God is totally in love with you Ezekiel 34 First Saint Johns Nov 26, 2017

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that God pursues them with a relentless and ultimate love said … AMEN!!!

God is totally in love you, He wants the absolute best for you. God does love you! Not in any trite way, I love pizza, I love the Red Sox. No!!! I might give up on the Red Sox, God is never, going to give up on you. As long as you’re alive, as Ezekiel describes, “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock.” Each individual sheep was very valuable to its owner. Having a very valuable piece of property; that could produce more sheep, produce wool to sell season in and season out, produce food for your family, each sheep was very valuable in and of itself. No shepherd was simply going to write off losing a sheep. As valuable, as important as that sheep was to the shepherd, how much more valuable are we to God? Look around you, look at all He’s done.

There are often discussions about how arrogant Christians are, ya in a lot of ways. You should hear the incredible arrogance of those who say such things. I would submit that we are the only beings in the universe. I would get push back as to how arrogant that is. I can do the mathematical calculations to justify my case, for those who are so sure that they have a scientific argument. They don’t, most people who actually understand the facts would agree with me, most people who like to think that they are “so scientific”, really don’t even begin to understand the science. I’m not married to this concept. It’s certainly God’s domain, if He wishes to populate more planets in the universe. It is a massively huge universe. If God wanted to He surely could and that would not impact what we have in Jesus on this planet at this time. Our all powerful, all knowing God can do what He wants. If He chooses to create a massive universe all for the benefit of His people here, He certainly could, regardless of what the pretentious, secular person wants to believe. A universe we could look up at anytime.  A universe so massive and so incredibly complicated, we can’t even begin to truly conceptualize it, yet, God promises us “I myself will search for my sheep and I will seek them out.” In all that huge space, trillions of cubic miles, God will search us out and find us in all that immensity.

Dr Luther writes: “Noah and his family needed comfort. They were terrified by God’s anger, which had just destroyed the world. Because their faith was shaken, God wanted to show himself in a way that would make them expect nothing else but His good will and mercy.” That is how God is with us, Luther goes on to write: “…He was present at their sacrifice , talked to them, that He was displeased at having to destroy the human race and would never do it again.”[1] God was comforting His people in the face of all the tragedy of the world as He does for us who are in Jesus. God comforts us through His ministers, the family He’s given you, all that He has blessed you with.

We get into a lot of eschatology. God prompts Amos to write: “and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.’ 13 Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. …” 14 The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. 15  A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, … and thick darkness,”  This is God trying to scare people straight. This is so necessary, especially in a world like today that is so filled with complacency, that it’s all about me, that what I expect is what’s important. Clearly, God is doing everything He can to make sure that is not how it will be and for all of those complacent people who are so careless in everything in their lives, except of course making the money they need to feed their continual need for worldly pleasure. God is not going to let it slide. There are concepts in the world that explain the different duties we owe to each other. In a hyper-individual world like today, where people truly believe they really don’t owe anyone anything, but of course everyone owes me. It can be readily understood that God is here for each, individual’s benefit, but not that anyone owes God any duty. Yes, God does have a duty towards us! He fulfills that duty constantly, He certainly did when He was pulling down Israel’s complacent world, using King Cyrus, the Persians and Babylonians to do it. That was one of Israel’s apocalyptic events. The Greeks, then the Romans and then essentially, everyone was thrown out of Canaan, Palestine, the Holy Land. It’s been restored, but to a secularized Jewish people.

There will be a final apocalypse, God will refer back to all He said in Amos: “18 Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, 19… 20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? 21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.“

Many in the world hear that last part and think God means justice in their limited concept of what that means. No, it means God’s justice will pour down on those who have rejected Him. He will exercise His justice on them and they will be completely crushed and immersed in God’s wrath as if they had flowed over Niagara Falls to be crushed between the waters and the bottom of the falls. His justice demands that those who reject Him be destroyed. His justice is that those who have oppressed and persecuted His church will be lost in darkness and aimless wandering, completely alone, with nothing. All they had been so obsessed with in this world. Who were so consumed by what they had and what they could do and completely complacent towards God, will find out how irrelevant and worthless their skills and possessions were and what it will be like to be completely alone, with nothing for eternity. Dr Luther writes: “For if we are Christians and stay close to him, we know that he speaks to us… He wants to comfort us with his words. Everything He says or does is nothing but friendly and comforting words and actions.” [2] God does love us, completely sold out to us, has done all He could do through Jesus Christ to save us. We have duties toward each other, we have duties toward God and yes He has duties to us. Part God’s duty is to protect us from ourselves. Just as we go to lengths to protect those who don’t know better in certain instances, doctors warn us of serious symptoms, people in a lot of areas of our life who teach us what we need to know to function and further our lives. Pastors who God uses to keep up the drumbeat that there will be an end, that we need to trust in Christ. He who died for us to pay the penalty for the sins of the world, who endured so much so that we have the promise of an eternal life of bliss and comfort and fulfillment. Where those who chose otherwise will live an eternity of utter, ultimate misery. Not my words, Yahweh’s words to Ezekiel, Amos. Jesus’ words recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  A person can treat these words carelessly and without thought. But certainly God has fulfilled His duty to us by warning us. People today don’t seem to understand the concept that there is, has been and always will be one sheriff in town. That Sheriff is our all, completely powerful God. He created everything. He created us and so because of that He does have a burning heart, a red-hot desire to bring us into the eternal world.

Despite what we like to think, it’s only on His terms. It doesn’t matter in the least to God who/what you are: “34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:” God created us the way that we started out as being. Yeah, we mess it up right out of the chute with our sin, for those who claim they’re not responsible for “how God made them”. They’re deluding themselves, God did not make us to be sinners, we chose our sins and followed through on them. But in that sense our sins do make us equal and is entirely dependent on God and that we are led by Him and not our sin, which is the practice of the world. “I’m not responsible, this is how I was made…” No! Like the lost sheep of Ezekiel 34: 11, all the lost sheep that Jesus describes and promises to save, God does exercise His duty to relentlessly pursue us: Francis Thompson wrote a poem dated 1890, named “The Hound of Heaven” Thompson describes what he did to avoid Him: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways  Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter.”

That is a metaphor for all of us, we flee God imposing His will on us, even though Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Despite that we, like Thompson, flee because we are going to impose our own abuse, lies, and onerous burdens on ourselves and condemn ourselves, even though God in His duty to us, pursues us relentlessly to save us from ourselves. Certainly on this Thanksgiving Day weekend, this is our ultimate thankfulness that God warns us, He pursues us, He reaches into our hearts and minds through His Holy Spirit to do everything possible to reach us. His Son died to make the Father’s promise very real that He wants to save us, on His terms, to give us an eternal life in the resurrection. Jesus died for us, stretched out on that Cross, brutally beaten, separated from His Father taking our sin on His shoulders. The Hound of Heaven like a sheep dog pursues its sheep, infinitely more passionately so that He does everything He can to save us, despite ourselves. God is completely in love and sold out to you and will go to great lengths to save you. Never forget that He loves you with an everlasting love through Jesus our Lord.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom        He has risen! He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!

[1][1] Through Faith Alone Devotional Readings from Martin Luther June 1

[2] Ibid January 13

The Star of Bethlehem Points (Also) to the Eternal Impact of Our Work

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“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant”

—Robert Louis Stevenson

A wave of relief washed over me as I pushed the “Send” button. One more blog finished, sent on to my staff to be edited and posted. An odd thought occurred to me: I’ve been writing at least a blog a week for the last six years—I wonder if it really makes any difference?

This is a question that we all ask about our work from time to time, especially when things are difficult or we are in a rut.

Faithfully Serving

Over a decade ago, my friend and brother in Christ, Admiral (Retired) Tim Ziemer, was asked by President George W. Bush to run the President’s Malaria Initiative. The stated goals of this U.S. executive-branch effort were to reduce malaria-related mortality by 50 percent across 15 high-burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the subsequent ten years, I am sure there were many days, as he traversed washed-out roads in sweltering tropical heat to visit remote clinics, that Tim wondered if his work was ever going to make a difference. I am also sure there were days when he encountered even greater challenges in the halls of Congress and thought to himself, “Why am I doing this?”

In a 2014 New York Times article in which Tim is dubbed the “The Malaria Fighter,” he muses about his work:

All my ex–flag-officer colleagues work for Beltway bandits. They play a lot of golf, go up and down the Chesapeake in their boats. At reunions, they’ll give me grief. “Hey, Z, you still saving the world?” And I’ll say, “Yep, still saving the world.”

Despite his playful understatement, Tim Ziemer understands the notion of calling as well as anyone I know. He realizes that, for that season of his life, God had called him to fight malaria as his vocational calling. His response to that call was to be faithful—to do the work, day in and day out, using all the skills and talents given to him and do the best job he could do regardless of the problems, setbacks, or disappointments.

In his Jan 18, 2017 farewell message to his colleagues, Ziemer celebrated the fact that through the work of his small team, more than 6 million people are alive today in Africa who would have died of Malaria. Who knows, one of those children might grow up to be the next Nelson Mandela.

Faithful Obedience that Impacts Generations to Come

As we move into Advent, I want to tell you about another government employee whose work had a huge impact. His name is Daniel and he worked for King Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon.

While most of us know the story of Daniel, one of his jobs is often overlooked. King Nebuchadnezzar assigned the prophet Daniel to the high office of “chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners” (Dan. 5:11). In other words, Daniel was appointed Chief of the Magi.

Why is this important?

As Christmas approaches, we will see images and hear stories of the “Wise Men,” (or, as they are often called, Magi), traveling from the East, following a star in order to pay homage to Jesus Christ, the newborn king. Many scholars believe that these Magi were Persians from Babylon.

Have you ever wondered what led the wise men to undertake the thousand-mile-plus journey to Bethlehem?

How did Babylonians know about Jewish prophecy at all, and what led them to believe that this particular star was the one that would lead them to a great, newborn king?

The Magi must have had an unmistakably clear astronomical/astrological message to urge them on such an ambitious quest. In Matthew 2:2, the Magi indicate that they saw something in the night sky that was so significant it convinced them to make the lengthy and dangerous trip to Jerusalem.

How could some celestial event inform the Magi that a king of the Jews had been born?

This is where the prophet Daniel comes in. Not only was Daniel chief of the Magi, but his prophecies became known throughout the ancient Near East. Even the Romans were aware of his prophecies of a coming king of Israel.

The Magi of the first century would have most certainly studied the writing of Daniel and possibly other Jewish writings Daniel likely referenced, such as the book of Isaiah. This connection between Daniel and the Magi may help to explain why almost six hundred years later, the Magi in question expected a Jewish king to arrive in Judea near the end of the first century B.C. It is likely that the Magi followed the star based on their study of the prophet Daniel’s writings.

I would assert that the work done by Daniel may have helped the Magi, centuries after Daniel’s death, connect the dots between a light in the night sky and the “Light of the World.” (Explore this connection further in my seminary research paper here.)

Does What You Do Impact the World?

Now, you may say, I am no Daniel or Tim Ziemer, but you have no idea how God may use the work he has called you to do nor the impact it might have a year from now, ten years from now, or even much further into the future.

We need to rest in the knowledge that:

…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).

That work includes even the most mundane thing you will do today; this work will not be wasted.

On that note, I think I will go write another blog post…

 

Editor’s Note: Read more about the eternal impact of your work in How Then Should We Work?

Help encourage someone that their work matters to God! Support IFWE today. 

 

Photo source: Wonderlane

Gay Prayer Remarks for Prince George Described As “Un-Christian and Anti-Constitutional” — GODINTEREST – Christian magazine covering faith, culture and life

LONDON — A prominent Anglican cleric and gay rights campaigner Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth said that people should pray for Prince George age 4, be gay to help the Church of England recognize same-sex marriage. But his comments about the four-year-old, who is third in line to the throne, have been described as “unkind” and “destructive”.…

via Gay Prayer Remarks for Prince George Described As “Un-Christian and Anti-Constitutional” — GODINTEREST – Christian magazine covering faith, culture and life

Luther’s Reformation of Beer NOVEMBER 3, 2017 BY GENE VEITH

 

Not only did Martin Luther reform the church.  He also reformed beer too.  Specifically, the Reformation gave us beer brewed with hops.

So says Nina Martyris, who takes the prize for an influence-of-the-Reformation-on-its-500th-anniversary story with The Other Reformation: How Martin Luther Changed Our Beer, Too : The Salt : NPR.  She is drawing on a book by William Bostwick, the beer critic for TheWall Street Journal:  The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer. 

So how did Luther give us hoppy beer?

The story begins with another prominent figure in religious history:  St. Hildegard of Bingen.  Recently canonized by Pope Benedict XVI and made a “doctor of the church,” this 12th century abbess was a talented musical composer, an innovative playwright, a mystic, a theologian, and an influential herbalist.  She taught against the use of hops, saying they “make the soul of a man sad and weigh down his inner organs.”

So the church said that beer should no longer be made with hops.  More to the point, the church established a  monopoly on gruit — as Bostwick explains it, “the mixture of herbs and botanicals (sweet gale, mug wort, yarrow, ground ivy, heather, rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, cinnamon)” that took the place of hops.  Beer made with this gruit was also subject to a heavy church tax.

But with the Reformation, brewers celebrated their freedom from the tyranny of the pope by renouncing gruit!  Instead, they turned to hops!  Just as Luther recovered the Gospel, as taught in the New Testament church, after it was covered over by accretions of human teaching, the Lutheran brewers recovered beer with hops, as brewed in older days, despite the accretions of human innovations such as mug wort, heather, and ivy!  (My analogy.)

There were other financial advantages to making beer with hops.  The flower was plentiful.  And beer made with that ingredient was not taxed at all.  Furthermore, says Bostwick, hops are a preservative, making it possible for beer to be a trading commodity.  The making and selling of beer thus became part of the new commercial growth that accompanied the Reformation, fueled mainly by the “work ethic” associated with the doctrine of vocation.

Furthermore, Reformation beer had different effects than Catholic beer.  I’ll let Nina Martyris, via William Bostwick, explain it:

Another virtue in hops’ favor was their sedative properties. The mystic Hildegard was right in saying hops weighed down one’s innards. “I sleep six or seven hours running, and afterwards two or three. I am sure it is owing to the beer,” wrote Luther to his wife, Katharina, from the town of Torgau, renowned for its beer. The soporific, mellowing effect of hops might seem like a drawback, but in fact it offered a welcome alternative to many of the spices and herbs used by the church that had hallucinogenic and aphrodisiacal properties. “Fueled by these potent concoctions, church ales could be as boisterous as the Germanic drinking bouts church elders once frowned on,” writes Bostwick. “And so, to distance themselves further from papal excesses, when Protestants drank beer they preferred it hopped.”

Can we still see this, sort of, in obnoxious beer drunks who get loud, start fights, and “make poor sexual choices”?  Are they not always drinking tasteless mass-produced beer with few hops?  Whereas those who drink hoppy beers in brewpubs find themselves relaxing, becoming calm, and engaging in good conversations?  Or not?

The reporter asks Bostwick if the Reformer could be considered the patron saint of beer:

“Luther might blanch a bit as a good Protestant at being called a saint,” points out Bostwick, “and there’s already a brewery saint called St. Arnold, who saved his congregation from the plague by making them drink beer. In the interests of Protestantism, I wouldn’t call him a saint, but he was certainly a beer enthusiast, and many a beer bar and brewery today has a picture of Martin Luther on their wall. So let’s say that while we certainly don’t genuflect to him, he’s known and appreciated.”

Well, Luther’s kind of Protestants still have the category of “saint,” though I’m not sure about “patron saint.”  (Can anyone address that?)  All Christians, he said, by virtue of their salvation by Christ, are simultaneously sinners and saints.

But remember Luther and the Gospel the next time you taste hops in your beer.

God’s promises to us in prayer

The last Tuesday of the month is out monthly prayer breakfast at First Saint Johns Lutheran Church. It is a time to lift up prayer for each other, for the church that God has put us in, for our community, any other needs that people bring up. Everyone is welcome, it’s a great breakfast and a really great time of fellowship in prayer.

It is also a time for a little teaching. We can all always use a little more guidance in our prayer/devotional life and I found he following is from Martin Luther which will be a topic of conversation:

“Good prayer that is heard by God has two prerequisites. First, we must consider God’s promise that he will hear us. By reminding him of his promise, we can dare to pray confidently. For God hadn’t asked us to pray and hadn’t promised to hear us, then all people praying their requests together wouldn’t be able to receive even the smallest item.

So no one receives anything from God because of the quality of the prayer, but only because of God’s goodness. God anticipates all of our requests and desires. With his promise, he prompts us to pray and desire these things so that we will learn how much he cares for us. He cares for us so much that he is prepared to give us even more than we are ready to receive or to ask for. Because he is offering us so much, we can pray with confidence.

Second, we must not doubt what the true and faithful God promises to do. He promises to hear our prayers – yes, he even commands us to pray. He promises this so that we might firmly believe that our prayers will be answered. As Christ says, ‘That’s why I tell you to have faith that you have already received whatever you pray for, and it will be yours’ (Mark 11:24; Matthew 21:22). Christ also says, ‘So I tell you to ask and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive. The one who searches will find, and for the person who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Luke 11:9-10). By trusting in these promises and obeying thee commands, we can pray with confidence.” (Through Faith Alone  365 Devotional Readings from Martin Luther October 30)

As in everything in our relationship with God it is about Him guiding us in prayer, it is about Him leading us in everything. We can certainly lift up inspired, high prose in our prayer, but that’s not really the point. Often we would do well to wait in prayer for the Holy Spirit to move us to understand what we really should be praying for and get on God’s track for us instead of us trying to force our prayer and struggle. God truly is waiting to God us in all parts of our life. That is faith, trusting His leading instead of fussing about what we’re supposed to do.