Week of – First Sunday After Christmas / New Year’s Day / Holy Name of Jesus Day; Decisions, decisions, decisions!

There seems to be a wide variety of celebratory days for the week following Christmas. I guess having Christmas on a weekend, and a Sunday no less, tends to bunch up the occasions. So I am left with the task of which to choose. Should it be a “normal” Sunday? That would mean we look at Isaiah 63, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2 and Matthew 2. If I choose Holy Name of Jesus day we would look at Numbers 6, Psalm 8, Galatians 4 and Luke 2. And if I choose New Year’s Day that would mean Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 8 (again), Revelation 21 and Matthew 25. The different choices whirled around in my head!

What seemed evident beyond a doubt was that I was going to need more days! So, I decided I was just write a lot, filling days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, picking passages that seemed to fit well and carry us into the New Year.

Now after they [the Wise Men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (Matthew 2: 13-15)

I decided for today we would continue the story of Jesus’ birth. After my recent admission [see December 20, 2016 ] that prophecy from the Old Testament really can point toward happenings in the New Testament I am content to let stand that God’s son was called out of Egypt.

This was not the first time that Joseph was given guidance and direction. When he found out Mary was pregnant, and not by him, he thought to quietly just not marry. But a dream and an angel let him know to proceed with their plans. That Mary was pure and innocent, and being used by God for a fantastic purpose. Praise God that Joseph was open to receiving Divine guidance and direction.

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Verses 16 – 18)

Again, with this prophecy from the Old Testament being fulfilled in the New Testament! But what is a person to do? The Christmas season is filled with prophecy fulfilled. God’s plan is being carried forth. But . . . in a unique way!

“When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” (Verses 19 – 23)

And again, Joseph is instructed by a dream and an angel – seems to be quite a pattern. I have to wonder if that was a pattern and a blessing that Joseph had all of his life. That would be quite a benefit in parenting; especially a Son of the Divine. Or perhaps it was exactly Joseph’s being open to hearing God and angels of God that made him qualified to raise Jesus. Sounds like God was doing some prep work for the coming of baby Jesus, designing a family where Jesus would be nurtured from infancy on up.

What I take from all this is (besides prophecy does come true and what is spoken in one context can fit in another) that if we are unsure of what to do or if calamity surrounds us, or if there are many options and we are not sure what to do – all we need to do is look to God. And actually, on the day I sat down to write this, that was a message I needed to hear and take into my heart! How’s that for scripture from long ago informing our present!! Selah!

 

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Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage -When the prophet speaks

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” (Amos 7:7-9)

A plumb line; a measure to make sure that something is upright, straight and true. Against that the people of Israel shall be judged, and woe to them if they do not “measure up”!

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’”
And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
(Verses 10 -13)

True prophets of God do not shy away or avoid inconvenient truths. Messages from God to earthly leaders are not softened or edited, in case they offend. Truth is spoken because it is God’s truth. And if it is not God’s truth, a prophet of God will not say it.

The implication is that critiquess of the king will not be tolerated. The king can do not wrong, because he is the king. The king (or at least those advise and report to the king) refused and rejected the message that Amos had from God. The assumption was made that Amos was a “professional” seer who imitated skills of prophesy in order to earn a livelihood.

Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.
You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’
Therefore thus says the Lord:
‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’” (Verses 14 – 17)

I suppose you could compare false prophets of that time to political pundits who give forth opinions according to their own agenda and purposes rather than making clear and plan what is going on and what should be done. That sounds rather critical and harsh, I imagine and opens me to the same charge – giving forth for my own reasons and agenda. But I am like Amos, and even more so since I do not claim to have any message directly from God. I recognize what is good and true, and measure all things against the “plumb line” of the Divine.

But I don’t want this to be about me. Perhaps it is about you, beloved reader. Perhaps it is about a time someone spoke God’s truth to you, and you had to make a decision as to whether to heed it or ignore it. Whether you, or I, are a king or a commoner we need to heed the voice of God and those who prophesy honestly and authentically what they have heard from God. May we all do so! Selah!

The Raising of Prophets (The Old Testament Passage)

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ “ (Deuteronomy 18:15-16)

Too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing. God’s people who had been brought out of Egypt had seen the power of God and knew it to be more than they could take in or comprehend. However, they needed to have knowledge of God to know how to live – for it was just a scary proposition NOT to live according to God’s laws, statutes and commandments. So a solution had to be found. And the solution was for someone amongst God’s gathered people to be chosen and singled out. Would you want to have been that person, beloved reader?

Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. (Deuteronomy 18:17-19)

The “me” of this passage, and the narrator thus far in Deuteronomy is Moses, so the prophet who would be raised up from amongst them would be someone much like Moses. By the end of the book of Deuteronomy Joshua has been installed as their new leader. But beyond the leadership of Joshua there is the promise that God will always raise up a prophet amongst God’s people. And to that prophet the people of God should look for direction and guidance. They do not need to look outside of their faith circle for someone to guide them. Ultimately the line of prophets lead to the Messiah. And from that point on all other leadership needs to be under Christ.

From the time of Moses to the time of the Messiah there were many prophets – some self-prophesied and some named by God. Those who God called were sometimes honored and sometimes not. Just as it was with Moses, the people of God ignored the true prophets at their peril.

But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.’ “ (Deuteronomy 18:20)

And those prophets that were not called by God but pretended to speak in God’s name, and those prophets who did not speak in the name of the true God . . . well, the Old Testament describes their fate.

Even though the Messiah has come and left a rich legacy of prophecy, God still calls out some to speak in the Lord’s name – not just in the name of God but also in Jesus Christ’s name. And the same cautions apply. If you, beloved reader, are called by God and Christ our Lord to speak, may you speak only what God and Christ command you to. And may you be listened to, bringing glory and honor to your faith and beliefs. Selah!

PERSECUTION . . . According to prophecy . . . And a possible remedy

For in many places and in neighboring cities there shall be a great uprising against those who fear the Lord. They shall be like maniacs, sparing no one, but plundering and destroying those who continue to fear the Lord. For they shall destroy and plunder their goods, and drive them out of house and home. Then the tested quality of my elect shall be manifest, like gold that is tested by fire. Listen, my elect ones, says the Lord; the days of tribulation are at hand, but I will deliver you from them. Do not fear or doubt, for God is your guide. You who keep my commandments and precepts, says the Lord God, must not let your sins weigh you down, or your iniquities prevail over you. Woe to those who are choked by their sins and overwhelmed by their iniquities! They are like a field choked with underbrush and its path overwhelmed with thorns, so that no one can pass through. It is shut off and given up to be consumed by fire.” (Reference:2 Esdras 16:70-78 [Emphasis mine])

The historic Anabaptists used apocryphal writings as much as they used what we consider the canonical Bible. Scripture was scripture. And this portion of scripture contains not only comfort for those persecuted but also prophecy. There have been some vague rumblings that certain groups of Christians may also be in line for persecution; not as in years before for simple belief, but for specific beliefs. In the accepting/overly liberal (take you pick of the two perspectives) society we live in there is a wide spectrum of lifestyle choices and gender identification/gender relationship preferences that exists. Under the general label of “Christians” there those who feel lead to label certain sexual orientations and identifications as “sin” and the people who make these “choices” as “sinners.” And it is these “Christian” who may be in line for persecution. But because the term “Christian” covers such a large group, all Christians may be under scrutiny.

I tell you beloved, this whole topic is a sensitive mine field, and I struggled to get through the above without setting off one of the bombs! It was easier in the time of the historic Anabaptists; you knew then who was for you and who was against you. If you were a historic Anabaptist believer anyone who did not belief as you did could, would, and was one of your persecutors. And if you were not a historic Anabaptist believer anyone who was, was heretic and radical who should be persecuted and put to death. See! Easy categories!

But back to the prophecy, and my original thought stream. It has been prophesied many times over that the believers and followers of God will be oppressed and persecuted – hunted down and destroyed is what 2 Esdras chapter 16 says. But the writer of Esdras also says, and I have highlighted this, those who are tested will be guided by God and delivered.

The question occurs to me beloved – who will be the hunted and who will be hunters? I have asked my self (several times via this blog) this question. I do not have answer. What I do have though is a new term or group – painholders. This term is from an article entitled Painholders on Holy Groundthat Michael A. King wrote for The Mennonite for their Feb 1st edition. In this article he suggests that there are (and should) people who work at keeping conversation open and ongoing amongst the groups who espouse differing and sometimes conflicting beliefs. Imagine beloved what a difference this would make. Perhaps if these “painholders” were able to mediate between differing groups the prophecies concerning persecutions would no longer repeat but would be laid to rest. And perhaps this is the type of guidance from God that passages such as these refer to. We can only hope and dream.

One more thing beloved. Today is Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. As we continue looking day by day at the scriptures the historic Anabaptists felt were in important in their lives, I will try to be mindful of the days of Lent, and point out possible connection points. May you this day take a moment to remember your spiritual and faith ancestors, bringing to mind what they suffered through, and may still be suffering today. And may God guide you and deliver you. Selah!

LIVE SECURE . . . Because it was foretold

“And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord. . . . . And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.” (Micah 5:4a, 4c-5 from Micah 5:1-5a )

Okay . . . they have me on this one. Verse 2, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.“ They (you know, the commentators) say that at Judah’s lowest point, there is a word of encouragement that out of the smallest corner shall come the mightiest leader. Not might and leadership as in aggression and physical strength. But leadership that brings peace and shalom. Leadership that comes and resolves problems and not stirs it up. Security that means all people in every place are safe and secure, and NOT security for the privileged few that can control and overcome the masses.

Come quickly Bringer of Peace! Selah. And shalom for your day!

BLESSINGS . . . Starting now!

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore.” ( Ezekiel 37:26 from Ezekiel 37:15-28 )

If the readers of the writer/prophet Ezekiel suspected that this prophecy may not come true in their time, I am sure it would have devastated them. How can it be explained that what the writer of/prophet was saying would not be a reality for them?

We have at the beginning of this section of scripture (verse 15) God instructing Ezekiel to take a stick and bind it to another stick to show how they (the Israelites) will be united again. And while I have not checked closely the history, I am pretty sure this reunification did not happen they way anyone expected it to.

How do I know this? From a commentator of course! He said, “Events yet to come will further explain this prophecy. “ From this I surmise that the prophecy never reached the fulfillment anticipated. And I wonder why it is so hard to be positive in thinking and writing about these passages.

Hope and blessing anticipated but not fulfilled is hope and blessing that runs thin and dry. How do I reconcile this with God establishing a covenant with the Lord’s people and setting a “sanctuary among them”? It would be easy to fall back on the theology and explanation of the commentators.

It is easy to say things will get better when Christ comes, or things were easier when Christ walked the earth. And if we “excuse” ourselves and say peace and the fulfillment of the covenant will happen when Christ comes, then we have our reason why it is not a reality now. It is challenging to live out the blessing in its fullness based only on the hope and faith we have in our frail selves, and only projecting into the future the Divines side.

But as I said a few days ago, covenants are two part agreements. The Lord has always held up God’s end, but do we live as if God’s sanctuary is among us? It may very well be, but if we do not live like it is, how can we hope to see it? As I said, hope and blessing anticipated but not fulfilled is thin and dry. And it troubles me that people might live thin and dry lives because they think what they need now is still yet to come

I encourage you gentle reader to live out the blessing and covenant of the Lord not waiting for sticks that are matched together or the Christ that we know will come. Live it out now, because it is better than waiting a lifetime to live a renew life. Right relationships. Justice. Shalom. These are not faraway concepts, but things we can do now! Shalom and all other blessings for your day!

REBUILT . . . in a time to come

“See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown; and I will multiply your population, the whole house of Israel, all of it; the towns shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt….” (Ezekiel 36:9-10 from Ezekiel 36:1-15 )

I had to go look. I was too curious about how the commentators would handle and respond to this, so I had to go look. One of the commentators said about the mountain in verse 8, “O mountains of Israel” (which by inference is the Israelite nation), “It was a type of the heavenly Canaan, of which all God’s children are heirs, and into which they all shall be brought together. And when God returns in mercy to a people who return to him in duty, all their grievances will be set right. The full completion of this prophecy must be in some future event.” So this commentator says we must wait. That does not surprise me. But if we must wait, that means this probably did not come about exactly as the writer/prophet Ezekiel said it would.

What is the purpose of these prophecies if it cannot be confirmed that they came about? Maybe they did . . . for a time. But misfortune struck again, and once more the people of God found themselves in precarious and desolate situations. This larger passage of Ezekiel is filled with the writer of Ezekiel saying, “Thus says the Lord” which sounds like to me SOMEONE is saying what they say the Lord said to them, which is not a comforting direct line of communication! Oh . . . . I said I was going to try to be positive.

What we can depend on is that God is for us. God is never against us. And while another commentator may say, “He had previously been against (Ezekiel 5:8; Ezekiel 13:8), but was now for Israel and against Seir (Ezekiel 35:3)” I believe that God never really deliberately set up Israel; just as I believe God never set up any other nations that came under violence and war, and never set up any group of people for disease and death because of what they might or might not have done. God is not like that!! That may be a very thin slice of positive, but it is something you can depend on.

It is interesting to read the commentators as they “scramble” to explain why the prophecy did not come about as spoken. Their stock response is . . . when Christ returns . . . or it is an allusion to what the Messiah will do . . . . when God returns to judge the world. It just seems so far beyond them to say the prophets were simply trying to raise the morale of the people.

But isn’t that what we do? Assure and comfort ourselves that what we are enduring will surely come to an end? Yes, we are more realistic than the prophets – we know will not come NOW but in the now to come. Isn’t that why we persevere in “right relationships”, “justice”, and “shalom”? Because we believe if we adhere to the Christian life now, that in the time to come what we dream of will come true. It is what we cling to, as these prophecies are what the Israelites and the Judahites clung to.

We know God is for us; that is why we continue to show we are for God. In faith we do this, and in hope we continue to live. May you gentle reader continue to believe in the God of compassion, and may your spirit be infused with faith and hope. Selah! Shalom for your every day!