moved into the vacated spaces left by the deportation of many of the Judeans.  These had blended into a culture that we will come to know as the Samaritans.....a mixed race that is disdained by the Jews.

This group comes with the blessing of Cyrus the Great.  He sends them back to their homeland to rebuild a temple to God.  Some believe that he even sent them with some resources with which to accomplish their work.  It would have been a long and difficult journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, covering hundreds of miles walking and leading and tending the weak and the weary.  It must have felt much like an exodus of another kind.  When they arrived they found a city in ruins and the ashes of a once splendid place of worship.  They celebrated God's goodness in allowing them to return to a land that had once been promised to them.  They took an offering to begin the sacred work ahead of them.  They found the base of the former altar that had once seen the huge offerings of a great country and they began to rebuild upon that same base.

When the altar was completed, they made offerings to God and they celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles.  This particular festival was in memory of God's faithful care for Israel as they crossed a wilderness with Moses.  This must have been a very sweet celebration as they gave thanks for God's provision in another crossing of another wilderness and of his preservation of a remnant of those ancient tribes.  Certainly there must have been a prayer lifted that this time they would be more faithful than the generations that had come before them.

Having successfully completed the altar, they began to work on the temple.  That is when new trouble arose in their midst.  The Samaritans offered there help but Zerubabbel refused.  Only those who had kept themselves pure in their service to God, even in exile would be allowed to be a part of this new temple.  This angered those who had been left behind and they began a campaign to 1st discourage the Israelites and when that did not work they began to write letters back to Persia telling about this rebellious and stiff necked people who had a long history of rebelling against authority.  their letter writing worked and the command came from Artaxerxes to cease the building.

Even if we are operating in God's will, we will face obstacles.  There are forces in this world that do not want the Church of Jesus Christ to succeed.  We must see beyond the difficulty and lean on our spiritual understanding of God's purpose in our work.  We must not be deterred.  The salvation of those who have not heard the story is dependent upon our faithfulness.  There is this promise that is woven through this story of return from exile as well:  God will always preserve a remnant.  Ultimately the mighty army of faithful that will grow from that remnant will be lead by a conquering king who will triumph over every evil in this world.  The result of that victory will be a new heaven and a new earth and a new city of Jerusalem.  All of these will be more grand than anything that we can humanly imagine.  Work hard, pray hard and do let yourself be shaken from the remnant. 

God is good and his reward to the faithful will be blessing that is unimaginable.  Serve with gladness and keep a song in your heart.  Hope today is filled with blessing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The end and the beginning: 2 Chronicles 35-36, Ezra 1

Josiah is one of the best Kings in the history of Judah.  He has restored the temple, torn down the high places, destroyed the baals.  He calls Judah to celebrate the passover and according to our scriptures, this is the greatest celebration of this ancient miracle since the time of the prophet Samuel.  30,000 passover lambs are sacrificed and their blood sprinkled on the altar as an atonement for the sins of the people. Some scholars have estimated that at the time of Jesus crucifixion as many as 250,000 lambs were being sacrificed.  This blood sacrifice was necessary for the atonement of sin.  How great was God's sacrifice in Jesus that has provided the perfect lamb and has forgiven us of the need for further blood sacrifice!  It was 7 days of enormous celebration that Josiah led the people in.

Then comes the beginning of the end.  Persia is a rising world power.  Neco, Pharaoh of Egypt, and Assyria align themselves against this new world power and bring their armies against this new threat.  Josiah unwisely takes a part by siding with one of the alien kings.  God warns Josiah through Neco to stay out of this, but he ignores the warnings.  We should know from this that God in his sovereign power can use non Christian entities and persons to prophesy and instruct us.  During the battle, Josiah is gravely wounded and dies of his wounds.  The people make Jehoahaz the king, but Egypt dethrones Jehoahaz and takes him captive to Egypt.  They place a vassal king, Jehoiakim on the throne.  Judah is subjugated to Egypt and is required to pay tribute.  In the geopolitical arena, Judah also becomes a buffer state between Egypt and the rising power of Persia and Babylonia.

The king of Babylonia, Nebuchadnezzar comes to war against Judah & Jehoiakim.  Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem and takes Jehoiakim prisoner.  This occurs about 605 b.c.  Jehoichin is installed as the new regent.  Judah is now a vassal state of Babylonia.  Jehoiachin revolts against Babylonia.  Nebuchadnezzar returns to take him prisoner and this time takes all of the treasures of the temple back to Babylonia.  Zedikiah becomes King.  He is no better than Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin.  He stupidly revolts against Babylonia.  In 586 b.c., Nebuchadnezzar returns.  this time he destroys the temple, lays waste to Jerusalem and carries the people into exile.  Judah is no more.  Israel, the promise of God to Abraham is in exile, again in a foreign land.

We will soon be in the books of the prophets.  These books are about these same kings and their times.  They will tell the story of how God sent prophets again and again and again to warn Israel and Judah of the danger they are in.  Those prophets speak of God's long suffering love and of the chastisement that is coming if they do not repent of their sin and return to the fold of God's grace.  Israel and Judah mock, despise, scoff and reject the prophets.  Exile is God's way to remind Israel of his sovereignty.

The exile last 70 years until Persia conquers Babylonia and Cyrus the great allows the exiles to return home.  Interesting sidelight, some scholars have indicated that one of God's instructions was to practice the sabbath with the land that he was giving to Israel; that they were to allow the land to rest 1 year in 7.  Judah endured for 490 years before exile and never practiced Sabbath for the land.  The exile lasted 70 years.   490 divided by 7 equals 70, the number of years that the land should have rested.  Sabbath is observed for the land during the exile. 

The temple served as the center piece of worship for 425 years from the time of Solomon's dedication until the destruction by Babylonia.

Some say that Cyrus the great was influenced by Daniel and his prophecies to allow the return of the exiles.  Whatever the case, Cyrus hears the the voice of God and encourages Ezra to lead his people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the destroyed temple.  He even encourages them by giving back the articles that had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar when he had destroyed the temple.

Going back is a difficult thing.  It has been 70 years.  It is a new generation.  They have established homes, taken jobs, become part of Persia.  Serving God is always a new thing.  It always calls for us to be ready to go to a far place and begin again.  Our journey is difficult, but our God is great.  Do you have the courage it takes to assist in the resurrection of our land that has failed to practice Sabbath and has violated God's edicts and commandments?  Can we reclaim this place and create the dream that God desires for our community?  Pray for our nation and our Christian sisters and brothers that we might be obedient, courageous and loving in these difficult times.

It is a beautiful day.  God is good and desires a blessing for you.  My prayer is that you will have eyes to see and ears to hear. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2 Chronicles 32-34

The story of 4 Judean kings in this reading including the final chapter of one Judah's great kings, Hezekiah.  The 32nd chapter tells the tale of Hezekiah's miraculous encounter with the war machine of Assyria and god's miraculous intervention.  This story is also found in 2 Kings.  The chronicler's tale omits the part where Hezekiah offers tribute to Sennacherib, but does tell a new bit of information about how Hezekiah has the exterior water sources shut off to prevent the Assyrian siege army from having access to fresh water.  This tactic was also used during the crusades by the Islamic inhabitants of Jerusalem to fend off the crusaders.  Sennacherib is seeking to conquer Jerusalem and other cities in Judah to force them to pay him tribute and make them vassal cities to his rule.  Hezekiah repents from his reliance of tribute and calls on God to protect them.  I love his encouragement to the people and army of Jerusalem, "Be strong and courageous; do not be dismayed because of the king of Assyria and his vast army, for there is a greater power with us than is with him."  Doing all you can do and trusting in God for the rest is a very Christian tactic and one that would serve all of us well to remember.

Hezekiah's story (remember Hezekiah is a very good king) also reminds us that just because we are good people doing our best to serve God doesn't mean that difficult times and situations will not arise.  Remember "the devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour."  We will be tested.  Who will we rely on?

Mannasseh is an interesting story of a very bad king who leads Judah for a long time and who leads them into idol worship and child sacrifices and every despicable evil that you can imagine.  Judah loses God's favor and Mannasseh is taken as a prisoner of war and somewhere in the bowels of an Assyrian prison he has a conversion experience.  He repents of his sin and trusts in the God of his fathers.  He is released from Prison and returns to Jerusalem and begins to try to undo the terrible wrongs of his reign.  It is a story that reminds us to never give up on any sinner, God can change any heart and redemption is available to any sinner who calls on the name of the Lord.  Correcting the damage done on earth is another story.  Amon, Mannasseh's son, is worse than is daddy in his young years.  he tries to outdo him in evil and sinfulness.  He is assassinated by one of his own men and his young son, Josiah comes to the throne.

Josiah is a man after God's own heart.  From an early age he seeks to be obedient.  He begins to restore the temple and to keep God's edicts and commandments.  His story is found in 2 Kings 23.  He destroys the idols, tears down the high places, desecrates the altars to the false gods.  He encourages the people to return to the temple.  In the restoration of the temple, the book of law is discovered and read to Josiah.  He is overcome by remorse at learning how far Judah as strayed from God's way.  He leads the Priests, Levites and people in a period of great religious revival.  The scriptures tell us that as long as he lived, he did not fail to follow the Lord.  The problem for Judah was that despite a 31 year reign as King, he was not able to undo all that had been done.  Remember the curse of sin that to the 3rd and 4th generation, the sins of the father rest upon the children.  There is peace in Josiah's time, but trouble is coming.

We should all read these stories and apply them to our own lives.  They tell us who the real king and power of the universe is.  Human beings can mess with his plan but they cannot keep him from his sovereign will.  God wins!  Just as Joshua challenged Israel as they were entering into the promise land, "choose this day whom you will serve.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  Those who do are guaranteed a peace that passes all understanding and a great retirement plan.

Hope you day is a blessed one.

Monday, May 2, 2011

2 Chronicles 29-31

The story of Hezekiah is the story of revival.  Hezekiah was a leader who had a heart for God.  he understood that the fortunes of the country that he ruled over, Judah, were tied to their obedience to the God who created them.  He honored God and according to our reading today, one of the first things that he did was to begin the restoration of the Temple, the symbolic dwelling of God in their nation.  He also called the Levites and the Priests together and reminded them that they had a special place in God's heart, that he had set them aside for a special work in the temple.  He honored these people who had responsibility for the spiritual health of the nation and in so doing honored the God who had originally consecrated them to this service.

As the Priests and Levites began to act in a way that a Priest and a Levite was supposed to act a wonderful thing began to happen in Judah; revival came.  Revival is a wonderful word.  It intimates that God is revitalizing, re-energizing, renewing and indeed he was.  Judah had fallen on hard times when Ahaz had ruled.  There was a linkage between Ahaz's evil and the fortunes of Judah.  God was shunned and when the people ignore God, God may well ignore them.  Revival is like the spring rains.  The earth is renewed, hearts are filled with hope again, Judah was being restored.

Hezekiah sent an invitation throughout Judah and even to those who remained in Israel (by this time, Israel has been taken into exile by Assyria) to come and celebrate the Passover.  Great crowds came.  Sacrifices were offered.  These sacrifices re-established the relationship between Judah and Jehovah.  They were sacrifices of repentance.  Repentance always turns our faces toward our God and God is always ready to give us audience when we come admitting our failures and our sin.  God met Judah in those penitent prayers and began to restore their land as well.

The scriptures said that there was great joy in Jerusalem.  When the church is alive and well and the people of God are offering themselves appropriately to God and his service; God's blessings are on the way.  If we want revival in our homes and communities; we must be a people of prayer, offering ourselves sacrificially to our God.  When we do that the church will be vital and the blessing of the church will spill over into our homes, schools, businesses and communities.  The land will be blessed because the people honor the God of our creation. 

Pray for revival.  Pray that we would be instruments of that revival.  Come Holy Spirit, fall fresh on us and make us a blessing to the world.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

2 Chronicles 21-28

Trying to catch up with you on our Bible reading and blogging, but first, what a great Day in the house of the Lord.  Bill and Charlieann Douthit joined us by transfer.  They are a delightful couple with a wonderful story to tell about how they met and became the Douthits.  They worship with us in the 8:15 service and live in the Blue Springs community.  And then there was confirmation.....8 bright and beautiful young people aligning themselves with the God of our Creation.   5 confirmations and 3 baptisms.....it was a mighty blessing to be a part of them for these last 24 weeks and today.  My prayer is that they will always keep their covenant with God and serve him gladly.  What a blessing they will be to the church!  The youth group finished out my day as we went to see the movie "Soul Surfer".  It is a great movie with a very Christian feel.  Many Christian themes and prompts throughout the movie that tells the true story of a young woman who loses her arm in a shark attack and then goes on to become a champion surfer.  It was a three hankie movie for me.  Great feel good story!!  I would recommend it to any looking for a pick me up.

My good friend, Don Caslavak, says that when he writes his Reader's Digest version of the Bible, Kings and Chronicles will be folded into one book and it is true that they tell much of the same story.  the stories in these chapters are the Chronicles of a line of Judean Kings whose stories can also be found in the book of 2 Kings.  The are a litany that includes Jehoram, Ahaziah, Queen Athaliah, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham and Ahaz.  Some of them tried to honor God and God blessed their efforts.  Some followed in the way of the Kings of Israel and that meant that they were bad, led the people in sin and worshiped Idols.  Queen Athalilah and Jehoram were murderers, slaying their own flesh and blood to cement their own power.  Some, like us, were both good and bad.  When they put God first, there was blessing in the land and when they became proud or began to assume that the goodness in the land was because of themselves, God would punish their false pride.  Ahaz was a very evil man who introduced Molech to Judah and sacrificed babies to this false God.  Ahaz is the beginning of the end for Judah.  It won't be long until God allows his chosen people to be carried into exile again.  This time it will be Babylonia rather than Egypt who will be the fire that God will use to burn away the sin in the hearts of his chosen people.

There is the key to our reading.....guard your heart.  This is the place that God holds for himself in your person.  He desires it to be his personal throne room in your life.  It is the center of your being and influences you thoughts, desires, hopes and dreams.  If you keep God as your center, he will guide your steps and you will be a blessing to your children and your children's children.  Guard your heart this, you people of Faith and watch God at work to guide your path.