Behold the feet of those who bring the good news of God’s judgment! The prophet Nahum, speaking against ancient Assyria in the height of her power, proclaims a message of finding joy in the destruction of evil. Nahum also speaks to our own day, reminding us that injustice and sin will come to an end, because the Lord reigns over all the earth. Join us for a discussion of the book of Nahum and its meaning for the Christian today.

Host: Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold

Episode: 108

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The Gardening Episode

Since the sixth day of creation, man has been called to tend the earth.  Even despite the Fall, this call continues.  How does this apply to the Christian today?  Is it a sin to be prepared for the future?  Is it spiritually good to work in the dirt?  How can we better provide for and teach our families?  Join us as we dismantle the techno-industrial state and talk about God, family, and food.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Guest: Rev. Benjamin Ulledalen

Episode: 99

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Hard Times

“I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”  The Lord sends prosperity and disaster alike, but never without reason.  Grab your water purifiers and huddle up next to the shortwave radio as we discuss pandemics, plagues, and the hand of God in them all.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 95

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Does God’s Providence govern all things? Does the Lord simply know all possibilities or does the Lord’s hand extend to all of creation? Should these concepts frighten or comfort the Christian? A true understanding of the doctrine of Divine Providence does not lead to a practical deism, rather to a living trust that all things work together for good for those who love God.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Episode: 16

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Patience in an Impatient Time

Technology is the high god of our age. You know who someone’s god is by what he sacrifices. Money, hours of one’s life, the joy of other human faces and voices are all sacrificed to technology, and the sacrifices we make change us in turn. We become what our phones have made of us: impatient consumers.

Consumption is an attitude we lament in parishioners and potential converts. They demand things from us that we are either unwilling or unable to give them. They come only to take and not to give back. They appear and disappear as the whim suits them, as if the church were a Halloween or Christmas store you stop by once a year for something really specific.

But consumption is our way, too, consuming ways and means to bring in more people to our churches. Maybe that’s why you’re here, as if we were experts on how Christ’s Word can spread best in your part of the vineyard. Consumers are impatient. It is their way. They cannot be otherwise because their lives are defined by their needs, and we as pastors, preachers, evangelists have needs the same as anyone else.

Impatience cannot live next-door to hope. Hope waits, is patient, hope bears the strain and stress of what today has brought because it believes tomorrow can be better. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. (James 5:7). Hope and patience can receive because hope and patience are under no illusion that tomorrow depends on their doing, their needs, their demands, whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow (James 4:14).

Patience is possible because the flourishing of the Gospel and the growth of Christ’s Church are His gift for every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights…of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth (James 1:17, 18). Everything we have, life and life abundantly in Christ, that we believe in him at all, is all his gift. We have nothing we have not received, and our future will be no different than our past. James counsels patience precisely because the future is in Christ’s hands, You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:8). You, who are just getting a church start off the ground, be patient. You, who don’t know how to go about this whole thing, be patient. You, who are struggling to hold a congregation together, be patient.

Put away your phone and whatever you’re reading this on. Put away your habits of instant satisfaction and pressing demands. Put away everything that is impatient and suspicious, cramped and distorted in your soul. Put on patience and hope in Christ, and using the oldest and simplest of tools, the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, now calmly and steadily and joyfully reap the harvest the Lord has prepared!

Nehemiah and the Reformation

Nehemiah wept when he heard that the walls of Jerusalem had been torn down. The city of God’s promise lay in ruins. The mighty things which the Lord had done in her now seemed like dust blowing in the wind. Where were the days of David? Where were David’s sons, reigning in his place? Even King Artaxerxes, pagan though he was, could see that Nehemiah was troubled.

We do not have to be Jeremiah to see that things in our own day are not what they should be. The walls of our Jerusalem have fallen to the ground. Samaritans dwell among the ruins, those who seem to be with us, but are not. Even among those who have returned, there is a neglect of the commandments of God. Will we be like Samaria, with a foot in both worlds? Will we be like the remnant, following after the world? Are we in love with the idea of being orthodox, yet allowing the fruits of the flesh to dominate? But those of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Glorying in the past can be a serious danger. It is good to remember the mighty acts of God done for our fathers, because they show us that God is faithful and true. God is not a man, that He should change His mind. But there is danger in exalting the past as a thing in itself to the neglect of the things of God. The Lord brought His people out of the iron furnace, but their election was not a reason to sin. Complancency, a product of nostalgia, is deadly.

As we prepare to remember the Reformation this year, and an important milestone at that, it would be good to remember all of this. The Reformation would not have succeeded if the Lord of History had not willed it. Moses may have been the man who walked out in front of Israel, but it was the Lord who delivered them. So also with Luther. We may also give thanks to God for all that he has done for us, even now in these days.

But we must not grow complacent. It does no good to say that we are the church of the Lutheran Confessions if we have no delight in the things of God. Will we cry out: “The Lord; He is God! The Lord; He is God!”? Or will we boast: “The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!”? But I fear that the wall has fallen. If we say that we as a church body have no sins, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Yet Nehemiah is helpful for us in this hour. Nehemiah laments the loss of Jerusalem, but then he girds up his loins like a man. Going to the ruined city, he does not cry more about what had been or what might be. He picks up his sword in one hand and his trowel with the other. The wall of Jerusalem must be rebuilt. Nor is this an ordinary work, as if the wall merely needed some patching here and there. It is a mighty work of God. Only through the Lord could this wall be rebuilt in fifty-two days. Only through the Lord will this wall of our own Jerusalem stand again.

It may be that the Lord will bring our church body to an end. Even rebuilt Jerusalem would fall again to the Romans. The Lord’s will, and not ours, will be done. This does not mean that the Gospel will cease. This does not mean that the world will lack something if our individual church body is gone. Many have come and gone, and yet the Lord marches forth. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

But this is our hour, and this is our call. Sons of the prophets, let us take up the sword of the Spirit, the living and active Word, in one hand. God speaks through the fire of His Holy Scriptures, and His Word will not return void. But let us also take up the trowel and labor together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It is hard work, it is dirty work, and it will have enemies. But let us follow after Nehemiah and do what must be done. Let us remember what God has done for our fathers, but let us pick up their mantle and labor like men to rebuild Jerusalem according to the will of God.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 50:15-21

The reading for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity comes from near the very end of Genesis as well as the end of the “generations of Jacob” which began in Genesis 37:2.  Joseph’s brothers continue to feel guilty about how they treated him.  When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers earlier, he emphasized that “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5).  However, after they had settled in Egypt and Israel died, their guilt returns, imagining that Joseph had been biding his time out of respect for his father.  They even attempt to frame their plea as if Jacob had commanded it, which does not appear to be the case.

Their fear, however, is faithless.  Joseph had already forgiven them when he revealed himself to them, but they have forgotten.  It is not groundless, to be sure, considering their horrific conduct toward their own brother, but to return to such fear of punishment after hearing a word of forgiveness is to treat that word as false.  As John says, “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:10).  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).  In a similar way, Joseph’s brothers are treating him like a liar, which moves him to tears.

Joseph, nevertheless, reaffirms the word of forgiveness, because the sinful soul is often tempted with memories of past sins.  “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).  “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).  A Christian troubled by doubts should be pointed to Christ, rather than to himself, and he will see that Jesus is indeed faithful.  Joseph’s brothers have forgotten and have returned to their fear, but they are pointed again to that mercy.

Because Joseph reiterates the same word of comfort from before, he also re-emphasizes the Providence of the Lord.  Paul’s affirmation “that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) demonstrates that God is not limited.  The temptation is to regard Providence as using primarily those things which we regard as “good” or perhaps focusing on God’s direct actions in history.  Evil, in that sense, tends to be treated as a problem to be dealt with or acted against.  The Lord, to be absolutely sure, is not the author of sin.  But God is not limited in His options.  God will accomplish what He chooses to do without fail, even if He wills to use an evil as the means to that end.  Adam fell because of his own sin and became a lawbreaker, but the Lord uses the Fall toward His purpose of sending Christ into the flesh.  “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

In Joseph’s case, the Lord uses the evil which his brothers intended against him as the means for providing for many people.  History does not just happen and the Lord somehow reacts to it.  God is the Lord of history, and all things fall under His Providence.  The reason why this can be so difficult for us is that we only have a small part of the picture and imperfect knowledge.  We are caught up in the moment and cannot see how everything is working together.  Very often, this becomes clearer in hindsight, though not always, because only God knows all things.

But this should not cause us to fear.  Joseph comforts his brothers by pointing to the Providence of God.  Yes, their action was very evil, but they recognize it as the sin that it is (1 John 1:8-9).  However, despite their wickedness, God uses it for a far greater good.  Not as an afterthought, not as a reaction, but as the means through which many lives were spared in the famine which it pleased the Lord to send.  If the Triune Lord could use even that evil as a means for good, will He not much more give you the good which He promises to give?  “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:21).

The Providence of the Lord

Providence is a large word to describe an important part of how God deals with us.  It is related to a few words which are much more familiar.  The first of these is the basic root “provide.”  God in His Providence provides us with the things which we need.  Both of these words were originally Latin, and they both come from providere.  “Pro” in this case means “before” and “videre” means “to see,” so pro-videre means “to see before, foresee.”  Because of the way Latin works, this can also give us the word “provision,” which can either mean making preparations or the thing provided.

But setting Latin aside, how does this help us understand providence?  Providence is God’s providing for us.  He gives us what we need.  Providence is God’s foresight, seeing long beforehand what would happen to us.  Providence is God’s provision, because He not only makes “preparations,” but also gives us the things which He made ready for us.

Providence is a word which really only belongs to God as well.  Sure, we can make provisions for ourselves and provide others with what they need.  Our foresight is limited, but we can make reasonable guesses and assumptions about what will happen in the future.  We should certainly plan ahead, because it would be foolish to imagine that we would never have needs to fulfill, even dire needs.  But Providence is God’s business.  We can only guess about what will happen.  We might be pretty good at it, but there is always uncertainty.  God does not guess.  God knows exactly what will happen.  When God in His Providence provides us with what we need, He knows exactly why and when we need it without any uncertainty.

The Lord “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).  Providence applies to all people, not just believers.  If anyone receives anything to their benefit, it has come from God, whether they  know it or not.  As God says in Hosea 2:8:  “And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” Even though people misuse the gifts of God, even for really wicked purposes like idolatry, it is still God who gave them.

Most of the time, it is fairly easy to understand God’s Providence.  David says in Psalm 65:  “You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.”  The seasons and the harvest, the rain and the growth, abundance and all good things, all of these come from the hand of God.  I think that this is probably what we think of the most when we say that God will provide.

But there is a side of Providence that is not so easy to understand.  The Lord said to Moses:  “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” (Exodus 4:11).  And also to Isaiah:  “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).  And also to Amos:  “‘I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord” (Amos 4:9).  The Lord does not provide only the good things, so to speak.  This does not mean that God chooses to do evil, as if God were evil.  That is simply not true.  But Amos shows that God always has our welfare in mind.

We will not always understand why God does what He does.  God is not a spectator, looking in our troubles and yet largely unable to help.  No, God is the LORD, the sovereign and all-powerful Master of creation.  When He speaks, heaven and earth must obey His command.  God will do exactly what He chooses to do and there is nothing in all creation that can hinder His almighty will.  “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20).

But God’s Providence should not scare us.  God is in perfect control of all things.  We are not dangling helplessly in the hands of an unloving being who seeks our destruction.  We are in the hands of the living God who gave Himself for us to forgive us our sins.  The Lord may indeed send us difficult things, but “it is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7, 11).  God’s Providence is always for our good, even if we must go through discipline for the moment.  God sends gladness and God sends sadness, but above all God draws us to Himself.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Fourth Sunday in Lent: Exodus 16

The first verse in Exodus 16 is important for establishing the context of the pericope for the Fourth Sunday in Lent and should not be excluded. Israel set out from Egypt on the fifteen day of the first month (Numbers 33:3) and has now arrived in the wilderness of Sin thirty days later (assuming that each month in the calendar in the days of Moses had thirty days, as Moses himself suggests in the flood lasting for 150 days or 5 months in Genesis 7:11, 8:3-4). They have just left Elim and the waters of Marah and are heading generally southward toward Sinai.

In this short period of time, Israel has not only left behind the plagues of Egypt but also passed through the Red Sea. They cannot have forgotten the wonders of God in so short a period, even if their hardness of heart causes them to ignore them. However, forgetting even the sweetening of the waters of Marah not that many days ago (Exodus 15:25), they begin to grumble for food. Israel begins to wonder whether they will have enough to eat in the wilderness. Who could find enough food for a congregation likely numbering in the millions (Exodus 12:37)? They even begin to imagine they had it better in Egypt, even though they had cried out to the Lord in their distress (Exodus 2:23-25).

The Lord in His providence provides them with bread from heaven. Manna, described as bread in Exodus 16:4, defies exact description. It is described as “fine,” a word used to describe the dust in Isaiah 29:5 which is contrasted with chaff. Its appearance is like “hoarfrost,” the crystalline frost which tends to form on objects like branches. It is said to either “crackle” or be “flaky,” though that particular word in Exodus 16:14 occurs only here in the Old Testament. Manna is also “white” and like “coriander seed,” but that comes from the Greek Septuagint.  “Coriander” is used to translate this word which is also unique to manna in Exodus 16:31 and Numbers 11:7.  Small wonder that manna means “what is it” in Hebrew!

Together with a miraculous abundance of quail, manna is meant as a sign to Israel that it is the Lord who has brought them out of Egypt (Exodus 16:6). They are given sufficient food in a land which could not normally support millions. Each one measured out an omer of the manna, a unique measurement which only occurs in this passage and is explained in Exodus 16:36. This omer would be enough for every person, literally “a man to the mouth of his eating,” that is, as much as one needs (which occurs in Exodus 12:4; 16:16; 16:18). This corresponds to the Lord’s command that the bread be gathered daily, except on the Sabbath. It is the “matter of a day in that day” and finds a clear parallel in the petition “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4). God will provide what we need on the day in which we need it. Why then should we worry? (Matthew 6:25-34).

By following these commands regarding gathering outwardly, Israel would also show an inward trust. When they “measured it with an omer” as the Lord commanded day by day, there would be no lack and no surplus, only exactly what is needed. This is why Paul refers to Exodus 16:18 in 2 Corinthians 8:15. The congregations who had much shared with those who had little, and nothing is left over or lacking as a result. This also applies to the multiplication miracles in Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39; Mark 6:32-44; 8:1-10; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-13. Jesus multiplies according to the need so that no one is left hungry. God’s providence is perfect.

Yet many do not listen. They go out to gather on the Sabbath anyway, despite the clear prohibition. They do not believe that the Lord will indeed provide for them. They keep it until the morning, because they want an insurance policy that they will have bread tomorrow. Like their descendants in Jesus’ day, they seek God not because of signs, but because they ate bread (John 6:26). They have no faith.

As a final note, Aaron is commanded to keep a jar of manna as a testimony for future generations of what the Lord has done (Exodus 16:32-34). It would call to mind what God had done as a way of reassuring what God would continue to do for His people. Hebrews 9:1-5 notes that this golden urn was placed within the ark together with Aaron’s staff and the tablets. It was certainly a holy object, since it rested within the ark of the testimony. But 1 Kings 8:9 and 2 Chronicles 5:10 state that both this urn and the staff were gone by the time the ark reached the temple. It is not clear where they went, perhaps being lost through the negligence of the priests or during the captivity of the ark in 1 Samuel 4-6. However, the Lord willed for this to happen, for much like the bronze snake in 2 Kings 18:4, physical reminders always carry with them a temptation in the hearts of sinful men toward idolatry.