pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Remember, Live Out

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Verse 10: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing.'”

As we turn to Nehemiah this week we step into the time period where the return from exile has begun. A small group returned and rebuilt the altar and temple. Ezra the priest came next, giving spiritual direction and some encouragement to those who were rebuilding. Nehemiah was then sent by King Artaxerxes to empower and spur on the rebuilding of the walls and gates. Despite opposition from those who had moved into the area during the exile, the walls were rebuilt, bringing security and a sense of peace to the Israelites. In today’s passage the people can now turn their attention to rebuilding their spiritual foundations.

Ezra reads from and explains the Law to the people. The people listened attentively and responded with “Amen”! The word of God was calling the people back into a faithful walk with God. The people wept and mourned. They cried tears of joy and tears of sadness – tears of joy for the hope and love that God was offering, tears of sadness for their time in exile. Joy for what could and should be for God’s people; sadness for what was instead. These themes were often a focus of one of our nation’s recent prophets – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we recognize and celebrate the life of a great man of God. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of justice and equality, of the hope and joy of truly living into God’s vision for the kingdom here on earth. With this vision in mind, Dr. King worked to end injustice and discrimination, poverty and oppression. These are characteristics of all great men of faith. In our passage today, Nehemiah demonstrates these characteristics. In verse 10 we read, “send some to those who have nothing.” Care for the poor and needy. This was not just a one-time concern because of a verse that Ezra has read that day. Earlier, in chapter 5, Nehemiah puts an end to the wealthy and powerful taking advantage of the poor and needy. It was and is against God’s Law to treat others unjustly. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., and another prophet that we know well, Nehemiah stood for those without voice or power. These men understood God’s vision for all of humanity. They understood that faith,justice, love, equality, hope, and kindness must be the foundations for not only our faith but also for the kingdom of God here on earth. These remain the foundations yet today.

Nehemiah recognized his responsibility to lead with those without in mind. Jesus came and upheld the cause of the downtrodden, the outcast, the marginalized. Today we celebrate a modern prophet who led as these and many others have led, with the love of God as his power and with “the joy of the Lord” as his strength. May we too ever remember and live out our call to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, with the outcast and the marginalized.

Prayer: Lord, I am thankful for the reminder today of what your kingdom on earth should look like. Nudge me, prod me, poke me… remind me over and over to act and speak on behalf of those held down, pushed aside, made to feel less than. In and with your love and strength, empower me to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Your Love, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 5: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

As we turn once more to Psalm 36 this week we are reminded today of the scope of God’s love. In verse 5 we join the psalmist in praising God for the love and faithfulness that extends as far as we can imagine. Then we rejoice in God’s righteousness – a righteousness that is stronger than the mightiest thing we know: mountains. And then we celebrate God’s justice – a justice that has more volume than the most vast thing we know: the oceans. God’s love, faithfulness… is not just for us. It extends to “both man and beast”. All of creation “feasts on the abundance” and takes “drink from your river of delight”. The scope is all-encompassing.

In our day we need to not only be reminded of these truths – we also need to practice them. This has always been the case. It is how Christians witness to their faith. In the really early church, when a plague swept through the Roman Empire, it was the Christians who cared for those that families set out in the streets to die. In times of hardship and trial, it continues to be people of faith who show up at their neighbor’s house with food or other needed items. At work or at school, it is faith that leads believers to reach out to someone that is hurting or is alone, bringing comfort, letting them know that they too are loved.

In the closing verse of our passage the psalmist asks God to “continue your love to those who know you.” As we not only remember and rejoice in God’s love, faithfulness… but as we practice it too may we ever be filled with these things so that we can pour them out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I know the depth and width of your love for me. I too know that love is for all people. Help me this day to share that love with one who does not know it. Amen.


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Who or What?

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 9: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

The section of Psalm 36 that we read today begins with these words: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” There is a “grand sweep” feeling here. The psalmist reminds us that God’s love and faithfulness are everywhere. This immensity of God continues in the next verse. God’s righteousness is like a “mighty mountain” and God’s justice is like the “great deep” – vast as the ocean! These words, images, and the feelings they create can carry us and can fill up our faith.

And then I think about our world. Illness runs rampant across the globe. Sides continue to fight about anything and everything pandemic related. The political landscape here feels worse than that. No one seems to be able to hire enough help yet many sit at home. The world is a mess right now. Somehow this is hard to align with the everywhere immensity of God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.

But, then again, God is not the God of all people. In verse 7 we read, “Both high and low among mankind find refuge in the shadows of your wings.” We find refuge. To find it we have to seek it. To seek it one has to want it. To want it one must desire God more than the things of this world. It is a choice. God desires a relationship with all people – “both high and low” and all in between. But God won’t force it. Each must decide who or what they will worship.

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” I want to walk as a child of the light. I will seek the Lord. I will find refuge in the shadow of his wings. Who or what do you choose to worship?

Prayer: Lord, in you there is life. That life is contentment, peace, joy, hope, assurance, love. Your kingdom rests on faith, righteousness, justice. You offer rest and refuge from the things of this world. Strengthen and encourage me today as I seek to walk in your light. Amen.


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True Peace

Reading: Colossians 3: 15-17

Verse 17: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul begins by encouraging us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” He goes on to remind us that as part of the body of Jesus Christ – as an extension of Jesus himself – “you were called to peace.” This peace, this peace that Jesus sought and practiced, was not an easy or comfortable peace. It is a peace for everyone. D. L. Mayfield describes true peace as “justice for all and a world where everyone flourishes.” When we see our call to peace as part of accomplishing true peace, then we are beginning to see and understand what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Pursuing this kind of all encompassing true peace will put us in conflict. This may seem odd but it is a natural outcome when so many in our world live for self and to accumulate more and more. These worldly truths fly in the face of justice for all and a world where all people flourish. When we choose to stand for the marginalized and powerless and when we speak for those experiencing injustice or oppression or abuse, we are stepping where Jesus stepped, challenging the status quo. Conflict will come to us too as we stand against the evils of this world.

Seeking true peace for all people is part of our mission to transform this world, making it more like the kingdom of God. I alone cannot change the world. But I can be the change in a few lives. A church alone cannot change the world. But it can be the change in a neighborhood or community. One person at a time, one community at a time, the light and love and peace of Jesus Christ can change the world. As Paul wrote in verse seventeen, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Prayer: Lord God, just one more, just one more, just one more. May that be my way of walking as Jesus Christ’s follower in the world. Bless the church to be change agents, bringers of true peace. Amen.


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Greater Still

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 18-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Continuing to point towards the day when the Lord God will restore Judah and Jerusalem, Zephaniah speaks hope to those who are separated from God. The people’s disobedience offended God’s sense of justice. Because of their great sin they were almost unrecognizable to God. Disaster would befall the people. But God’s love was greater still. The God who is mighty to save will one day restore Israel as well as the other nations of the world.

In verse nineteen we read, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.” The army that Zephaniah predicted will come and destroy, leaving behind a small remnant while carrying many off into exile. The remnant was a shell of what was and will struggle to survive. They are the lame that God will rescue. Those carried off will lose connection with God. Living in a foreign land they will be unable to worship in the temple; they will not be able to celebrate the annual holy feasts. They too will become a shell of what once was. These are the scattered that God will gather. Reflecting back upon Zephaniah’s words many years later, the Israelites will see and better understand the need for both God’s justice and God’s love.

At times we too can find hope in these words. At times life will leave us struggling – illness or disease, unwanted change, bad decisions… We can find ourselves in need of rescue. At times we will wander off, straying from our faith. We too can end up far away from God, as if we were living in a foreign land. Once there, we need God to gather us back in. At times these forces can intertwine and build one upon the other. “Life” happens and we begin to doubt or to question God, leading our faith into a place of uncertainty or maybe even separation from God. In this place we need both rescue and gathering. As it was with God’s people of old so it will be with us today. “At that time I will gather you: at that time I will bring you home.” God’s love is greater still. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in a place that feels void of your presence, stir up the Holy Spirit in my heart. Remind me of your living presence and of your great love for even me. Thank you for your steadfast love. Amen.


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Loving Unconditionally

Reading: Jeremiah 33:16

Verse 16: “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.”

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Jeremiah speaks of a day that is coming. His words of hope point to a future with hope. The righteous branch that will sprout “in those days” will do what is right. In today’s verse we again read, “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.” Jeremiah points forward to the day when “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” Jesus came and was this branch, this champion of justice and righteousness. He set the example of unconditional love. Jesus cast the vision for the kingdom that could be. Those with power were threatened by this vision. Jesus was crucified. Ever since then we have struggled to follow his example, to make this vision of a just and righteous world a reality.

As people of faith we long for a just and righteous world. We long for a society where all people have value and worth, where all people have food, shelter, community. Yet these remain goals only; these longings are simply not the reality. We live in a world that has long followed different goals. Accumulating power and authority and wealth has long been the guiding forces for many. We have long been a nation of haves and have nots. As those with power have taken, a trail of oppressed, marginalized, and abused peoples have been left, scattered across our history. Pockets of these people can be found in our cities, on our reservations, and in small communities left behind as a industry moved on and as technology advanced beyond them. Left behind the have nots struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness, gangs, addictions, and more. There are many, many, many places in our nation where we would not want our children or grandchildren to grow up. Safety and well-being are scarce in these places.

As people of faith, how do we respond to these realities? First, we acknowledge that these struggles are present in most of our communities. Second, we become intentional about knowing our neighbors, the folks just up the road. Third, we make ways to minister to them. One family at a time, one person at a time, we share the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, giving instead of taking, transforming lives and the world in which we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give us eyes to see the needs all around us. In many ways and in many places may we begin to step into the hardships and into the darkness, bringing love and hope and light to those without. Give us the courage to change the world. Give us the strength to love all of our neighbors unconditionally. May it begin with me. Amen.


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Freedom, Justice, Righteousness

Reading: Jeremiah 33: 14-15

Verse 15: “I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land”.

This week’s readings begin with two days in Jeremiah 33. This chapter is titled “Promise of Restoration” in my Bible. Jeremiah was a prophet who spoke to Israel during a time of difficulty. The Israelites were under the domination of the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. They longed for freedom and a time when they could fully live as the people of God. The Israelites desired to live under God’s leadership alone, to return to a time when justice and goodness were the norm. These desires are some of the deepest desires of every human being. All of humanity desires freedom, justice, and goodness to be the hallmarks of their society and communities.

Speaking to these people living in captivity, Jeremiah proclaims these words from God: “I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land”. The just and good leader will be Jesus Christ. Born in the city of David, born in the family tree, will be the baby Jesus. About 600 years before God arrived in the flesh, Jeremiah points to this fulfillment of God’s promise made to David. Jeremiah speaks of a leader who will be “just and right”. In the healings and restorative works that he offered, Jesus certainly treated those on the edges and margins with justice. He valued them; he saw them as worthy and beloved. He freed them from the bonds that separated them from community. In all he said and did, Jesus modeled righteousness. Being fully obedient to God, Jesus gave us the perfect example of what it looks like to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as self. Jesus embodied freedom and justice and goodness.

As we draw near to the season of Advent may we seek to follow Jesus’ example, living a life of freedom in Christ, bearing justice for all, and bringing goodness to all. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, what an awesome example Jesus set for us. Use me today to share your love with others, enabling them to experience and know the freedom, justice, and righteousness that you offer to the world. Amen.


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Leading

Reading: 2nd Samuel 23: 1-7

Verses 3-4: “When one rules over men in righteousness… in fear of God, he is like the light of morning.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Our passage today brings us God’s word to David about leading. He is at the end of his life, reflecting on being king. He begins with God’s words to him about being a good leader: “When one rules over men in righteousness… in fear of God, he is like the light of morning.” David sought to love God, to be a man after God’s own heart. He sought to live in righteousness, in reverence of God. David walked with God and God blessed his reign. David was light to his people. He provided safety and security for those living in his kingdom. David brought hope to the people and increased Israel’s prosperity.

For almost all of his reign David ruled with justice, seeking to bring good to all. But at least once David abused his power, using it to gratify his own pleasures. Power can be abused. It can harm others. Power can be used to serve self instead of God or the common good. When used in these ways, power adversely affects those on the margins, those without power themselves. In David’s day these would be the widows and orphans, the aliens or foreigners living among them. Such as these remain those without power today. Good and just rules care for these, protect these.

While we may not lead a nation like David did, we all have power. In the places where we have power and influence, do we ourselves exhibit righteousness and a healthy fear of God? Are we light and hope to those within our spheres of leadership? Do we see and care for those on the margins? Out of the line of David came the one who saw all people as beloved and worthy. The one who fulfilled the covenant, the one who brought salvation, he truly loved unconditionally. As people led by Holy Spirit power, may we too love unconditionally, seeing all people as beloved children of God, as worthy of God’s love and our love.

Prayer: Lord God, may justice and mercy and love go before me. May peace and hope and joy go with me. May others see Christ in me today. Amen.


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Anointed by God

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”.

Photo credit: Fulvio Ciccolo

Psalm 45 is a song about a king that will soon marry his bride. Although we do not know for sure, Solomon could certainly be the king – he was wise and was part of the Davidic line that reigns forever. The verses we read today are focused on the qualities of the king and of God. These qualities are ones we too should model to the world.

Verse two connects God’s blessings to the king’s character: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”. Being touched by and covered in God’s grace, the king has been blessed. In the next three verses, which we did not read today, the blessing comes in victories in battles with his enemies. We too experience such blessings. God often intervenes in our lives, saving us from this situation or that threat. Some of the time we notice. Once we kneel at the throne of grace and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we too are anointed with God’s blessings.

In verses six through nine the psalmist turns his attention and addresses God. Acknowledging that God will reign forever, the writer recognizes that justice will be “the scepter of the kingdom”. The call for equality, the charge to welcome all into God’s family, and the mission to care for the least of these all flow out of God’s love of justice. Continuing on in the passage, next God’s righteousness is exalted. Because of God’s steadfast and faithful love, God sets his “companions” above all others as they are anointed with the “oil of joy”. Those who walk faithfully and obediently with God are set apart – both here on earth as well as for an eternal inheritance – bringing them joy and hope. To be in the family of God is a great blessing.

Just as the king in our Psalm has his heart set on God, may we too set our hearts on God. Walking step by step with God, we too will be anointed with oil and our cups will overflow with God’s blessings. Living out love, righteousness, hope, joy, and justice, may we witness our faith in the everlasting God to the world.

Prayer: God, you love justice and mercy and grace. Your righteous one modeled how to live these things out in love. Guide me to follow well in his footsteps, caring for the least of these and for the sheep of your flock, flinging wide open the gate. May all I say and do and think bring you the glory. 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.