Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Be Careful What You Say

Watch what you say. That is a lesson that can be learned from Jephthah. Who is Jephthah you ask? He was a judge of Israel. You can find his story in Judges 11-12. Interesting story. I won't go into detail on his life (you can read it for yourself). But the one thing that stands out to me as I read about his time as a judge is the vow he made before he went out to fight the Ammonites. He said, "If you (the Lord) will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out form the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering." (Judges 11:30-31 ESV)

There are two things I see: 1) Jephthah was influenced by the pagan culture in which he lived. The act of offering up a burnt offering was a part of the culture of the people of Israel. The tragedy of the vow is found in that it was his daughter who came out of the house to meet him. The Lord was appalled by the pagan practice of offering up people as burnt offerings. That was what took place in the worship of Molech and Baal. It was seen as an abomination. Yet, Jephthah does just that. Why would he imagine that what the Lord saw as an abomination would be acceptable to the Lord? (You could ask that about various things going on in our society today as well.) Human sacrifice was and is wrong.

2) Jephthah spoke too quickly. He made a vow without even thinking about what he was saying. He spoke rashly in the heat of the moment. This is like King Herod when his daughter danced for him at the party. It cost John the Baptist his head. Here it cost Jephthah's daughter her life. He made a vow when he should have just been asking for the Lord's guidance.

Be careful what you say. You can't put the words back in your mouth. And when they come back to you, they will be bitter. Think before you speak. Let your words be according to the will of the Lord and not according to the desire of your sinful heart. In order to know that your words are in accord with the Lord's will, you need to spend time in that Word of God.

Jephthah spoke rashly and quickly. Have you done something similar? If so, instead of further it on and causing more problems, admit you spoke wrong, ask for forgiveness and then change the way you talk. The Lord is willing to forgive. He will also guide you in how you live each day.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A story from Judges - Serve the Lord!

I was reading in the book of Judges this morning. Our Thursday Bible Study class has been studying Intrepid Heroes of the Bible. One of those heroes was Joshua. After studying Joshua, I felt compelled to read through the book of Judges. It is a fascinating book. I taught a Bible Study on Judges once, long ago.

As I read, I came across the story of Deborah and Barak. In this story, the Lord calls Barak to lead the people of Israel against Sisera who had 900 iron chariots. The Lord promised to give victory. That should have been a slam dunk for Barak. The Lord says to go and fight and He will give victory. What more needs to be said?

But Barak didn't want to do it. When this word came to him through Deborah the judge, he was still unconvinced. He wouldn't do it unless Deborah accompanied him. As this unfolded there were 2 things that caught my attention. The first is that Deborah was called to act in as much as Barak was to lead the people. So often, when someone else is called into action by the Lord, it might just affect you as well. Just because someone else is called to do something, doesn't mean that you won't have to do something as well.

As a pastor, I see this regularly. I am called to lead the people of St. Paul's in Word and Sacrament. Yet, just because I am called to lead the congregation does not relieve the members of the congregation from doing the work of the Lord. Too many times, we will sit back and let someone else do that which is needed, refusing to get involved. Then one of several things happens: a) it doesn't go well and we blame them for not trying harder, b) it doesn't go the way we like and we sit and complain to anyone who will listen, c) it goes well and we try to take credit for it in some sort of way, d) it does well and we want to jump on the bandwagon but it is too late, it is finished, e) you can figure out some other way that we react to the situation. Each one of us is called to serve the Lord. Barak was called to lead the army. Deborah was called to go with the army. The soldiers were called to fight in the army. The people of Israel who were not soldiers were called to support their work. All were called to lift up the soldiers in prayer. Everyone was called into service. That is how it is to be in the local congregation as well. All are called into service.

The second thing that caught my attention was that Deborah told Barak because he wasn't willing to step forward, someone else would get the credit for the victory. That person would be a woman. The first thought is that Deborah is going to get credit for the victory. But that isn't the case. Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, is the one who gets credit for the victory. This made me think. How often do we think we need to get credit when something good happens? When someone else gets the credit, we get upset and wonder why they didn't stroke our ego. You may not be the one who gets the credit for things when it goes well. It is selfish of us to think that every situation is about "me". It wasn't about Deborah. It was about what the Lord was doing. It wasn't about Barak but about what the Lord was doing. And it took a little known person to do the work.

The story made me think. Serve the Lord. That is the call. Don't worry about who gets the credit. Just serve the Lord. Do what needs to be done at the time. Let the Lord guide you in the actions of the moment. Be involved. Don't be afraid to get messy in the service of the Lord. (It go really messy for Jael). Serve the Lord, however and whenever He has need of you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11 Reflections

A beautiful fall morning. Kettles over open fires. The smell of wood smoke in the air. Clear blue skies. Joy. Joking and talking. Apples in buckets. Poured into kettles. Children bouncing around between the kettles. Adults talking. Fellowship. Divine, peaceful fellowship.

All that changed in a moment. Images of horror. One plane, one building. An accident? It has to be. A second plane. A second building. Horror. Fear. Terror. Exactly what was meant to happen. Tear apart the fabric of peace and replace it with terror, fear, anxiety, and unrest. It worked.

Quiet. But not a peaceful quiet. An unrestful quiet settles over everything. Returning from school, and the joking is gone. There is a tenseness that wasn't there before. Still cooking, stirring, watching and wondering. Listening. Asking. Filled with...uncertainty.

But wait, wasn't that uncertainty there before that moment? We could never be sure of anything. I will do this. I will go there. So certain. But it wasn't certain even before the towers collapsed. We just "believed" it was sure and certain, that everything was all right and we had no cares in the world. All that happened that day was the bringing to the surface what was there all along.

"For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."  (Romans 8:36 ESV) We don't like this passage. We don't like what it tells us. For we live in a time, in an age, when we don't consider death as the reality. We don't look at suffering and pain as our lot in life. When those things happen, we become angry and upset. We should not face death. We should not have to suffer. NO! We will not allow it. Drop this talk of suffering and death.

But our lives are uncertain. "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12 ESV) 9/11 caused us to face the reality of life. We are frail, feeble people, even us Americans are still frail and feeble. We think we are strong. We think we can stand on our own. We cannot. We need to realize this fact. And the events of 9/11 almost taught us that.

We called on the Lord. We cried out in pain. We begged for relief. We longed for a peace that could pass all human understanding as the events of 9/11 unfolded and were burned into our memories.

And all along, that peace was there. All along there was the One who had faced all our terrors and had overcome them. There was One that had already traveled the path upon which we were walking even before 9/11 happened.

All we were looking for (and still look for) is right there in Christ Jesus. He has faced our terror, our pain, our fear, even our death - and overcame it. He died in our place. And then He rose to overcome all that we face.  "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure (convinced) that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers (nor terrorists) nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)

Our certainty is in Christ Jesus, His life, death and resurrection. Will sickness come? Yes. Will terrorists destroy life and property? Yes. Will people riot in another community? Yes. Will I be filled with uncertainty over the situation of my life? Yes. Will I face situations that seem hopeless? Yes. Will people die? Yes. Will my loved one die? Yes. Will I die? Yes.

BUT! I am convinced that none of those things will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He brings to me and to you, to our nation, to the world, a peace that passes all human understanding. He gives peace in a world of terror, pain, suffering, loss, destruction, and death. His peace is eternal. It is ours - through faith in Him alone.

9/11 is history. We cannot and will not forget. But let us not forget another day, a Friday, a Good Friday that was followed by an even better Sunday, an Easter Sunday, a Sunday of resurrection. There is our peace.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Words from Jude

This morning I read a whole book of the Bible. I say that not to brag but to get your attention. As I did my devotions, I read from both Exodus and Jude, two interesting books that don't get a lot of attention - Exodus because after the people of Israel leave Egypt and enter the wilderness, they receive the directions for construction of the Tabernacle which is less than exciting for most people and Jude because it just is a short book with little real reason to read it. I would argue both thoughts miss the point but that might be for another blog and another time.

As I read Jude, I was amazed by how he brings so many different events into his writing. There is the Exodus followed by the angels that did not want to remain with God in their proper place and were put in eternal chains. He mentions Sodom and Gomorrah and their sexual deviation that caused their destruction. As he talks about the temptations of life and the struggles of Christians, he rolls through people and events without even batting an eye. The events just flow from his pen.

Without getting into the historical discussion of each, I must say that what I learned from him (among other things) is the importance of knowing your history. He seems to know about all the different events that he writes and even seems to assumes that his readers know these events, that they are not new or foreign to them. They are part of his life and he assumes are part of the lives of his readers.

And I thought, can we make that assumption today? If I preach a sermon with all sort of references to people and events from the Bible, be it Old or New Testament, will the hearers know what I am talking about? Moses' children spent time with their grandfather. Jethro gave Moses some great advice that Moses accepted. Amazing stuff. Did you know it? When I teach confirmation class, I need to not only teach the catechism but must teach the basics of the Word as well. Many of the young people who come into 7/8 grade confirmation class, need to learn not just the doctrine of the Lutheran church but also the stories of the Church.

We need to return to teaching the Word. Over and over again we need to teach the stories of the Word so that we will know them, cherish them and share them. It is so important for us to know the Word. We can't live a Word that we don't know.

Just thinking this morning. As I read these two books, I came to realize that I, as a pastor, need to make sure that I teach the Word over and over again. I should not assume that people know the Word. Yes, there are some that know it much better than me. I do not claim to be uber knowledgeable but I continue to read and study the Word.

Final thought - return to the Word. Each day, read it. Make it a part of your day and your life. Musings finished for the day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Christ's light shines upon us

This morning I was thinking about the sunrise. It happens each morning. It happens no matter whether I want it to come or not. The sun rises each morning. If I have had a long, sleepless night, I might welcome the sun when it finally rises. At those times it seems like it takes forever for the sun to rise and night to be over. I embrace the sunrise and give thanks that the long night of darkness is over. Other mornings, I curse the rising of the sun. (All right, that really isn't true. I don't know if I have ever cursed the sunrise. I use that word to bring about the point I am making.) When I want to sleep, when I have had too short of a night of rest, when I am enjoying laying bed, snoring away, the sun rises and breaks into my comfort, my peace, my sleep and wakens me. The sunrise on those mornings isn't so welcome. In fact, it is actually frowned upon because instead of letting me sleep, it forces me to break out of sleep and enter into the new day.

Sunrise - it comes without my bidding. It comes without my asking. It comes when I don't want it. It comes each and every day. I can't make it happen. Nor can I stop it. (As I use this analogy, I realize that it isn't perfect but it seemed to work in my thoughts.)

Sunrise - the Light of Christ breaking upon the darkness of my life. So many times we hear about the fact that we bring ourselves into the relationship with Christ, we decide to follow Christ, it is up to us in our lives if we want the Light of Christ. Bringing ourselves to Christ is like saying we caused the sun to rise today because we wanted it to rise. We can't do either. Christ comes to us, often unbidden and often unwelcomed. He is unbidden because we don't realize how much we need Him. He is unwelcomed because when He comes into our lives, we must change. We don't have a choice. He changes us. He makes us new and different people. Like the sunrise that comes when we want to sleep, but it comes anyway and awakens us, so the Light of Christ comes when we are asleep in our trespasses and sins, and awakens us to a new life, a different life, a life that we may not be ready to live. The Light of Christ changes our lives. And we may not want that. How many times have you sat in a worship service, listened to the sermon and had it hit you hard? You then are faced with the question, am I going to change or am I going to follow the old way? Am I going to be changed by Christ and His Word or am I going to harden my heart and not change from my old, sinful ways? The Light of Christ has a way of challenging us in that way.

And then there are times when we are facing struggles, hardships, pains, toils, trials, tribulations, temptations and sins, and we long for the Light of Christ. We ask where He is, why He isn't coming to us. We even do what we can to "force" Him to act in a way that will change the situation of our lives. Like the person longing for the sunrise to end the dark night, we long for Christ to act in order to end the darkness of the situation. We can't make Christ act any more than we can force the sun to rise. At those times, we are like the Psalmist who says, "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits... more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning." (Psalm 130:5-6 ESV)

Sonrise - the Light of Christ comes to you. His light shines brightly into your darkness and brings hope. His light shines brightly into your sinfulness and brings forgiveness. He comes to you. You don't come to Him.

All right, that is the musings and ramblings for this morning. May Christ's light break upon your day as you face today. As it does, remember, His light changes your life.