Category Archives: Church

Michael Arch Angel Spiritual Warfare

[for the audio click on the above icon]

Spiritual Warfare, Michael, Satan

Angels Watching over me [Amy Grant song]

Trinity Lutheran September 29, 2019

 

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 God’s people said AMEN

St Michael and all Angels day. Michael is an Archangel. There are millions of angels and the counterparts of angel, which are … demons. Lucifer, Son of the Morning Star (Isaiah 14:12), decided he should have a better gig, decided to push back against God (for a being created to be the most brilliant of all angels,) being brilliant can be an idol, it can cloud your knowledge and judgment. Lucifer realized that God intended for the angelic to serve humanity and Lucifer was not interested in serving beings he felt were so far beneath him. Lucifer thought he was so brilliant, he was bullet-proof, he learned the hard way. There’s kind of a fourth archangel, named Raphael, who is mentioned in some of the Apocryphal books.

It is said that each angel has their own sphere of influence. Some say down to an individual person, in Matthew 18:10 Jesus says: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” The senior angels, are in the immediate presence of the Father. Gabriel told Mary at the annunciation, he came from the Father’s presence. Tradition says; “Michael is in charge of spiritual warfare. Gabriel is in charge of messages and announcements. Lucifer of knowledge.” Gabriel was the Herald of God, Wikipedia defines herald as: more correctly, a herald of arms, an officer of arms… Heralds were originally messengers sent by the nobility to convey messages or proclamations—in this sense being the predecessors of the modern diplomats.”  When you show up to tell people what God is about to do, that’s an important guy. Lucifer was in charge of knowledge, when man and woman ate from the tree of knowledge the mixing of good and evil together. Much could be said that man in innocence would have had a life of peace and joy. Lucifer decided that we should think we are smart, because of that, we’ve decided we are smarter than God, so Lucifer who’s a whole lot smarter than us, should think he’s smarter than God.

We focus on the leader of the angels, after Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Michael, is the archangel of “spiritual warfare”. Michael being the leader of the heavenly host, and that is what host means, the army of heaven. John tells us specifically in Revelation that Michael and his angels are fighting Satan. The angels are certainly God’s, but this is written in the sense that a military commander would refer to his men, those he is directly in charge of and responsible for. Michael is also the patron saint of the military, police and fire fighters. Do not pray to Michael if you are in the military or public safety, we always pray to the Father in the Name of the Son. Michael is a sort of icon of the Father’s protection, one of the ways the Father will send help you or defend you. I used to have a little medallion of St Brendan in my coxswain kit in the Coast Guard. First, he’s Irish, second, he was the patron saint of navigators. Ok, call it a good luck charm, bit of superstition, but I certainly didn’t take out my charm to pray before going on a case. But when I went into my case for something it was a comfort, because it ultimately meant God was with me, watching over me, I had no doubt of that.

Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are called “saints”, that is in the sense of “sanctus”, holy. Since it seems the angel who is highlighted is Michael, we assume, “spiritual warfare” is recognized as a priority. Our epistle lesson and Old Testament lesson, both discuss Michael. In Daniel 10:21the angel tells Daniel that he was held up by a demon and that Michael had to come to help him in order for him to deliver his message to Daniel. In Revelation John tells us how Michael and his angels drove Satan out of heaven. This is the most lopsided “war” imaginable, the problem is that you and I are in the middle of that war. But it’s certainly lopsided since the outcome has been determined. The Book of Revelation tells us of the ultimate fate of Satan and the demons. But for now, the world is in Satan’s grasp. Sin abounds in the world, and it seems humanity likes it that way. And let’s face it, we like it, sin is attractive, if it’s prettied up, “hey what’s the harm, right? “John Warwick Montgomery observes: “…the devil’s main act of hatred is not to destroy people (at least not at first), but to get them by masquerading as angels of light. The devil’s best disguise is piety. From the beginning, he’s cloaked …beneath a robe of theological inquiry – ‘Did God really say?’” Go ahead, take a bite, doesn’t matter of what, so long as it separates you from your Savior Jesus, and it must be OK, because it’s so purty, nice, I like it. And that’s how we make decisions today and Satan helps us move there.

Many people have this odd idea that because sin is so prevalent God can’t or won’t do anything about it, Montgomery goes on to say: “…God has even anticipated the demonic opposition of the adversary and the determined seductiveness of the tempter and has systematically integrated it into his own world order (Rev 2:10; 13:5 ff). The devil is the power in God’s world who always wills evil, yet always effects good. Satan does not escape from God’s ‘ordo’, but remains co-ordinated in it,” It’s not whether God is in control, He certainly is, we see that in the life of Jesus, read about it in the Book of Revelation. What Satan does, God permits. Satan is a completely, evil, depraved, vicious being, no doubt, if Satan were left to his own devices, this world would be an unbearable hell. Paraphrase what Joseph said to his brothers in Egypt, what Satan intends for evil, God uses for good.

Historically we like to think warfare is cut and dry, there’s the enemy, we protect ourselves from him and trust that God will save us. Dr Montgomery observes, it’s not that cut and dry, the devil presents himself as an angel of light, he can because he was an angel of light. He can be as pious as anyone, it’s not really hard to do, at least for what he needs. We have to be vigilant, we have to be discerning, to be faithful in prayer and ready to follow God’s leading. We may think we know what we’re doing, but the whole point of warfare, spiritual or worldly, is to undermine the enemy. To Satan, we as a Christian, baptized, strengthened by the Body and Blood of Jesus, faithful in attendance, hearing the preached Word, we are the enemy. It’s not hard for Satan to create all kinds of dislike, confusion and outright hostility. We have to be constantly on guard as to what the forces of evil do to Christians individually and as a group. We rely on God’s promise; Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you,…” We only do that trusting in Him, in the pastor He has sent to lead and in our fellow Christians. I’m certainly not saying that this is a formula for perfect peace and harmony, the demonic works hard and constantly, they’ve been doing this for thousands of years, it’s not hard to find some weak point. It’s up to us to be vigilant, to test the spirits as we are told, to rely on our Savior. There are demons around us seeking to influence us to mislead us and to deceive us. David Petersen on Issues Etc with Todd Wilkins also suggests: “Pastors in the Lutheran Church will do house blessings, it’s not an elaborate ritual, it will drive demons from the home [reminds me, I should do that here!]  it’s a few prayers and readings from Scripture, we are promised that God’s word is enough to drive off demons. This is also why we should have family devotions, husbands and wives should pray together. We shouldn’t underestimate demons or mess around with these beings. [The Ouija Board was invented in Chestertown? If there’s one in your house I would destroy it and just never mess around with those things. Christ crucified has defeated the demonic, the evil in the world, that does not mean it’s dead, we’ve seen terrorist acts in the world, Satan is more than capable of spiritual terrorist attacks. But the evil in the spiritual world can be confronted and driven away, partly by us not involving ourselves or believing the things of the world that is constantly manipulated and played by the demonic. Through Christ’s life and death we are equipped through baptism, His Body and Blood, the Word, all the armor we need to defeat the enemy. As Paul tells us in Romans in all these things we are more then conquerors through Christ who loved us.” (Rom 8:37)

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

 

 

Christ, David’s Son Psalm 9

[for the audio version click on the following icon]

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 are uplifted by the Psalms said AMEN!

We are in the season of Lent, we know that we try to “sacrifice” something for Lent. Some Lent news; “It was just announced that chocolate maker Hershey is reportedly expecting to cut its global workforce by about 15 percent. Seth Meyers observes: That’s right, for the first time ever, chocolate is giving up people for Lent.” For the Lent season, I’m “planning”, I would like to, do a sermon series on Psalms. We really don’t hear many sermons on Psalms and that really is a shame. I like to just settle in to the Psalms and take it in. Certainly all of Scripture is about the human experience. That experience is with God, and some of it is to show how things get messed up when we try to cut God out of what is going on.

There is 150 Psalms, most, not all were written by David ben Jesse, also known as  King David, husband of Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, father of Solomon, Absalon, Amnon and Tamar. These were his, let’s say more notorious children. He had 19 sons total, and 1 daughter. I’m not sure what the odds of that happening naturally are, but… I’m sure it made jockeying to be David’s successor a lot more of a story in David’s palace during his lifetime.

The book that Jesus quotes the most is … Psalms. First the Book of Psalms is very long 150 books, second because David wrote most of the Psalms, and that Jesus is often referred to as the “Son of David” and that is because Yahweh promised that the Messiah would be in David’s line, one of David’s descendants would be the Messiah. This is referred to as the “Davidic Covenant”, 2 Samuel 7: 10-13: “…ESV 2 Samuel 7:12 “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Of course “His” refers to Jesus and His Kingdom. What He established in His first coming and what will be fully realized as it is described in the Book of Revelation.

Father Patrick Reardon, who was the pastor of a church in Butler, Pa where our son Timothy is living, writes this about the Psalms: “From the very beginning of her history, when the Church of God turns to Him in love and devotion, the words of the Psalter form the expressions that spontaneously, as by an impulse of her nature, rise from her heart and take shape in her mouth.”[1] If you look, starting at about page 219 in your hymnal, you will see the “Daily Offices”. Those were the daily worships, roughly, in monasteries going back to sometime on or before the sixth century. Check the references to find that most of what is there are various recitations of Psalms. At least back to the sixth century Saint Benedict of Nursia, … prescribed the weekly reading of the Psalms, all 150, and basically called the monks at that time sissies because they didn’t recite them everyday as earlier generations of monks had done.[2]

This Psalm, Chapter 9, was written by David. It appears that this was for some sort of public declaration of victory. The Lutheran Study Bible notes: “The praise of God in the Psalter is rarely a private matter between the psalmist and the Lord. It is usually a public [that is, at the temple] celebration of God’s holy virtues or of his saving acts or gracious bestowal of blessings.” Where he proclaims God’s glorious attributes, righteous deeds, joyfully celebrate God’s glory. Probably where David is declaring victory over an enemy of Israel and proclaiming the power, might and glory of Yahweh.[3] The note in the Concordia Study Bible goes on to point out that: “This aspect of praise in the Psalms has rightly been called the Old Testament anticipation of New Testament evangelism.”[4] That is that what was written in the Old Testament was also intended for us to praise God now. Praise is the reason why we should more regularly refer to Psalms in worship, which we’re supposed to do in our personal and in daily worship in church. Worship is not just limited to Sunday morning, or once in awhile on Wednesday evenings, but intended to be regularly through the day and that is what Psalms have been. Not just about what David did 3,000 years ago, but what God is still doing today that we should be praising Him for now, daily. I’ve always thought it would be great to have a regular Daily Offices, where people would know they could go all through the week and share in worship and prayer. I think we could take such Psalms of victory, such as Psalm 9 that we’re reading today, and there are a lot of “victory psalms” out of the 150 psalms, and proclaim them as God’s victory against our enemies today, understanding that our enemies now aren’t the Philistines, but the powers of evil that are all around us. Whether that evil is demonic and all its different manifestations, spiritually or what we can actually see in the world. Not only has God defeated them but quoting the Concordia Study Bible, God has redressed the wrongs committed by them against David (and Israel).”[5] Again that is for us today. God has certainly defeated the powers of evil all around us, we who are in Christ, that we are certainly subject to demonic attack and are protected by the Holy Spirit from those attacks. Also that God does restore to us that which might be lost or destroyed, if not in this world, certainly in the world of the eternal of the resurrection. Tremper Longman writes: “It is impossible to date the psalm to a certain period in David’s (Israel’s) history. The characterization of the enemy is purposefully ambiguous so as to permit the individual lament to be used as a community lament.”[6] Again to say that while David probably wrote it for a particular occasion, it has come down to us through Jewish history and since the beginning of the Christian church. It’s interesting how both writers conflate David and Israel. David is very much Israel, Jesus certainly is Israel, and since we are in Christ we are Israel. Praise to God then, is as much praise to Him today, from His children in Jesus.

Undoubtedly David knew Who Jesus is, I have to believe that God the Father revealed to David who his descendant was and what He is. That David knew that while it was His throne that was promised to his Descendant, his “Son” by the power of His deity, would make that “Throne” the universal Throne of all power in creation. That the Name of Christ on the Throne, from all of creation to the end of all of creation was and is the power of Jesus. Reardon writes, kind of a long quote: “… particular attention should be paid to that of the “name”: “’I shall sing to Your Name, O most High,’  and ‘Let all those who know Your Name hope on You.’ This is that name of which St Peter said that ‘there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). This, truly, is ‘the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow’ (Phil 2:9, 10). The praying of the Psalter, in fact, pertains to our sharing in that universal genuflection ‘of those in heaven, and of those on earth…’ As the only name by which we have access to God, the name of Jesus is the proper exegetical key to praying the Book of Psalms.”[7]

So you might wonder why we’re conflating Jesus and the Psalms at this time of the year on the calendar, but certainly Jesus is being proclaimed, praised and given thanks for our salvation in Him from the time of His “father” David to the present. He is known from everlasting to everlasting and we praise Him and bless His Holy Name for His sacrifice, His suffering, His separation in order to bring us to the Father, to give us the hope and promise of everlasting, life and life more abundant in Him in His crucifixion, His resurrection and the marriage feast of the Lamb that is that eternal life in Him.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

 

 

[1] Reardon, Patrick Henry Christ in the Psalms   p xv

[2] Ibid

[3] Concordia Study Bible footnote 9:1 p 794

[4] Ibid

[5] Concordia Study Bible 9:3-6 p 794

[6] Longman, Tremper “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary” p 143

[7] Reardon, Patrick Henry Christ in the Psalms   p18

What love is and what it’s not 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3 February 3, 2019 Trinity Lutheran Church, Chestertown, Md

[For the Audio of this sermon click on the following link]

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 the true love of Christ said  AMEN!

There was a really cheesey sitcom back in the early 1970s I remember as a kid. Called “Love American Style”. All the “groovy loving stuff” but everyone was made up all nice in the style of the day, if you remember Bert Convy, kind of smaltz. Sorry if I offended. Of course since we are all smiley and sweet and we just want to LOVE, well everything is just groovy. That show was on for five seasons? The Cornithian church was sort of the same thing, permissive, good ole Roman boys, just wanna have fun. This is not a shot at the stereotype southern “good ole boys”. This is the way it is. Seems every culture has that element. We’re going to be all responsible and appear all dignified, but when we get with the other guys, well hey, who’s going to know. The kind of mindset that is biting people in entertainment, government, education, business, sports, military, because they felt they were special and “boys will be boys” why are you spoiling our fun? That is both men and women.I ’ve seen it in all kinds of settings. The Roman good ole boys were, for the most part, retired Roman soldiers, Roman bureaucrats, those of the day who were retired to Corinth and given a pretty good pension. The types who took their past careers seriously but…. anything else, well not so seriously. I get the distinct feeling that they were the types who might even mess with Paul. Come on Paul, it’s just in fun. I think Paul had a sense of humor, I don’t think he was the “good ole boy” type, and well, kind of probably didn’t appreciate the lifestyle etc., that would be up to and including one of the members co-habitating with his father’s wife, let’s just say yada-yada…

So “Love Corinthian style”. The lead-up to today’s reading is in terms of being “one body”, the church is composed of every person in the church, the Body of Christ. When one part of that Body is hurting, or somehow dysfunctional it hurts the rest of the body, the rest of the Body feels pain e.g. if I stub my toe, the rest of the Body also suffers in terms of pain; if part of the Body decides to be defective, or functioning in some way counter to the body, such as one member of the body sleeping with his step-mother well the rest of the body just pooh-poohs, oh that’s not so bad, be a good boy, come back to the church. Love Corinthian style! Of all the churches mentioned in the New Testament, they all still exist today, except … You guessed it the Corinthian church, kinda have to wonder why. Maybe the Cornithian church was God’s object lesson to the whole church? When it served its purpose and probably became even more degenerate it simply collapsed from the weight of “Christian” pretense and just run of the mill sin.

It is a great object lesson in terms of what they-then and the American culture today refers to as “love”. This reading starts with Paul saying “And I will show you a more excellent way.” (1Cor 12:31b) Since we only read “B” part of verse 31, we miss the “A” part that says “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” Preach it Paul! The higher, greater, satisfying, honorable, genuine love and trust! Praise God! Paul does what comes to us as one of the most compelling, instructive, passages of Scripture, what love is and does and what “love” is not and does not! What is often referred to as the “Love Chapter” of Scripture. Love is a hot topic today, what it is and what it’s not. Too often we have a culture that sees “love” as enabling, debauched, indulgent, permissive, not really love, but plain simple sin called love in order to make it nice. A culture that likes to pat the church on the head and say “you go take care of poor people, and the elderly and we will decide what “love” really is. It’s been the same through history, when the culture decides what “love” is, it always comes out as decadence. The Corinthian culture was all about decadence, calling it love. This seems to have spread through the Roman culture. The Roman culture was once strong, sensible, responsible, serious enough to conquer the world. Much of our law today is based on Roman law. Rome had a very capable government, a legal system that was amazing for its time. A culture, economy, strength and integrity, that wasn’t Christian, but was still admirable. All that came crashing down after hundreds of years under the weight of the decadence that we see a microcosm of in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Frankly, very much of what we see in today’s culture. I’m not opening a debate on abortion, but right now we have people look you in the face and say it’s loving to abort a child at birth! The Roman’s had their own abortion debate, they’d leave babies exposed in the forest or hills to die. Christians would rescue those children.

The Greek word used by St Paul is avga,ph there are four words in Koine Greek that are translated into the English word for love. The word love in English is often understood to be anything for lust, covetousness, familiarity to altruism. The Greek word means altruism. Dr J Vernon McGee’s definition: “…the highest word for love in the New Testament and means ‘divine love’. It is more than love in the emotion; it is love in the will. It is love that chooses its object. It is a definition of God, for God is love.”[1]

What is the opposite of love? … no it’s not hate. When you think about it, hate requires some genuine passion, you have feelings for the object of your hate. They may not be edifying feelings, but it takes work to hate. I’ve always said I really don’t hate anyone, as much as the current culture would like to live in its delusion and paint someone like me as the hater. I’ve seen hate from secular-humanists and wow! It would just take too much energy and I have genuine, important things to do. Being just ugly, nasty, really evil? I can’t rise to that.

The opposite of love is “indifference”. and that is really what today’s society is about. “I really don’t care what you do, so therefore I love you????” You want to be about love, use the discernment that God gives us. Take the time to genuinely figure it out, what is really going on and what is really necessary, not just “whatever!  Do whatever you like”. That’s not love, that’s indifference and that is so much more negative and destructive in the long run! Hate destroys right now. Indifference is corrosive, negative, ugly. Don’t care it’s your problem, you deal with it. Make yourself into whatever you want, and when you find how destructive it is, hey, don’t come running to me. This is what we try to protect against in the culture, immature minds telling us what they want. I saw this on the FaceBook page of a person, what is the creed of the culture: “Love me without restriction, trust me without fear, want me without demand, and accept me for who I am.” That is a rhetorically null, translates into “leave me alone unless I want something from you” that’s what today’s society is about. When do we run out of the people who will be there to pick up the pieces, who will just stop caring?

The culture reads this part of the Bible and claims: “Paul said love is the greatest of all, and this is how I define love, so therefore, it’s all about me and how I love.” No! First, you don’t understand the definition of the word Paul is actually using. Second, you don’t understand the context. Hey why go to all that trouble, the world would say, just do it my way, why do you care anyway? Ya, I do, because what you’re selling is so destructive.

Faith and hope are imperfect. Why? In the eternal resurrection, will faith and hope be necessary? No. When we are in the perfected world God has restored, there is no need to look toward anything in faith and hope, it is right there for us. What is the one thing that will remain, that is eternal? Love! We will be in the presence of love. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon writes: “Faith and hope have to do only with God. But love has infinite offices outwardly toward humanity.”[2] I’d say God’s pretty important, so faith and hope are important. But love is eternal, in that respect it is the greatest. But for us today, we have to not only communicate love, but the hope and promise that we have in Christ in order to realize that eternal love with Him in the eternal resurrection, that is only for those who are in Jesus.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin

[1] Dr J Vernon McGee  “Thru the Bible Commentary series The Epistles First Corinthians” p 152

[2] Philip Melanchthon “Apology of the Augsburg Confession” (Ap V 105)

Nehemiah Rebuilder, Restorer of Israel in faith to Yahweh January 27, 2019 Trinity Lutheran Chestertown, Md

[for the audio of this sermon, click on the above link]

Shamah O Israel, Yahweh Aloheny, Yahweh Ahar

I greet you in the name of our king Artaxerxes ruler of all Persia, all the kingdoms of the world. I was the cupbearer of great Artaxerxes, may he live forever. The cupbearer is a very important servant of the king. You might think of it as being sort of the king’s “food-taster”, I had other responsibilities for the kings security and supervised a staff that was responsible for his security. Artaxerxes took me into his confidence and looked to me for advice.

My name is Nehemiah, I am the son of Hack a liah. My family was brought here from Israel after they were conquered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians were then conquered by the Persians, King Cyrus, and we have been in captivity by the Persians since then. When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel he decided to move many of the prominent people and families to Babylon and that is why we have been in captivity here for seventy years. But as Yahweh promised we are now being given the opportunity to move back to Israel and reestablish the land that Yahweh promised to Abraham almost two thousand years ago. Israel had become very evil and had drifted away from Yahweh and because of that Yahweh enabled Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Israel and exile most of the Israelites. It was through Yahweh’s power that Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel, the Babylonians were used by Yahweh as a stick to beat us and turn us back to Yahweh and away from our evil practices and evil “gods”.

While we have been captives we have been treated with respect and given much freedom. We have come back to Yahweh as a result of the captivity, and as I said, we are now going back to Israel as He promised. Yahweh has brought us back to Him and we return to Israel as His people, dedicated to Him and to His Word.

When I was in Shushan one of my brethren Ha nan i came to see me. He had just returned from Jerusalem as part of the process of Hebrews returning to Israel. Not all of us intend to return. Like me, many of us have been born here, we have never even seen Jerusalem and have been allowed by the Persians to make good lives here. Many of us have become successful in business, and have become prosperous, started families, our roots are now here. Many like myself, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have been raised to positions of great authority and power, so for many of us it does not make sense to leave what we have gained and established here to return to Israel and to start over again.

As I was saying Hanani came to me after he returned from Jerusalem and what he told me was very troubling. He said: “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” (Neh 1: 3)

Please understand what this means, you simply cannot have a city that has no walls and gates. There are many threats, armies can simply march in and take whatever they want, our food, clothing, animals, all the things we depend on to live. There are many groups of bandits and marauders who will do the same thing. These walls protect us and our families. Our wives and children can be easily kidnapped and sold into slavery. If we expected to return to Jerusalem and successfully reestablish our lives, reestablish the society that Yahweh intends for us, we needed to have protection.

I did not know things were in such terrible condition. “…when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” I will tell you some of my prayer: “…Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love you and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that you may hear the prayer of your servant which I pray before you now, day and night, for the children of Israel your servants and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You… We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name. Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom you have redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand.  O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name: and let Your servant prosper this day; I pray and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Neh 1: 5-11)

Since I was the King’s cup-bearer and had great influence with the king, I felt that Yahweh was guiding me to go to the king and ask him for his help. I took wine to the king, let’s face it, it’s not a bad thing to do something to loosen the king up before you ask him for his help. I had a very sad expression on my face and the king asked me why, this wasn’t what I was usually like. “I became dreadfully afraid and said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?’

The King understood completely why I was so upset and concerned. I asked him if he would give me letters so that I could travel to Israel and that the governors of the provinces, on the way, would provide for us and give us protection. The king also gave me “a letter for Asaph the keeper of the king’s forests, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, [and] for the city wall…”(Neh 2: 8) Artaxerxes also assigned some of his army officers and horsemen to go with us to Israel for protection and guidance.

When we got there it was as bad as I had been told. To make matters worse there were men in Israel, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite  and Geshem the Arab who found out that we were coming and weren’t  happy about our plans to rebuild the defenses of the city. These men were governors of the regions around Jerusalem and were perfectly happy with the way things were, they saw me as a threat to their rule and they did everything they could to keep us from restoring the walls and gates of Jerusalem.

After they saw that we were serious and making progress on our work they decided that they were going to do more than laugh at us, that they were going to attack us and drive us back to Persia so things could be the way they were. They saw us as a threat and decided they were going to remove the threat, us, before it became serious.

The workers were becoming tired and there was still much work to do, so much debris had to be removed so that we could start rebuilding the walls. We had to continue to work on the walls, that would be the only way we could assure that we would be safe. But in the meantime, we had to station men armed with swords, spears and armor behind the men who were doing the work. The men doing the work also had weapons near to them so that if there was an attack they would stop working and fight to defend the city. Well Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem didn’t attack us, but they tried another way. They tried to get me to come down to meet with them, they were accusing me of rebellion against Artaxerxes and were going to report to the king that I was trying to start a rebellion against him. They even paid Shemaiah to try to convince me that he had a prophecy from Yahweh that I was in danger and that he was going to protect me. He actually intended to kill me if I went with him.

Finally after 52 days and all sorts of conspiracies the wall was finished. It was time to give glory to Yahweh, to give thanksgiving and to celebrate. I as governor of Jerusalem had done my job to rebuild the walls and give the people returning to Jerusalem protection and a chance to rebuild our society and prosper in the land that Yahweh had promised to our father Abraham. Now our priest and scribe Ezra was called before the people to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So he did, standing on a platform above all the people of Jerusalem and from the first hour until the sixth hour of the day, every day for seven days he read to the people. They were all attentive and remained six hours to hear God’s Laws. When Ezra began reading the people would lift up their hands and shout Amin, Amin. At the same time we celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and we feasted for seven days. On the 24th day of that month everyone gathered together and made a public confession of sins. We all joined together and confessed our sins and asked for forgiveness and the Levites ended by standing up and said: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God Forever and ever! Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise! You alone are the Lord; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything  on it, the seas and all that is in them, and you preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You… (Neh 9: 6)

Finally on the last day, led by all of the priesthood, we renewed the covenant made with God and took an oath that we would observe all the commandments of the Lord, our Lord and His ordinances and statutes. We would not marry with those who are not of Israel, we would not work on the Sabbath, that we would give our money and food to support the work of the house of our God.

Now God has sent His Son as He had promised from the beginning. We are not saved under the Law, but in the grace of Jesus. God delivered us and helped us to rebuild Jerusalem, now He has delivered all mankind through His Son Jesus. We now trust Him who died for our sins and gives us eternal life. Just as Yahweh did for us when He returned us to Jerusalem, so all of us who are in Jesus will be returned to the resurrection in the New Jerusalem.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin

Resurrection

We Christians talk about heaven as if that’s the ultimate goals. Many non-Christians, certainly the “nones”, use that as their cop out, because wow is that generation, ah heck the whole culture today, all about excuses. Doesn’t matter, what happens, happens, I’m entitled anyway, it’s all about me, yada-yada!

Well no, sorry, but your ticket is punched for hell. What you thought was reality, i.e. it’s all about me, well you will find out that it’s not true and that is tragically and eternally.

On to the actual, ultimate reality. It’s not heaven. Many will never be in heaven. They are saved, but if Jesus returns tomorrow, and you and I are around, we will never be in heaven, we go right to the eternal resurrection. For the non-Christian reading this, sorry, doesn’t apply to you, you will be eternally condemned in hell and that’s just the way it is. I sincerely do hope that the Holy Spirit uses this to save the reader who is not a Christian, but as a Christian minister, I’m required to live in the actual real world, and the ultimate reality in that world for me is the resurrection. For the non- believer, the ultimate reality is eternal condemnation and torment in hell.

Kind of separate, but interesting how our Christian holidays have become more about who we are in Jesus. The world is all about Christmas because it’s me-me-me, all about me, and that’s what the world is about. As Christians we know the deeper meaning and can still celebrate and observe Christmas in a genuine way. For genuine Christians (by that I don’t mean the people who call themselves that, because they grew up in that culture, went through the motions, but really have no clue, and live very much in the world. Too many of those people are in churches, don’t get it and don’t care. Like those in the world, they’re entitled, and well God has to come through for them.) Moving along, Easter is where it’s at if you are genuinely in Jesus. Easter Sunday and every Sunday we remember the resurrection, that is what being a Christian is all about. The new-perfect-eternal life in the new world. The world will look very familiar, but it will be perfect, no evil, no sin, no death, no illness, full of genuine life, of infinite potential. We will have the whole picture, understand completely what God did in creation, in history, in salvation and will understand that it was and is completely perfect and understandable. We will see what a truly evil, debased world the world around us was. We will see the spiritual warfare that went on around us, the constant attempts to undermine our relationship with Jesus and tear us away from Him to eternal  condemnation. The Holy Spirit and all the spiritual warriors all around us fought hard to keep us focused on Christ and fit for eternal salvation in the resurrection.

Certainly one way we resist in this spiritual warfare that is going on around us is through prayer. Continual prayer on our part keeps us connected to the spiritual, to God’s guidance to the beings around us that are protecting us. We are tuned into God’s direction, guidance, what He is doing in our life. Failing in prayer is to cut yourself off from God, to be tuned in only to the world and its direction. The world is condemned, and if that’s where you are tuned, you very much risk being condemned. Prayer doesn’t save you, that’s not the point. None of our works save us, we are only saved in what Jesus did and does for us. But if we are not connected to what God is doing in, for, through and around us through our prayer, we lose that connection, we eventually just buy into the constant blah-blah from everything around us in the world, decide that it’s the world’s message that’s most important and fade off into eternal separation from God.

The resurrection is the ultimate destination, the Holy Spirit guides us there, Jesus makes us fit to be there by His righteousness imputed to us and the Father assures us of that eternal life in the resurrected, perfect, eternal new world, New Jerusalem.

People need to wake up and realize they make themselves God’s enemy John 3:20

As much as I read people from the past, I see it repeated over and over today. The failing is that if it’s already happened, and people are trying to run the same game as people 500 years ago, the people today are simply, let’s be charitable, and say not very perceptive, or they think people today are not very bright and can be played into their game. How about the nonsense being played against law enforcement today? One of the stated purposes of the United States constitution for government is to “provide for the common defense.” When you are sworn in as a law enforcement, military or some officer of government, you swear to protect against all enemies “foreign and domestic”. Whether they are Americans or not, anyone who does something that is an attempt to undermine the civil authority is an “enemy”. We need to be open to correction, not abuse, not overreaching authority on the part of government, people trying to abuse their power and authority, but we do need to accept when we have stepped out of bounds and offended the law and our neighbors. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, doing things that offend and deprive our neighbors rights is obviously not loving.

Martin Luther had a great, if not obvious observation; “The world doesn’t want to be punished. It wants to remain in darkness. It doesn’t want to be told that what it believes is false.” (365 Devotional Readings from Martin Luther “Through Faith Alone” Concordia Publishing House July 2) Oh, wow! We’re seeing that not just in terms of the Christian church, but also the authority of what Dr Luther called the “left-hand kingdom”, the civil authority. Dr Luther asserts that God placed the “right-hand kingdom” in the world to assert the authority of the church, those who want to benefit from being in the church. He also asserts that God placed the left-hand kingdom in the world also. Those who are law- enforcement officers, government officials, mayor, governor, president, district attorney, attorney general etc. All placed by God to maintain public order. As much as we see attacks against that order now, Luther saw in his day. As Americans, in the tradition of the Declaration of Independence and the writings of the Founding Fathers, we certainly have a right to push back against government that becomes abusive of its authority. That is the whole reason for American Revolution. You can certainly make the case that government in many ways has become abusive of its authority. While it may be being dialed back a little with recent Supreme Court decisions, more and more government has been discriminatory against Christians, depriving people of their First Amendment rights to practice their religious beliefs without government interference. But in the way that those who want to somehow eliminate local law-enforcement, Luther’s observation is as prescient today as it was 500 years ago. Make no mistake, those who want try to usurp local law-enforcement do so in an attempt to intimidate government into creating a de-facto local government in many city neighborhoods. That distinct minority of people are making a play to establish their own system which would be established solely to their benefit and increase their wealth and power. In terms of third-world countries, Somalia would be a great example of a place ruled by local, I don’t know how to put it nicely, that run their fiefdom under their own authority, chose who will survive/thrive under their rule and starve those who resist. That is the vision of those who would presume to some how create autonomous zones in our cities.

This is the extreme example of what Luther writes about, but there are many enemies, to the church and civil authorities, foreign and domestic who would run roughshod on the rest of us given the opportunity. The church’s authority has certainly been undermined, now other authority, certainly the left-hand kingdom is being challenged.

Luther addresses the issue in the church: “If you also don’t want to be corrected, then you might as well leave the church and spend your time at the bar and brothel. But if you want to be saved – and remember that there’s another life after this one – you must accept correction.” It is pretty amazing how many people outside and inside the church (foreign and domestic) continue to undermine the church. The Bible addresses many issues which state that in order to be a Christian you must conform to the stated teachings of what is in the Bible. Of course the mantra today is “well my God, would / wouldn’t…” and in their petty dictator way, ignore the reality of what is written, but continue to insist that God would approve of their way, in complete contradiction to any kind of reality or documentation. Luther goes on to write: “If you don’t want to be saved, what’s the use of me being concerned about it? If you aren’t sure you believe in hell, the devil, death, eternal condemnation, and the wrath of God, then just ask your neighbor about it…”. We see this all-around us today, don’t trust in what God’s minister says, or elected official, or police officer. Instead go have a chat with your uninformed neighbor, and you can both share your ignorance and then wonder why your life is as messed up as it is. Trust everyone else but the people who God has put in place to serve the public good. I have seen it acted out over and over in many settings, it’s bizarre! Suffice to say, you can create your fantasy world, what you say is right or wrong, but if it is in conflict with the revealed Word of God in Scripture, then you are condemned, you are an enemy of God.

“In short, if the church and secular government are to exist, they must shed light on evil. The civil authorities must punish the obvious deeds of darkness of public vices and the offensive ways of people, while we preachers in the church must bring to light the subtle darkness of false teachers and false belief. We must confront those who teach and think that they have God’s approval because of what they do.” As a pastor it’s not up to me to punt when I know someone who is playing around with God’s word, anymore than a police officer can just walk by someone who stabbed another person. We both have the duty to enforce what we’ve sworn to do (and Christian ministers certainly take vows in their ordination on what they are supposed to do to serve). With the civil law it’s usually pretty obvious. There’s a body with stab wounds in it, the person has ceased to have a heart rate and respiration, people have stepped forward and credibly accused a person of the stabbing/murder, and the police have the duty to arrest, imprison and attest in court to what the person did. A Christian minister’s duty is often a little more subtle, but nonetheless, usually obvious, and frankly profoundly more destructive if he does not address those issues. Issues of sexuality today have had a profound effect on undermining the church and the civil authority. “I will do what I want, when I want”, when God has said “thou shalt not”, calls into question the authority of the church. Since western government was established under biblical principles, leads people to wonder why it’s anymore important than church authority. The answer is that the civil authority can still put you in jail and even execute you. Church authority can’t, but whether or not you believe in hell, the punishment of God is profoundly more effective than civil. You can put someone in prison for a season, hell is eternal and would make an American prison look like Wallyworld.

“If the church and government stopped admonishing people, the whole world would collapse in a heap. If you want to be saved and be a Christian, then stay open to correction. A preacher has to rebuke, or he should leave his position. The Christian who won’t accept correction is only pretending to be a Christian.” I’ve been a Christian pastor for 8 years now, I’ve certainly seen it. Those who are convinced their authority in the church is more necessary than the pastor’s, despite having no training, education, real experience, or any other credential, and yet actively work to undermine the man appointed to be the pastor. That person is living in their own fantasy, they are undermining God’s authority as much as any pretender to civil authority in a neighborhood, foreign country, and just as much an enemy of God and certainly a domestic enemy of the church.

Certainly the world and the church, both under God’s direction, have ways of reasserting the authority God has given them to maintain order and not “collapse into a heap.” But it requires people who will stand up under the scrutiny and the pressure of those who are in active rebellion, enemies foreign and domestic and do God’s will in either realm. The church needs to be much more pro-active in supporting those people on the front lines, maintaining the order, and taking the shots. The people need to stop listening to the non- sense of those who would readily suppress them and take from them if they succeed in ascending to authority. Instead in today’s world, it’s easier for the majority of people to side with those who take the side of those trying to usurp God, His enemies, and then wonder why the world has collapsed into a heap and why no one’s doing anything about it. Oh yeah, it’s bizarre! Try being in the position of those who support God’s servants and not the way of the world, the world’s way will end up as an incredibly evil and destructive way to live.

Idols hmmmm, really? Tells me to remember who’s really in charge!

I am the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in York, Pa. First Saint Johns (FSJ) was completed in 1875, as you can see from the featured image, the altar, and the rest of the sanctuary are very nice and very reverent.

There are those who I have showed the sanctuary to and felt that there was just “heavens, too much idolatry”. Rather amuses me. I’ve been in a lot of sanctuaries where you might truly wonder what the space is actually used for. By looking at this picture, there should be little doubt what or, better, Who this space is about. It’s all about Jesus and the people who built his sanctuary 140+ years ago knew it.

The altar is especially interesting in that it shows the most important aspects of who and what Jesus is all about. Underneath the flat part, called the mensa, is a lamb, shows that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Next is a crucifix, reminding us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Next is Christ ascending to glory in heaven. The top stained glass window shows Jesus as Lord of all creation, at the right hand of God the Father.

The stained glass windows on the sides have various Christian symbols and at the top is one of the apostles.

People have actually told me how idolatrous this is??? Yet I can go into an old Quaker, Calvinist, etc churches and honestly wonder what’s going on there. I can go into a lot of “community”, “independent”, etc and see no indication that I’m in what purports to be a “Christian” sanctuary. There is a lot of symbology on the altar and on the stained glass at FSJs. A lot of visual reminders of what we believe and Who we hold important. Over the ascending Jesus is the motto “Sola Deo Gloria”, yea wow, “To God only the glory”, yikes that’s a first commandment buster, right?

Why do people really object to this? Why do they prefer to have a “church” that is essentially void of anything that is Christian? I would submit that especially with all the “big-box” non-denominationals, that it’s really more about those in the church preferring to kind of push aside all the Jesus stuff. Yea, they sing about Jesus and kind of preach about Him. But it’s not really about Him, if it was why is there a problem about having a lot of visual reinforcement.

My answer. In the world today it’s all about me, what’s good for me. Well Jesus is good for you, the only and ultimate good. But too many people don’t see it that way. Today’s culture says: I don’t want to be reminded of all that Jesus stuff, if I’m here I’m worshiping what I want, “ooo that gory crucifixion stuff”. Well that’s a whole big subject, and well we just shouldn’t have to do that, just make me happy God. I showed up, I should get the big payoff. Doesn’t work that way folks. It is all about God and not about you. That’s why we have all these reminders to reinforce that in us when we are in true worship, lifting up and praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People who built these great old churches understood that and when I stand in front of the altar here I know exactly what and especially Who it’s all about. It’s why we at First Saint Johns are serious about what we do and why we do it, it’s for Jesus who sacrificed all for us and we will be His for all eternity. So instead of mouthing silly platitudes and not thinking about what is important, let’s all do some serious thinking about what and Who is ultimately important. I have all these beautiful and compelling reminders here, maybe it’s time for you to think about why this is all important.  Sanctuary 140th anniversary