pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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An Intentional Choice

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Asaph, the psalmist, echoes yesterday’s call of ‘How long?’ The Psalm begins by recognizing that God presides in heaven, giving judgment. Recognizing this truth, the author then offers a great reflective question. If this truth is true, God, then “how long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” The Israelite understanding that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked does not seem to be playing out. So God, how long will you allow this?

Continuing on, the psalmist asks God to defend, rescue, uphold, and deliver the weak and fatherless, the poor and oppressed, the needy. He wants God to shed light on those who practice evil, on those who “walk about in darkness.” Speaking to these, to those who think themselves mighty and powerful, Asaph writes, “you will die like mere men.” All face the same fate in the end. Closing, the author seeks this as he writes, “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Reflecting on the Psalm today one realizes that Asaph could be writing these words today. But could we write this Psalm? Are we aware enough of the marginalized to implore God to action? For many of us, the reality is that we are not. Our lives and our circles of interaction are far from those on the edges of life. Maybe we brush up against it on a mission trip or as we read or hear a news piece. But these usually feel far away. Yet this world exists in our communities. And the weak, the fatherless, the poor, the oppressed, the needy – they live in most of our neighborhoods. May we make an intentional choice to deliver deeper, to look harder, to venture wider, to work beneath the surface in order to truly minister to the margins.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me and to our church the margins and edges that exist right here. Impassion us all to really know and really invest in practices that transform lives – and not just others’ lives but our own. Amen.


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Rise Up, O God

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth.”

Psalm 82 calls God’s attention to the wicked and to those practicing oppression. The writer of the Psalm, Asaph, calls for God to “rise up” and to “judge the earth.” As he looks at the state of affairs in the world, Asaph’s heart is broken for the “cause of the weak and fatherless” and for the “rights of the poor and oppressed.” He calls on God to rescue and deliver these from the “hand of the wicked.” These concerns that touch Asaph’s heart also touch God’s heart. So Asaph asks God, “How long?”

Asaph wants God to judge those who “walk about in darkness” as they practice evil and live self-centered lives. If honest, I must admit that there are times when I see or encounter people being greedy or selfish or mean and I hope that God intervenes and gives them their due. I too think or ask, “How long?”

As I write these words I look forward to today and to upcoming event that are planned, I’d love to live many more years on this earth. For Asaph there was a reality that when he asked God to “rise up” and bring judgment that he too would be included in that time of judgment. The same is true for me. And for you. Although far from perfect, I am covered by the blood of Jesus and hope to one day attain my eternal inheritance. Day by day I seek to resist the pull to be greedy and selfish. Day by day I seek to bring light and love into the darkness and pain of this world. A great day of judgment is coming. May we be found worthy of standing in the great cloud of witness.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me day by day so that all I do and say and think may be pleasing in your sight. Turn me from evil when temptation arises. Guard my heart against pride and selfishness. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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A Plumb Line

Reading: Amos 7:7-17

Verse 8: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.”

Amos was a prophet sent by God during the reigns of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam in Israel. God’s people had already divided into two kingdoms and their ungodly living has continued this downward spiral. As Amos came and began to speak God’s words, he condemned many of their actions and behaviors. As our passage begins, God shows Amos a plumb line. It is a tool used to build walls true and square.

In verse 8 God says, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” As God compares the true line revealed by this simple tool, it reveals that Israel has gotten askew. The nation has wandered from God. From the king on down through the priests and on down through the people, walking in the ways of God is a distant memory. God declares that this will not be tolerated any longer. The high places and sanctuaries will be torn down. The land will be conquered and divided. Many will die and many others will be carried off into exile.

It strikes me that this reading falls on a day when we celebrate our nation’s independence from England. If God were to send Amos to our nation today, plumb line in hand, would God have a different judgment upon us? And to turn it more personal, if the plumb line were held up against our life, what would it reveal?

Prayer: Lord God, I know I am not what you desire me to be. I fail more often than I faithfully live out my faith. I don’t always act justly. I don’t always practice mercy and kindness. I don’t always walk humbly with you or with my fellow human beings. Reveal to me the times and ways that I am askew. By your love, draw me closer to what you desire of me. Amen.


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A Deeper Truth

Reading: Isaiah 58:1-5

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

Today’s passage is titled “True Fasting” in my Bible. One could easily substitute “prayer” or “worship” for fasting, changing the corresponding descriptors, and God would be talking about the same thing: holy and righteous living versus going through the motions. The passage begins with God telling Isaiah to “shout it aloud, do not hold back.” Tell it like it is Isaiah! God goes on, “Declare to my people their rebellion… their sins.” Give it to them Isaiah!

As the passage continues God notes that the people “seem eager” to be near to God, to be faithful. Yet they do not sense God’s presence. They ask where God is. On the day of fasting, a day to be set aside as holy and one dedicated to God, the people “exploit their workers” and they “quarrel” and they strike one another with “wicked fists.” God is clear: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” It’s nice that you’re fasting and all, but that faith you claim – it must affect and impact all areas of your life or it’s just for show. Faith is not just a hit or miss thing. It must be 24/7/365.

While all of this is true, we must be aware of a deeper truth and our tendency to fall into a trap. Even though the Israelites are just going through the motions, God longs for them to turn to God with a sincere heart. No matter what they are acting like and no matter what they’ve done (or not done), God continues to call out to them. That’s what God is doing here as Isaiah fulfills his role as prophet. In this truth about God always calling out, there is a caution for us. When someone has been away for a while or when someone shows up because they do not know where else to turn and have exhausted every option, may we check our judgment at the door. Those twists and turns, those ups and downs – just God getting the soil ready, fertile. So as we hold the door open, as we pick up the phone, as we sit down for coffee, may we sincerely and genuinely welcome them into relationship both with us and with the God of love. God’s love always calls out to the list and the hurting – no exceptions, no limits, no barriers. May our love mirror God’s as we seek to walk faithfully day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, in the millions and millions of times that I have failed to love and in the zillions of times that I have stumbled and fallen short, not once have you rejected me, not once have you said “Do this” or “clean that up first”. Your arms are always opened wide to me. Help me to live and love this way too. Thank you. Amen.


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Choose Wisely

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse 6: “The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

In the first year of a 20 year teaching career I was new to the school and to the community. I became friends with a few teachers that I worked with. They decided to buy a season pass to a golf course and to golf a couple days a week during the summer. I bought a pass. We’d drive up together and each day on the way home we’d stop at a casino. They’d gamble and we would all have a beer or two. The comraderie was great and there was nothing terribly wrong with the stop on the way home, but by the end of the summer I knew that I needed to make better choices for myself and for my young family. The next summer I started a small construction company with another teacher friend. This filled my summers for the next 20+ years.

In today’s Psalm we are reminded that who we surround ourselves with matters a lot. The psalmist first states that blessed is the man who does not hang out with sinners, mockers, and other evil people. The writer then identifies those who delight in the law of the Lord as blessed. The wicked are described as “chaff” – easily swayed and influenced. These, the psalmist says, will not be able to stand on the day of judgment. The Psalm concludes with these words: “The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” An eternal life in glory awaits the faithful. Hallelujah!

The Psalm invites us to choose our friends wisely. If we choose to surround ourselves with good and spiritually mature people, then we will become more and more of who God created us to be. In light of this counsel and wisdom from Psalm 1, reflect upon who you surround yourself with. Do those who you choose to affect and influence your choices and decisions positively impact your life and your faith? Who do you need to spend more time with? Who should you be around less?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to those who bring out the best in me and who foster the best from me. Thank you for the brothers and sisters in Christ that you have placed in my life. Help me to be a good brother to others. Amen.


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.


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Walking in the Light

Reading: 1st John 1:5 – 2:2

Verse 7: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”.

Yesterday we looked at the idea of having fellowship with Jesus, the light. Continuing on in 1st John 1 and into chapter two, John unpacks what it means to walk in the light. John uses the familiar language of light and darkness imagery to represent good and evil. In God “there is no darkness at all”. God is good and holy and righteous and perfect. In verse six John explains that if we claim to be in fellowship with God and then sin, we “lie and do not live by the truth”. Sin separates us from God. Our darkness cannot be a part of God’s light.

Sin is a reality in our lives. We are imperfect human beings, attracted to the pleasures of the world. John warns against thinking otherwise. In verse eight he states “If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves”. We are all sinners. But we are not necessarily condemned. In the next verse John gives us hope: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins”. God does not want us to be slaves to our sin. God does not want us to stay stuck in our sin. God desires to be in fellowship, in relationship with us. So God provides a way.

Jesus Christ is our “atoning sacrifice”, the one who already paid the price for our sins. Not only has the price been paid, but Jesus continues to “speak to the Father in our defense”. Jesus continues to stand between us and the judgment of God. In alignment with these words, the Spirit speaks into our hearts, guiding us in the way of Christ. With the Spirit’s power and presence it is possible to walk in the light. Holy Spirit, lead and guide us today!

Prayer: Lord, I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. Fill me with your Spirit power today, enabling me to live as your child today. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 50: 3-6

Verse 3: “Our God will come and will not be silent”.

Photo credit: Bill Oxford

The reality of God is on full display in these verses from Psalm 50. While we prefer to avoid this truth about God, in fact he will one day judge us all. Whether we stand or kneel before him all by ourselves or whether we come to the throne of judgment following the rapture or the final days, we will all find ourselves in the place of judgment. The psalmist opens with “Our God will come and will not be silent”. The creator of this world and all that is in it has the right to determine our worthiness to enter his perfect eternity. God will not be silent on that day.

Continuing into verse four the psalmist declares that God will indeed “judge his people”. As the fire devours some, God will bring before him the “consecrated ones” – those who chose to enter the covenant to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Ultimately the comparison will be made with Jesus, the one who came and showed us what it means, what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that we are. We have no better example. While God does not expect us to be perfect, to never sin, to always get it just right, God does expect us to strive to be more like Christ, to resist sin, and to ever answer and follow the call of the Holy Spirit. To use a John Wesley term, we are ever “going on to perfection”. Day by day we are to seek to grow in our love of God and in our love of neighbor, coming closer and closer to the perfection that we find in Jesus Christ so that one day we may be perfected.

The day and hour remain unknown. One day the righteous one will come, God himself as judge. As we consider the condition of our soul and as we ponder our daily walk with Jesus, where will we be judged worthy? Where are we still falling short? Day by day may we honor the covenant more and more, ever bringing increasing glory to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Prayer: Lord God, walking day by day with you is such a joy. Yet some days I fail to love you completely. Other days I fail to love my neighbor as Jesus would have loved them. Each day become more of me so that I may reflect more of you to the world. Grow in me so that I may grow in you. Amen.


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Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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The Foundation

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse 1: “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”.

As our passage opens today, we learn that Moses is once again up on the mountain speaking with God. This is not the first or last time that Moses speaks to God. Conversations have already happened many times and this is his third or fourth trip up the mountain. Moses’ conversations with God are sprinkled throughout their forty years in the wilderness. But this trip takes longer than usual. The people grow restless and they gather around Aaron, who is second in charge. They say to him, “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”. Scholars believe the Israelites have been in the wilderness about three months at this point. The many gods of Egypt are still fresh in their minds. Aaron fashions a golden calf and the people worship as the Egyptians had. The Israelites rise early and offer sacrifices and then proceed to eating and drinking and they party it up.

My initial reading of the passage stirred up feelings of judgment inside of me. How could they so quickly lose their focus on God? Then I remembered that snow day back in college. The weather was so bad that school was cancelled. We walked to the liquor store first thing that morning so we could “celebrate” not having to go to class. Classes the next day weren’t the best. Another reaction I felt was disgust with how easily they abandoned Moses, the one who has led them so faithfully. That triggered another thought, also from college. Sometimes the professor was late for class. In about one minute we were discussing how long we needed to wait. We’d give five minutes if we didn’t like the class and a whole ten minutes if we really like the professor or the class. Moses was “always” correcting them and giving “tons” of rules to follow. Maybe those who chafed at these things were the first voices to stir the pot, rallying the people to abandon this fellow Moses.

These are but two examples of times when I have quickly fallen into poor decisions or have abandoned leaders who had my best interests at heart. I believe we all have these experiences. Like sheep we are easily led astray. Like the Israelites, we can quickly turn to our own “golden calves” – to things or people that we think will make us happy or that we think will do what we want them to do. We too can quickly abandon the Lord our God when it seems to be taking too long for that answer to prayer or when the outcome isn’t to our liking. We quickly turn to our selfish desires and to the things of the world. As we are honest and acknowledge these truths today, may this story serve as both a reminder and as a warning. May it serve to always help us to keep God as our foundation, as our guide and as our way of life. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, when I begin to look to other things, when my heart starts to wander, send the Holy Spirit’s voice to call me back to your ways. When my will begins to rise up, gently nudge me away from placing self on the throne of my heart. Help me day by day to find peace and joy and contentment in following you. Amen.