pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Emptied To Be Filled

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Moving on from the ways that the Israelites “seem” to want to be close to and to know God, especially through fasting, God shifts gears, asking, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?” The answer to this question is wide and involved. The answers are a series of actions that reveal how we are to be salt and light in the world.

The expressions of light and love that God calls us to begin with fighting injustice and ending oppression. God next calls us to provide food and shelter and clothing to those in need. Lastly God calls (or maybe challenges) us to not turn away from our own “flesh and blood.” These actions align us with the will of God and they mirror the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. A fast or any other spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God should lead us to better reflect God out into the world. If it does not, then we are fooling ourselves and falling woefully short of who and what God created and wants us to be.

A true drawing close to God will naturally lead to an emptying of self. As we deepen our relationship with God it deepens our relationships with one another – friend and stranger alike. As we are emptied, God fills us with love and compassion and mercy and many other things that lead us into humble service. And as we fill ourselves with the will and way of God we experience God’s presence. From there may we choose to allow that presence to guide us out into the world, empowering others to experience the life-changing power of God. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may my worship of you not stop simply between me and you. May my worship be revealed in all aspects of my life. As I seek to yield more and more to your will and way, guide me to reveal who and what you are to a world in need. Amen.


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Rejoice and Be Glad

Reading: Matthew 5:10-12

Verse 11: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

The closing verses of the Beatitudes bring home the reality that the practice of our faith can bring challenge and trial to our life. The demands that Christ places upon us to be love and grace and mercy lived out in the world – these practices will create tension and even angry responses at times. When our faith leads us to take a stand against an injustice or oppression or other evil actions of the world, the one(s) causing these evils will react against our presence and the words of truth that we speak. The reaction often takes the form of some type of persecution.

In verses 10 and 11 Jesus tells us “blessed are” you when we are persecuted. He unpacks what we may experience in verses 11: when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” When we shine the light of truth into the darkness of the world, that darkness tries to snuff out the light. Darkness cannot stand being in the light. Darkness will try anything to avoid being in that light. Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad” when the darkness strikes against us. He can say this because he knows the same truth that we do: “great is your reward in heaven.” Living faithfully may we rejoice in this promise always.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and courage to live faithfully at all times, especially in those situations that may bring challenge and hardship. I know you are with me at all times – good, bad, and in between. Use me to stand and speak for those without the power or ability to do so for themselves. Amen.


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Patience while Standing Firm

Reading: James 5:7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

In our passage from James the themes are patience and standing firm in our faith. On our best of days we have heaps of patience as we stand firm on a deep faith. This is not the scenario into which James writes these words. Verses 5-10 follow up the words of verses 1-4. In the first verses James is condemning the wealthy and powerful who are abusing their workers. Our passage today is to these workers, to those who have cried out to God for fair wages and just working conditions.

When we’re not having our best days, we can relate to the challenge of practicing a patience that is grounded in solid faith. When we’ve experienced injustice or iniquity we too have cried out. Into those times James says, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” James is calling for us to trust in God, to lean into both God’s goodness and God’s righteousness. He invites us to recall the prophets who exhibited patience and faith in the face of great suffering. In verse 11 James cites Job as a great example of patience grounded in an enduring faith.

James also reminds us that “the judge is standing at the door.” This comes right after a warning against our tendency to judge each other. This task is the Lord’s charge. Maybe that’s what James is reminding us of. But perhaps there is a second meaning too. Maybe he’s also inviting us to allow Jesus to guard the door to our heart. Inviting Christ to stand there, he will prevent the temptation to judge from entering into our heart. In reality, I think it is both applications.

Moment by moment, day by day, may we practice being patient with God and with one another. May we be led and guided by the firm foundation of our faith. Doing so we will increasingly glorify the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, on those days when life is hard, whisper these words into my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are right there at the door, awaiting the invitation to enter in. Guide me to open my heart to your love. Amen.


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Cry Out, Trust, Act

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4

Verse 3: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?”

Photo credit: Mukund Nair

We begin the week with the prophet Habakkuk. He wrote in about 600 BC, in the years just after the Babylonians destroyed Israel and took many away into exile. The leaders of Israel had wandered from God, taking the people with them. Living in sin and ignoring God’s laws had a devastating impact. It led to a time of great suffering – both for those led away and for the remnant left behind. Most of the people were adrift and disconnected from God. It is into this situation that Habakkuk asks God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” How long God must I ask for help turning these lost souls back to you? This is a great question we too ask when we look at our world today.

In verse 3 the prophet laments, asking, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” This is an extension of the ‘how long?’ question. Habakkuk asks God how long must they suffer. How long must we pay the price for our sin? These are questions that reveal deep faith in God. They are in the situation they are in because God is just. The prophet questions and cries out as a witness to his faith. Habakkuk seeks God because he believes that only God can move the people from faithless to faithful. The prophet knows that God alone has the power to save them.

As we look at our world today we can identify areas of injustice and of suffering. We too can cry out to God, asking ‘how long?’ As we cry out to God, may we, like Habakkuk, do so trusting that God is mighty and powerful and just. In faith may we trust in God’s good purposes. And, like the prophet, may we too come to see that God has a role for us to play in bringing healing and wholeness to the pain and brokenness of our world.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see the places in need of your love and healing. Fill my heart with compassion and empathy. And then move me to action, to a part to play in helping others to experience your power to save and to restore and to redeem. Amen.


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Bold and Trusting

Reading: Jeremiah 32:8-15

Verses 8-9: “I knew this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth.”

As the Babylonians besiege the city, Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel comes to him, just as God had foretold, to sell Jeremiah his field. Jeremiah was also under house arrest for prophesying against the king and for speaking of Babylon’s great victory over Judah. Instead of waiting to see how all of this plays out, Jeremiah buys the field. He buys it just as he has prophesied – boldly and in full public view. There is a witness and lots of people present to see this “crazy” purchase. But this is just Jeremiah being Jeremiah. He is fully trusting in God, just as he has always done. To put a stamp on it, in verse 15 he says, “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” What feels like doomsday, what feels like the end, it’s not. Israel’s story will continue again one day.

Where in our world or in our lives might God be asking us to act with the same boldness and trust? What feels like it might be coming to an end that God can give new life to? Maybe it is a chapter in your work life. This calls for trust that one door will open as another is closing. Maybe it is a loss you’ve endured. This calls for brave steps forward into your “new normal.” Maybe it is an injustice that’s been happening for too long. You feel a call to speak truth and to redeem this situation. Maybe it is something stirring that you can’t quite identify. This calls for prayer. Whatever or wherever God is calling you or I to, may we be as bold and trusting as Jeremiah.

Prayer: Lord God, how do you desire to use me? What bold and perhaps crazy step of faith are you calling me to? Empower me, fill me with a holy courage. Guide me into your will and purposes. Amen.


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Good Grapes?

Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

Verse 2: “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”

Photo credit: Nacho Dominguez Argenta

The first 7 verses of Isaiah 5 are titled “The Song of the Vineyard.” In the opening verse we learn that it is a song “for the one I love.” As the song begins we see that the loved one found a fertile hillside and tilled the soil, clearing the stones. Into this perfect soil the choicest vibes are planted. A watchtower and wine press are built. The vineyard planter awaits sweet, juicy grapes. It all sounds so beautiful. What awesome plans God has for the chosen people!

At the end of verse 2 we read, “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” What a taste it would leave in the mouth! Everything was given great attention, down to the smallest detail. What should have been the pride of all the world was far from it. It was foul! The only chosen people on all the earth – yet God now laments, saying, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” God provided the Promised Land, clearing away every enemy, removing every stone. God provided laws to guide them and built walls for their safety.

But instead of holiness and righteousness shining forth from the city on a hill, they were yielding bad fruit. Greed, injustice, religious indifference – this was the bad fruit. In verses 5-7 we see the consequences, both physically and spiritually. All will be lost. This same scenario, this same choice plays out in our lives. God nurtures us and cares for us, protects us and provided for us. How will we respond? Will we reflect God’s holiness and care and compassion and righteousness? We too must decide. How will you respond?

Prayer: Lord God, prune away anything that is unholy or impure within me. Trim it away so that my life produces good fruit – fruit that is pleasing to you. Amen.


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Like the Dawn

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.”

Today is Ash Wednesday. Some will gather for worship. It will focus on our mortality, on our limits. It will invite us to admit our weakness and to commit to a season of dying to self as we seek to grow in our Christlikeness. Lent should be a challenging season. It calls us to look within and to root out those parts of self that lead to temptation and sin, to selfishness and an inward focus. Today’s words from Isaiah 58 speak to all of this.

As we turn to today’s passage, we begin with a question: what if God is not really talking about a traditional fast? When we think of fasting we tend to think of abstaining from something. Chocolate and alcohol and television used to be popular. More recently coffee and social media and cell phones have entered the conversation. But when we read verses 7 and 8, God is calling for a different kind of fast. It is a fast that involves doing or action instead of giving up some item. It is a fast that calls us outside of self and towards engaging and serving others. In many ways God is calling us to fast from selfishness and our inward focus.

God calls faithful people to fight injustice and oppression, to feed and shelter and clothe. God is calling us to stand with and for those who are downtrodden, mistreated, abused. God is calling us to walk alongside those with physical needs. It is a call to fast from self, to pour oneself out for others, to humbly serve as Christ served. To realize that this is the fast God is calling us to may lead some to slide back into the relative ease of giving up sweets or Facebook. May it not be so for you and for me.

In verses 8 and 9 we gain insight into the yield or fruits of living this kind of a fast. In verse 8 God says, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear” and in verse 9 adds, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer.” When we focus not on self but on God and those around us, then we are close to the heart of God and God is close to us. This deep and intimate connection is the product of righteous and humble faith. In verse 11 God says, “Then your light will rise in the darkness.” Our light and God’s light will shine upon all who are near, upon all who are thirsty, upon all who are searching, upon all who are hurting, upon all who are broken. These will be drawn to the light of God’s love. In that light, God will say, “Here I am.”

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and live outside of myself. Heal me from self. Open my eyes and heart to all those around me who need to be drawn into the light of your love. Amen.


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Trusting and Leaning into God

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 and 16-17

Verses 3-4: “If only I knew where to find God… I would state my case before God.”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

As we jump forward this week to chapter 23, much has happened in the twenty plus chapters. This section centers on the conversations between Job and his three friends. Running throughout is the understanding that Job must have sinned to cause all this hardship to befall him and his family. Job counters this common ancient line of thought with his responses. He is sure of his innocence. He is blameless. Job longs for an audience with God. He thinks that then God will really hear his case and will respond to Job as God should. At least as Job thinks God should respond to his unjust suffering. Job too is operating from this ancient mindset. He just thinks there has maybe been some mistake made in the heavenly realms.

Job knows that God is all-powerful. Job knows that God alone can give and take away. Job knows that God is loving and that God can make things ‘right’ for this faithful servant. But in the depth of his suffering, in the bottom of the valley, it seems that God is absent. Adding to this feeling are his friends. Friends are supposed to support and encourage one another. These friends end up doing the opposite in the end. God is supposed to hear the cries of the oppressed, of those experiencing injustice. Yet God seems to be nowhere to be found. Job states, “If only I knew where to find God… I would state my case before God.” Job still believes in God’s love and justice, in God’s power and might. He just longs to know God’s presence, to have a chance to speak with God.

Things aren’t lining up. They aren’t making sense for Job. What he thinks he knows about God is not matching his present reality. At times we all end up here. At times we all want to express our bitter complaints to God, sure that God will make all things right. And some of the time we end up where Job is – asking where God is. This is a tipping point of faith. Our head knows things our heart isn’t feeling. We may be tempted to walk away from God. We might even do so for a short season. We may feel as Job did: that God has “made my heart faint.” And when we’re there – as we all will be – may we remember Job’s response: “I am not silenced by the darkness.” Trusting and leaning into God, may we walk in faith, praying to our God who is faithful and true.

Prayer: Lord God, it can be hard to keep praying when the darkness persists. It can feel so hopeless and lonely in the bottom of the valley. Help us to remember the truths: you are faithful, you are true, you are steadfast, you are loving and good. Trusting in you, draw us to our knees, assured of your presence. Leaning into you, draw us into your purposes for our lives. Empower us to prayerfully walk in faith, clinging to you at all times. Amen.


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More Than Enough

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

Verse 8: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”.

Photo credit: KMA

In our passage from 2nd Samuel we see God at work in David’s life. God sends Nathan the prophet to tell David a story. Although David has just committed some pretty horrendous sins, there is still a part of David that quickly recognizes injustice… I think we are all a bit like this. Outside of ourselves we quickly see when things are wrong.

Nathan tells David the story of a rich and powerful man who takes what he wants from a poor and insignificant man. David is outraged at the injustice. He rails against the actions of the rich man. He wants justice done. And then Nathan drops the bombshell: “You are the man”. Nathan goes on to remind David of how God has blessed and blessed and blessed David. At times we need this reminder too. When we get a bit of a woe-is-me attitude over some trivial thing, we too need to remember how blessed we are.

Verse eight is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for David and for you and me. It is also an invitation to contentment. This trait can be hard to live into in our culture that pontificates often about more, bigger, and better. Through Nathan God says to David and to us: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”. God desires good and blessing for his children. God’s care and provision for us reveals his love for us. God might not give us the winning lottery ticket but God does want to fulfill the true desires of our heart. May we learn to trust into God. For with God, we have more than enough.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to see the greener grass or the shinier thing, remind me of my place in the center of your love. Remind me of the depth of your love for me. You are my all in all. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Known by Justice

Reading: Psalm 9: 9-20

Verses 15-16: “The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug… The Lord is known by his justice”.

Photo credit: Kalea Morgan

David begins our passage by declaring the Lord a refuge and stronghold. God is a God of all peoples yet has a heart for those on the edges. This was clearly visible in the life and ministry of Jesus, God in the flesh. Jesus gravitated towards and attracted the marginalized, the outcast, the lost, the least. As a nation we have wandered far from the example set by Jesus.

In verses fifteen and sixteen we read, “The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug… The Lord is known by his justice”. In most “modern” nations individualism and greed have guided our culture and leaders. Finding a humble servant on that stage is rare today. Success and profit margins, status and power, appearances and materialism – all have become woes of our nation. Elevating these values and goals has clearly decreased how we as a society value those without these things. Worse yet, those with see it as their right to exploit, oppress, and manipulate these unjust economic and political dynamics to increase the gap between the haves and have nots.

How would God look upon our land today? “The Lord is known by his justice”. As Christians are we known for our stance against injustice, for our work to end oppression in whatever form it presents itself?

Later in the Psalm David writes, “The needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish”. As God’s people, may we walk alongside those in need; may we walk hand in hand with those being afflicted. May we join the Lord in the healing of the nations.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs and afflictions in my little corner of the world. The work must begin at home. Lead and guide me to stand for justice and equality for all. Amen.