pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Oh Nineveh

Reading: Jonah 3: 5-10

Verse 8: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”.

Jonah has made his proclamation known. For three days he walked around Nineveh proclaiming the coming destruction. The words of his warning – or the power of God behind them – hit home, leading the people to repentance. “From the greatest to the least” they fasted and put on sack cloth, both signs of repentance. When word got to the king he too was moved to action. The king issued a decree. In addition to calling for these sign of repentance, he also declared, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”. He hoped that if they changed their evil ways, that maybe in his compassion God might relent. God did have compassion. God did not destroy the great city of Nineveh.

As we consider the application of this passage today, how often are we Nineveh? How many times have we had to repent of our evil ways and our violence? As I consider these questions, I realize that sin is a constant battle in my life. Like the prophet Jonah, the Holy Spirit is ever on duty, proclaiming the coming destruction, calling me away from my sin and into faithful prayer and holy living. The same mercy and grace and love that brings renewal and forgiveness to my life are the ones all people can experience when they “fast” from their sins and “put on sack cloth” as a sign of their humility. This mercy, grace, love, renewal, and forgiveness is something God offers to all people.

Taking another angle, who is your Nineveh? Who is that person or group that most needs God’s transforming power to be at work in their lives? You see, at times we are to be like Jonah too, going to “that” person or to “those” people. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people, sometimes even with words. We are to bear God’s transforming power into all the world, even to our Ninevehs.

By the power and grace of God, may we be aware both of the times when we need to repent and to turn from our evil ways AND of the times when we are called to proclaim that to those who are walking without the God of mercy and grace. May we each faithfully live out both sides of God’s love.

Prayer: God of grace, humble me and convict me when I am living in sin. Walk me to your throne and lead me to kneel there, in that place of love. Use me today to help others to know that place of love so that they too can know your healing and renewing power. Amen.


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Steadfast and True

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”.

Today and tomorrow we will look at Jonah’s calling and at how the sinful city of Nineveh responded. Just as Samuel was called and just as we are called, there was no mistaking God’s call upon Jonah. God wanted to use Jonah for a specific purpose. Unfortunately, I am sometimes like Jonah – a little reluctant, a lot influenced by my own sense of what is right or who is worthy of God’s love. Remember Jonah’s initial response to God’s call? He ran in the opposite direction. Spit out on the shore, this is God’s second attempt to use Jonah to save Nineveh from its sins. In verse two God directs Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”. God’s message to Nineveh is like Paul’s message to the church in Corinth. Like Paul was in 1st Corinthians 6, God is direct with his message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned”.

Sometimes this is how I need God to talk to me: short and direct, not much wiggle room, hard to misunderstand. Sometimes I need words that communicate the gravity or importance of the message. Just as we will see with the Ninevites tomorrow, God’s direct and clear message compels me to action. It is in these moments that I hear and feel God’s love and care for me. It would surely be easier to just let me continue off on my own path. It would be easier to let Nineveh continue down the road to self-destruction. But this is not God’s nature. God loves all of creation and wants to see all redeemed, all brought within his abundant love and gracious care. So God, like with Nineveh, pursues us. Often God pursues us over and over, just like he did with Jonah.

God is steadfast and true. His love never fails. His pursuit is endless. Being reminded of all this today, knowing once again of God’s love and care for all people everywhere, may we respond by going where we are led today. May we hear the call and may we bear God’s love and care to the people and places where God sends us.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to be reminded of your steadfast love and grace and mercy. Open my ears to your call and my ears to where you want to send me. Guide my hands and feet to share your love and care and mercy with others. Amen.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. Amen.


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Hope Rising

Reading: Lamentations 3: 1-9 and 19-24

Verse 22: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”.

In a prayer calendar that I am using in this coronavirus season, the author titled today “Silent Saturday”. Life does go on outside my office window – I can hear the birds singing and occasionally a car passes by. But when I read Lamentations 3 and when I think of how the disciples and Mary and the other followers of Jesus must have felt, it feels like a silent Saturday.

Most scholars believe that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations just after the destruction of Jerusalem. In verses one through nine we can sense the pain and grief and mourning of the author. The writer feels cut off from God’s presence. He feels as if God were shutting him out. For the disciples and for many of us in this pandemic season, they must have related to these words just as we can relate. Feelings of isolation and of doubting God can become so real. As we read verse twenty we can feel it: “My soul is downcast within me”. Today feels like a silent Saturday. Some days it is good to sit in that place. Today is a good day to do so, to connect back to that room of fearful and grief-stricken followers of Jesus Christ.

Even though it is good to remember and to spend some time there, we do not have to remain there too long. As verses 21 through 24 unfold, we are reminded as Jeremiah was: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”. We too have hope. The disciples and followers had to wait for Sunday morning. They did not yet know. God came to Jeremiah and brought him “new mercies”. He experienced God’s great faithfulness. The disciples will. We do.

Today is also called Holy Saturday. This day reminds us of God’s goodness to humanity and to each of us. In the brokenness of today we can begin to sense the hope rising. We can begin to sense the unfolding of God’s plans that are good and wonderful. As we do so, may we rejoice in the goodness and mercy of our God.

Prayer: Merciful God, today feels hard. The isolation and separation feels ratcheted up due to what I fear is a hard decision about tomorrow. Mother Nature may be intruding on our plans. But maybe that is part of your plan. They are always greater. Help me today to be guided by prayer and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Now Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Verses 19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”.

Nearing the end of his life Moses addresses the people one last time. As much as anyone, he has lived “life and prosperity, death and destruction” with the people of God. He has been their mediator and communicator with God. He has worked and worked to get the people to the edge of the Promised Land. In the previous chapter in Deuteronomy they have renewed the covenant and in our passage today Moses urges them to choose obedience to God.

Verse sixteen is the call to obedience: “walk in his ways… keep his commands, decrees, and laws”. Doing so leads to good life, an increase in numbers, and God’s blessings. In verse seventeen Moses details what happens when one turns away from God. Moses defines turning away as being drawn away from God and bowing down to others gods. The consequence is dire: “you will certainly be destroyed”. Given such a stark difference in outcomes, who in the world would choose the second? Well, the world chooses disobedience. The Israelites did in Moses’ day and we continue to do so today. I think that we have more gods than ever to bow down to today.

Moses then calls on heaven and earth as the witnesses to the choices the Israelites will make. The choice is simple: “life or death, blessings or curses”? It seems so simple. But Moses has been around these stubborn, stiff-necked people for forty years now. He has observed how difficult obedience is. Again, it is at least as difficult today. Yet Moses has hope, both in God and for the people. He compels them towards obedience, saying, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”. May this be our choice as well. May we love God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are life. In all else there is but death. Yet sometimes I choose other than you. My thoughts and words and sometimes even my actions can be of the world. I am weak. But you are strong. Bend me ever towards loving obedience. Fill me with your Spirit. Amen.


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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Do Good

Reading: Galatians 6: 1-10

Verse 9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”.

Paul is writing to the church in Galatia. He founded it and he nurtured it. Now it is struggling a little bit. The folks are not acting as brothers and sisters in Christ. The loving community has splintered a bit due to quarreling and to some thinking themselves better than others. Paul wonders if they have lost their capacity to love one another fully and unconditionally.

Chapter 6 in my Bible is titled, “Doing Good to All”. Paul begins by encouraging us to lovingly help one another in our battles with sin. Then Paul reminds us to bear one another’s burdens as the need arises. He closes this little subsection by encouraging each of us to “test his own actions” so that we can keep focused on walking in God’s ways. All of these things involve loving in truth.

In verse 7 Paul returns to a familiar illustration. He begins by reminding us that “a man reaps what he sows”. Sin equals destruction and pleasing the Spirit leads to eternal life. It is quite simple. Sow seeds of faith and live faithfully and our fruit is life forever with God in heaven. Paul knows this is not an easy road to walk. In verse 9 he writes, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”. In 2nd Timothy 4 he calls this fighting the good fight. He encourages us not to give up in the battle because living a life of faith requires a constant effort. It is easier to allow sin to enter in and to walk with the world. But this would not be pleasing to the Spirit. Instead we must sow good seeds.

Paul closes our section for today be encouraging us to do good when we have the opportunity. Paul believes Christians should do good for all but especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are great words to live by. Today, may we do good to all.

Prayer: Lord, help me today to seek to love first and always, striving to do good and not harm. Reflect in my eyes the beauty and depth of your love so that as I have opportunity today, I may share your love with others. Amen.


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.


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Compassionate Love

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-5 & 10

Verse Ten: “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.

Today we pick up the story of Jonah part way through.  Jonah has already been told to go to Nineveh, fled the other direction, been tossed into the sea during a fierce storm, been swallowed by a fish, prayed to God, and was vomited on to dry land.  This is Jonah 1 and 2 in a nutshell.  Our passage today begins with God speaking a second time to Jonah, instructing him to go to the great city of Nineveh to give a message which calls for their repentance.

Nineveh is a great city with over 120,000 residents.  Our passage tells us that it takes three days to visit the city.  We also learn that it is a city of wickedness.  God calls Jonah to go to save the city from destruction.  This is the first indication of God’s compassionate love.  God desires for the city to turn from its evil ways.  God’s compassionate love is also shown to Jonah as God is willing to tell him a second time to go to Nineveh.  God could have let Jonah drown and found another messenger.

Jonah goes to Nineveh and preached, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be over turned”.  The people believe God and a citywide fast is declared by the king.  The people also put on sackcloth as a sign of their repentance.  The king led the people to do this in hope that God would be compassionate and would relent.  In verse ten we read, “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.  God delivered the second chance that He wanted to give the city.  The story does not end here either.  God still has some work to do with Jonah.  Even though God’s purposes for Nineveh have been completed, God still loves Jonah and goes on to show that.

In the continuing work that God does with Jonah we come to see that God not only gives Jonah a second chance, but also a third…  God does not give up on Jonah.  He continues to bring Jonah along, ever shaping him into who he was created to be.  This is a beautiful thing about our God.  He continues to do the same thing for each and every one of us.  In His great love, God works and works and works to help us along our Christian walk.  He never gives up on us.  It is a beautiful thing.  Thanks be to God for His never-ending compassionate love for you and for me.


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Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

The Hebrew people are on the brink of the Promised Land.  400 years in slavery in Egypt are not too far in the rear view mirror.  As God’s people began to experience life lived in freedom, God gave them the Ten Commandments.  These commandments gave guidance on how to live in a right relationship with God and with one another.  The commands are both quite simple and also encompass much.  The people have had their struggles living with these ten commandments, so as they prepare to begin a new era, a new way of life, Moses seeks to remind them one last time.  Moses urges them to “choose life” because he knows that living in the land of milk and honey with foreign cultures all around will be a great challenge to the people, to their relationship with God, and to their relationship with one another.

This choice sounds so familiar to me.  Each day when I rise, I can choose to seek God with all of my being and to “walk in His ways”.  It is the choice Moses begins his address with: “I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction”.  On my own, I am prone to temptation and sin.  On those days and in those moments when I do not intentionally choose God, I may not be doomed for immediate death and destruction, but it begins me on that path.  If I do not quickly see the consequences of my poor choices, I can soon find myself “bowing down to other gods”.  It is necessary for me to begin each day choosing to follow God’s ways, seeking to live in right relationships with God and those around me.  When my first few steps and my first few decisions begin with God, then the rest of the day tends to follow.

When we “choose life”, we are blessed by God.  The blessing is not necessarily in financial terms or in any other earthly measure.  The blessing comes in the peace and assurance of being held in God’s eternal hands.  The blessing comes with hope and contentment in this life and in the life to come.  The blessing comes in abiding in God’s love and grace.  This day, what do you choose?