pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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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.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

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

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

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

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

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


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Life Springing Up

Reading: Isaiah 61: 8-11

Verse 10: “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God”.

As our passage for today opens Isaiah reminds God’s people that God loves justice. As would be expected, God hates robbery and iniquity. Living in a foreign land under much oppression and injustice, these words resounded with hope for the people living in exile. The same is true today for people living in unjust systems of oppression and injustice and inequality. To know that systems that support prejudice and abuse and unequal pay and unfair labor practices and… are not God’s way and are not part of God’s plan brings hope for the future. To the exiles in Babylon and to those today living in unjust systems that deny them true freedom, the promise of an “everlasting covenant” brings hope not only for themselves but also for their children and grandchildren.

As followers of Jesus Christ, as believers in his light and love, we can join the prophet in saying, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God”. God is our rock and our refuge, our hope and our strength. God clothes you and me in “garments of salvation” and in a “robe of righteousness”. We are adorned in ways that cause the world to notice that through our faith we are blessed by the Lord. We live with hope and peace, with joy and love. Trusting in the Lord, resting and standing upon God’s promises, we look to the future with assurance and confidence. Are you thankful for all that God has done, is doing, and will do for you? Lift up a little prayer of thanksgiving right now!

And then lift up a little prayer for an end to racism and prejudice, for an end to injustice and oppression, for an end to abuse and iniquity. Then consider how you can be a seed planter, a hope waterer, a justice fertilizer. As the people of God delighting in our God, rejoicing in the Lord, may we be a part of God’s plan for justice and equity. May we be part of the kingdom work of our day and age, of our time and place, so that in all nations and communities “the sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up”. May it be so in all the world!

Prayer: Lord God, where will you send me today? Where will you use me today to be a bringer of justice, an energy of robbery and iniquity? Strengthen me to stand with the oppressed, the unjustly treated, the abused, the imprisoned. Use me each day to make your kingdom more and more of a reality in my community and in my world. Amen.


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Patient

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 9: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

2nd Peter focuses on reminding the believers that the second coming of Jesus Christ is still coming. As time has passed, some of the followers have started to doubt, to question the promised return. Our passage today begins with this truth: “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day”. God’s timing and sense of time are not our timing. Our 60, 80, or even 100 years is but a blip in God’s eternity. In our instant gratification, me-first culture we still identify with the struggle to wait with faith.

The reason we continue to wait for the second coming is identified in verse nine: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. God is patient. Out of the depths of his love for humanity – the least and the lost just as much as the saved and redeemed – God waits because God does not want to see anyone die without the opportunity to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In this way, God has a “just one more” mentality: just let the good news of Jesus Christ get into one more heart, into one more home, into one more community, into one more nation… People cannot and will not repent of their sins until they have a chance to know the saving grace offered by the Lord.

God is patient, but it is not a passive patience. It is an active patience that we are called to live out. The great commission is the call to make disciples of all peoples. Patience must be a part of how we collectively and individually live out this call. Reflect inward for a moment. Are there sins that you continue to struggle with? Do you want God to be patient with you? When I consider these questions, I recognize my struggle with pride and wanting to be in control. Yes, God could get a bit frustrated with me. God could say, ‘Its been 2,379,647,704 times that your pride has caused you to sin, John. I’m not sure about forgiving #2,379,647,705’, but he doesn’t. Instead God reminds me that pride sin 2,379,647,703 was cast as far as the east is from the west. It was forgotten by God the moment I confessed… We are called to that same patience as we seek to share the good news with unbelievers. One more conversation about faith, one more gesture or act that shows God’s love, one more…

As we seek to bear witness to our faith today, as we seek to bring one more person to Christ today, may we be patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

Prayer: God of love and mercy, remind me again and again how patient you are with me. Turn that reminder into a drive to see all enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. As you love me, may I love others. 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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Refined and Reshaped

Reading: Exodus 16: 2-8

Verse 3: “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”.

As the nation of Israel travels in the desert it is a time of testing and refining and reshaping. The journey began with a great freeing miracle in the Passover. The possibility of new life lay ahead as they exited Egypt. They were no longer slaves living in a foreign land. Shortly after leaving God again intervened on their behalf, providing a way through the sea. They were spared a return to slavery. But the experience of these powerful miracles soon gave way to the reality of their situation. The first grumbling for water was satisfied but it came with the first warning to “listen carefully to the voice of the Lord”.

About 45 days after leaving Egypt, the nation has now run low on food. Water and food are essential to life. The people begin to once again grumble against Moses and Aaron. Remembering the good old days – the days when they sat around pots of food as SLAVES – they say to them, “If only we had died at the hand of the Lord in Egypt”. Continuing on, the Israelites say, “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”. They are once again testing God. When they feared dying when trapped against the sea, they complained and God provided the way. When they complained about the bitter water, again God provided the way. God will respond. God’s intent was not to bring his nation out of slavery just to die in the desert. But there are provisions this time. It will be necessary to begin listening to that voice of the Lord. As Moses speaks God’s commands, they must begin to listen. God is beginning to refine and shape their obedience. They are being readied for what lies ahead.

Our journeys with God include similar elements. There are times in our lives when needs are not being met. After one too many nights of Ramen noodles, it can be easy to slip into grumbling or complaining or having a “woe is me” attitude. We also have experiences where God provides a way – literally sending food our way or opening a door at other times. Like the parting of the sea and like water from the rock, as God reigns down food from heaven, it will reassure the people, it will refine their faith, it will begin to shape them into obedient people. Even so, the Israelites will again doubt, will again turn to fear instead of trust. We too are a work in progress. Our faith journey has its share of times when we need refined and reshaped too. We all need reminded from time to time that God is faithful and that God loves us dearly. Each time we are drawn a little closer, we are more assured of his love, and we emerge walking a bit closer, more obediently. May our loving and faithful God continue the good work that he has begun in each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your continual work in my life. There was that time in the hospital when you were tangibly present. And there was that time when you opened a door when I couldn’t see a way. And, and, and… Through my doubt and worry, through my questioning and even anger, you provided the way. Thank you, God. Amen.


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The God Who Saves and Guides

Reading: Exodus 14: 23-31

Verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”.

In one short night the Israelites experience a wide range of emotions. They felt fear and worry as the Egyptian army closed in. They felt doubt and anxiety about their situation. They felt protected as God formed a barrier to keep them safe and they felt loved as God provided a way forward. They felt awe and wonder as they walked on dry ground. They felt a mix of relief and exultation and some sorrow when the waters closed in over the pursuing army. It all culminates in verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”. Because of the great power they saw and were a part of that night, the people’s faith in God is solidified.

This experience of passing through the waters is one common to us all. In our nation’s past and in our family’s past, people passed through the waters and came to a new land. Some came bound in chains, fear and bewilderment stirring inside them. Others came in cramped quarters, carrying all they had in a suitcase or trunk, excitement and hope stirring in them. These two stories are part of our collective and communal story. They are part of shaping and forming who we are as people and as a nation. These two stories continue to shape and form us. Daily both slaves and immigrants make their way into our nation.

As the Israelites took their next steps on the other side of the waters, they realized there was no going back. Their direction was sealed. With God in their hearts they walked on into their future. Today almost all of those who end up in our land find themselves in a similar place. They have no means or ability to return, having come without anything, against their will, or selling all they had just to make the journey. Many feel lost and fearful. Many of these are without faith or true hope. They do not know the Lord. They cannot have faith or trust in God.

As God cared for and protected, loved and guided the Israelites, they grew in their faith. As believers we are tasked with caring for and protecting, loving and guiding those who are lost and afraid, those who are among the vulnerable and marginalized. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to notice those in bondage and those who are seeking to make a new way. Through our acts of love and kindness, may they come to know the God who frees and the God who guides. May we see those who are without faith and may we help them to know the God who loves one and all.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to see the stranger and the captive among us. Lead me to be love in the world, helping others to know your mighty power and great love. May I be light in the darkness and share hope for the future. Amen.


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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Praying Today

Reading: Acts 2: 12-15

Verse 12: “Amazed and perplexed they asked on another, ‘What does this mean”’?

The Jews from all over the world were drawn to the place where the Holy Spirit manifested itself and they heard these Galileans speaking God’s wonders in many languages. Many were amazed and perplexed. These asked, “What does this mean”? What was God saying to them? Yet there were others in the crowd. Jesus would describe these as those without ears to hear. They did not want to recognize the fact that God was at work and they wanted to dismiss the whole thing, accusing the believers of being drunk.

There have been several nights of violence and protest in the city of Minneapolis. Much of it represents the outpouring of emotions long felt in the African American community. The trigger was the murder of an innocent man. A vast, vast, vast percentage of the police force in Minneapolis would absolutely condemn the actions of the officer responsible for the death. We hope that it would be all, but we know that this is not the reality. Racism exists. Some would say it is better than it used to be. Perhaps it is less frequent and it probably infects less people today, but it will only be better when racism is gone.

A few summers ago a few fellow students and I were walking to the frozen custard place. Suddenly a police car driving by us turned on its lights and siren and drove part way up onto the sidewalk. The two officers leapt from the car in hot pursuit. Almost all of us became instant lookie-loos. We wanted to see what the officers were up to. In a class at the seminary we had been discussing racism in America. As we sat and enjoyed our custard like nothing had just happened, one in our group said, ‘You guys just don’t get it’. He went on to share that while our first reaction was to be curious onlookers, his first reaction was to run. He had done nothing wrong and knew it full well. Yet his brain said to run. He did well in school all his life and had never had a run-in with the police. Yet his first instinct was to run. His Latino upbringing had instilled that response in him. I finally felt how deeply ingrained racism was in our society.

This morning in Minneapolis, ad it has been the last two days, there are volunteers cleaning up the mess. They are black and white, brown and all shades of humanity’s beauty. They too ask, ‘What does this mean’? and they know that there must be change in our society. They are investing in one another and in their city. They are teaching their children well. They see visions and dream dreams about a better community – one without racism and hatred. May we join their actions today by praying for healing in our nation and for an end to these evils.

Prayer: Lord of all, I pray today for the healing of my nation and of my community. May the voices of love and empowerment and equality rise up and speak long after the grief and outrage have faded away. Continue the conversation and the learning that we are all created in your image until all forms of racism and oppression are no more. God, bless and heal our nation. Amen.