pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Only with God

Reading: Psalm 70

Verse 5: “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”.

David begins Psalm 70 with a cry for help. Enemies are pressing in on him. They seek to put him to shame, to ruin his life. At times we have probably experienced these situations. If we are living out our faith, it will happen from time to time. Being the light sometimes draws a reaction from the darkness. David turns to God and asks for God’s help. He does not strike back physically or with harsh words. David does not engage them in battle but asks God to take up his cause. It is hard to walk this path. It is difficult to hold the tongue, to stay the anger and hurt. It is also the way of Christ. As we walk with Jesus through these next two holy days, we will see Christ model full trust in God.

In verse four David chooses to seek and to praise God. Instead of hiding his faith, instead of withdrawing from it to avoid those who insult and abuse him, David stands, lifts his arms, and praises the God of his salvation. He sings aloud, “Let God be exalted”! Knowing God’s love and salvation should lead us to praise God as well. In those moments of difficulty, singing a few verses of “How Great Thou Art” or “10,000 Reasons” or your favorite hymn or praise song draws us into God’s presence and reassures us of his great love.

The Psalm closes in honest humility. Turning to God in prayer, David says, “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”. Only with God can David get through this time of trial. Again, as we will see with Jesus, only with God can he face the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the insults, the denial, the flogging, the shame, and the cross. Only with God. As we too face times of criticism or abuse or accusation or affliction may we too turn only to God. Only with God will we be able to walk the hard and narrow roads of faith and love.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise your holy name! Your love for me is so great. You have walked with me, carrying me at times, through every trial. All praise and glory are yours, O God! When the hard days come again, may I trust fully in you. Only with you can I walk the valleys. Amen.


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Light Still Shines

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3

Verse 11: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.

Many years ago, early on in my years working with youth, I helped out at a 30-hour famine lock-in at the church. We spent 30 hours learning about poverty in places around the world. We interspersed games and activities as well. And we drank only water. We had no food or snacks. At the end of the lock-in we cooked a meal common to many living in impoverished areas of the world: rice and beans. After 30 hours without food you might think we longer for more, maybe steak and potatoes. Yet the simple meal tasted so good. It was completely filling and satisfying.

In today’s passage Isaiah speaks to a people who have come home from exile. They returned with such joy. They were eager to start the work of restoring Jerusalem and the temple. Their work labored on and outside forces threatened their safety and their ability to continue. Isaiah comes to them and tells them that God is readying “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness”. In verse eleven Isaiah speaks hope: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”. God will be with his people. What joy and hope these words must have brought. To hear that righteousness will “shine like the dawn” and that salvation will be like a “blazing torch” only builds their hope and joy.

There were times that night twenty-something years ago when the hunger gnawed at us. There were moments when the joy and excitement that we began the event with seemed like a distant memory. But times of prayer and worship sustained us and strengthened us to stay the course, to not give up. As I think about our current season, this time of pandemic, it reminds me of that lock-in. We began this season thinking it would all be over in two to three weeks. 30 hours without food isn’t that long, right? The months have drug on, our hard labor continues, enemies seem all around, and our hope and joy are challenged often. Just as times of praise and worship lifted our souls and spirits and just as Isaiah’s words of hope lifted the Israelites, so too will these things lift us now.

In just two days believers will gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Isaiah spoke of him, the one who “will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”. This Christmas Eve is a chance to renew faith, to praise the one who brings salvation, to worship the one who is righteous, to exult the light who still shines into the darkness. If you do not have a church home, find a church online or near by you to worship on Christmas Eve. Join the faithful throughout the world as we worship Jesus Christ, Lord and King.

Prayer: Living God, continue to sustain us, to encourage us, to walk with us these long days. Draw us in to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Allow all to see the light that is still shining in the darkness. Amen.


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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Worthy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 1-8

Verse 8: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”.

Paul’s letters to the churches and to individuals usually served two main purposes: to build up the community of faith and to teach good Christian living. Paul spent the last few years of his life as an apostle, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went. Paul’s missionary efforts in these years was not always easy, as evidenced in verse two: “with the help of God we dared to tell you the gospel”. On his visits, Paul spoke with authority. He was one “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel”. Because of this, Paul had helped many to follow Jesus and he founded many churches throughout the known world. He dearly loved Jesus Christ and those who were his brothers and sisters in Christ.

The depth of Paul’s love is revealed in verse eight: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Paul himself valued the relationship between believers. He often lifted up the community of faith in his many writings. Fellowship and mutual love were common themes for Paul. In his letters he often shares how he longs to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ – this too is evidence of his love for the family of God. Paul valued each individual because he believed they were a part of the body of Christ. For him, this was a connection stronger than blood and deeper than any other social or political connection. This connection was founded solely upon his love for Jesus Christ – the driving force in his life.

It was this driving force that led Paul to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all he met. Paul witnessed to about everyone he met. The story goes that he even shared his faith with the Roman soldiers who had him under arrest. Paul saw even these, those who many would consider enemies of God, as children of God worthy of the same love he gave freely to his brothers and sisters in Christ. May we too seek to model this same universal love as we strive to live out our faith day by day, person by person.

Prayer: Lord of all, help me to see others as Paul did – each as your beloved. Help me to see each as you see them. Then may I love them as you do. May it be so. Amen.


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Expressing Love

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”.

In our passage today Paul is speaking of how to live as a Christian. He does not separate how to live within the faith community from how to live in the world. How we act and speak and do within our faith communities should be how we act and speak and do out in the world. In this letter, Paul is speaking to the church in Rome. They are a diverse church, just like many of our churches. Our bodies of Christ represent many ages, occupations, politics, and so forth. In an ideal world, our church would reflect or match our community and vice versa.

As he gets down to the actual practice of love, Paul encourages the church to share with those in need and to practice hospitality. He encourages them to walk through life together – weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who are rejoicing. Paul lifts up the goal of living in harmony with each other. He warns them not to be proud but to associate with everyone. These are all ways that we express or demonstrate the genuine and sincere love that he spoke of at the beginning of this section. While some of these can be challenging or can stretch us a bit, they are all things we can accomplish for our family and friends and fellow church members. But Paul is not concerned just with how we treat this group of people.

Sprinkled into today’s passage are also some exhortations that we might prefer to read past. Paul exhorts us to bless those who persecute us and warns us about our responses: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody”. He also cautions us against seeking or taking revenge. Paul is directing us to love sincerely those who are not showing us love but disdain, dislike, and even hatred towards us. This can be quite the challenge. There is ample proof of this on many social media platforms. Instead of walking the road of evil, Paul encourages us to love and care for our enemies. Mirroring Jesus’ words concerning heaven-worthy behavior, Paul directs us to feed our enemies when they are hungry and to give them a drink when they are thirsty. The burning coals are the angst they will feel inside about giving poor treatment to the ones who show them love.

“As far as it depends on you”, may we heed Paul’s words, seeking today and every day to “live at peace with everyone”. As far as it depends on you… In our own little worlds, it all depends on us. May we each be the light and love, the hands and feet, the eyes and hearts of Christ each day.

Prayer: Loving God, guide me to be obedient to you in all ways and at all times. May who I am at home and at church and at the ballgame… be the same. May I be your love lived out in all ways, in all places, and for all people. Help me to treat one and all with your same love and compassion. Amen.


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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 23: 5-6

Verse 6: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.

Yesterday we looked at how our Shepherd provides and cares for us, the sheep of His fold. Today we look at the last third of Psalm 23. God prepares a table for us. In the eternal, this will be the banquet feast in heaven. In this life it is a place to gather, to relax, to share in a meal. Usually we gather at the table with family and friends. It is the place we laugh and enjoy community. It is where we share our day or week, our joys and concerns. The table can also function as the place we gather to learn and discuss our faith. Many groups gathers around many tables in many churches and homes to grow deeper in our faith.

Our psalmist includes someone that maybe we’d rather not have at the table – our enemies. At the table is the best place to become not enemies. To sit and talk with someone who has wronged you or that you have wronged often leads to healing and reconciliation. It also often leads to the common ground that allows a friendship to begin. Jesus was very clear that we are to love and pray for our enemies, to forgive them, to be reconciled to them. If we are truly loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then there is not room in our hearts for enemies. When we truly live with no enemies then our head is anointed with the oils of blessing and our cup overflows with love and mercy and goodness.

The psalmist names this blessing in verse 6, saying, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”. When we dwell in the house of the Lord, we are filled with His presence and love and peace and grace and strength… Yes, indeed our cup overflows. The more it overflows the less room we allow in our hearts for enemies and hate and prejudice and stereotypes… There is then more room for God. May we each actively seek to be reconcilers and people of grace and mercy and forgiveness this day and every day, all for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, may I be filled with your love. Drive all hate and evil from my heart. Let “enemy” not be a term in my life. Grant me words of healing and mercy and life today. Amen.


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Measure Out Love

Reading: Luke 6: 32-38

Verse 36: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”.

Jesus continues in our passage today with the same radical love that we saw yesterday. Today He begins by comparing our call to love with the world’s way of love. Jesus points out that even ‘sinners’ love, do good, and lend to those who do the same to them. “What credit is it to you?” Jesus asks over and over. To just do the things the world does has no value in God’s kingdom. Again Jesus reiterates the call to love, do good to, and to lend to our enemies, but adds, “without expecting to get anything back”. This is nearing a godly love. Love them even though you know they will keep on sinning. Love us anyway God, even though you know we’ll fall short.

Why try and love as God loves? Because then we will be sons and daughters of God most high. Jesus reminds us why, saying, “because He is kind to the wicked and ungrateful”. He could just as well have said, “because He loves you”. With our worldly eyes this is hard to see, to understand. But it is the way of God and will be the way of Jesus Christ. In verse 36 Jesus offers another way to look at it: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”. Over and over again, we sin and hurt our relationship with God. Over and over. And over and over God extends mercy and says, “I still love you”. Over and over.

In the last two verses for today, Jesus gives us some examples of why we are to love even our enemies with this radical, all-encompassing love. It takes us back to the ‘golden rule’ of verse 31. But in these examples there are three parties – us, them, and God. Do not judge them and we will not be judged by God. Do not condemn them and we will not be condemned by God. Forgive them and we will be forgiven by God. Give to them and God will give to us. Love matters. It certainly does in our relationship with God so it had better matter in our relationship with others.

The section closes with this line: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. Powerful. May we measure out lots of love, mercy, and grace today and every day.

Prayer: God of love, may I practice daily what your Son lived out every day. May love be my guide as it was Jesus’ guide. Amen.


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Love in Word and Deed

Reading: Luke 6: 27-31

Verses 27-28: “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”.

The world into which Jesus speaks is a world ruled by the Roman Empire. There is peace but it is peace bought with the sword and violence. For Jesus’ audience, they would be living a controlled, limited life. The Romans controlled them, allowing a little religious freedom, but little else. Heavy taxation was the main burden. Individuals who refused to follow the rules or who rebelled or spoke out were quickly made an example of. Crucifixion was the Roman’s choice for dealing with dissenters – it was painful and gruesome and it was a visible punishment and deterrent. Jesus Himself would suffer this death. Even so, Jesus was all about love.

Today’s passage speaks into this environment. To start, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”. The Romans would have come quickly to mind, followed by others who have aligned themselves with those in authority for personal gain. To think of such as these and to think of loving, blessing, and praying for them would have seemed quite radical. It was. Jesus’ kingdom of love is not of this world. It does not make sense to the people of the world and at times it is very hard for His followers to live out.

When we are able to love or bless or pray for those who hate us, it can make a big impact both on us and on them. It changes the dynamics of the relationship and how we see each other. Love has a great deal of power.

To put that love into action can be even more powerful. This is what Jesus is talking about in verses 29 and 30 – giving, giving, giving. Love must be both words and actions. It is easy to say we love our enemies. It is the next level to actually practice it.

Our passage today closes with a version of the golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Easy to practice with our family or friends (most of the time), but harder to do with the one who just abused or mistreated or took advantage of you. Tomorrow we dive into this idea more. For today, may we love all with both our words and our deeds.

Prayer: Lord, may I love all the same, no matter who I cross paths with today. Whether my best friend or my wife or someone I do not get along with, help me to love all with your love today. Amen.


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The One with Plans

Reading: 1 Kings 2:10-12 & 3:3-5

Verse 3:5 – “At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night… and said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you'”.

In our passage today, God meets Solomon in a most unexpected place and in a surprising way. In the opening verses of our passage we learn that David has died after ruling for forty years. We recall that Solomon was the second child born to David and Bathsheba. At the time of David’s death, Solomon was the clear choice as heir to the throne. Solomon grew up during David’s reign and had learned much from his father. Once king, Solomon quickly consolidated power. (This bloody and ruthless process is detailed in the verses that our reading skips over.)

In Chapter 3, verse 3, we see what appears to be the two sides of Solomon’s faith. On the one hand, Solomon “showed his love for the Lord” by walking as his father had: keeping God’s statutes. But on the other hand, we are also told that Solomon “offered sacrifices and burnt offerings on the high places”. In doing so he was worshipping idols as he followed Canaanite practices. This apparent contradiction brings to mind the words spoken to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3. The angel tells them that they are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – and that they will be “spit out” by Jesus. In the Old Testament God is always displeased with all forms of idol worship. We expect to next read that God strikes down Solomon and finds a new king.

But the unexpected happens. God meets Solomon in this high place and, in the way only God can, says to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”. To me, this is a little like Jesus coming to Saul on the road to Damascus. This is a little like Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies. In our minds, these things do not initially make sense. But we are not the One seeing the bigger picture. We are not the One with THE plan. As with all things that God has fingerprints on, Solomon will ask well and God will bless him in abundance.

Yes, God could have righteously destroyed Solomon. But no, God had better plans for him. Yes, God could rightly look at my sins and be done with me. But God doesn’t. He says, ‘I have plans for you too’. He says the same about you. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Unconditional

Reading: Psalm 23: 5-6

Verse 5: Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

Friends are important.  We want to be loved and to love others.  As human beings, we need and seek community.  We each want to fit in or have our place in a community.

Today’s first verse in our passage is a bit disconcerting.  God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  It is wonderful that God is preparing a table for us and that He will anoint us with oil and make our cup overflow.  But in the presence of our enemies?  Yes, in their presence too.  God’s love is universal.  All are created as a child of God and are dearly loved by their maker.  God calls us to love one and all as well.  We are not identical to each other and therefore we will have differences.  We even fight and argue occasionally with those we love the most.  So God is calling us to the table of His love with both our friends and our enemies alike, asking us to unconditionally extend His love to one and all.

In doing so we will naturally begin to break down some of the walls and barriers that we construct.  In loving our enemies as God loves them we begin to see them differently.  We begin to see the ways in which we are alike and ways in which God dwells deeply in them as well.  It can be profoundly transforming to love all people as God loves them.  When we do so, then “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.

May we be bearers of God’s unconditional goodness and love today.