pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Bars and Rods

Reading: Isaiah 9:4 – “For as in the days of Midian, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.”

Devotional writer Hannah Adair Bonner uses a great analogy in her writing on this verse. She invites us to remember a time when we carried too many grocery bags. For me it usually comes from the “I can make it in one trip” thought. She then asks us to recall how we felt when we made it to the kitchen or wherever it was that we plopped the bags down. Bonner then flips the scenario a bit, asking us to think of a time when someone came along and helped, relieving our burden, making sure that we could make it. Bringing her point home, she notes that the burdens many carry in life are “much more complicated than groceries.”

In our short text God was the one who came alongside Israel as she struggled under a burden. The bar and rod of the oppressor was heavy upon the nation’s shoulders. God saw the struggle and responded by shattering the yoke. God broke it into itty bitty pieces. What oppressed people in your circles or in your community? Is it a lack of resources – food, shelter, clothing, heat, water, medical care, education, employment? It is a hard circumstance – addiction, abuse, incarceration, neglect, illness? Or are they under the rod of injustice or racism or sexism or some other evil? And the reality for most folks who are burdened is this: they are not carrying just one bag.

How will you respond to what you see? How will I? Let us begin as God did, coming alongside those who are burdened. Then may we seek to bring relief. And as our relationship and understanding grows, then may we seek to be breakers of rods and bars. May it be so as we seek to reveal God to this hurting and damaged world.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and my heart. Seeing and feeling, put me to doing. 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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Our Refuge and Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 9: 9-20

Verse 9: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”.

In today’s Psalm there is a deep sense of trust in God’s power and might. The Psalm begins with David praising God “with all my heart”, rejoicing in the downfall of the enemy, celebrating God’s righteousness and justice. As we begin today in verse nine David writes, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”. A refuge is a place of protection, a place of safety. It is a place where one finds peace and respite. One feels secure in a stronghold. One is able to regroup, to catch one’s breath, to ready oneself to reengage.

The danger of a literal refuge or stronghold is that we can want to simply stay there, to remain disconnected or distanced from the oppression or trouble. In the New Testament Jesus told us that we would face trial and abuse and oppression and hatred. A solid walk of faith comes with a cost, a price to pay at times. Amidst the persecution that David is facing he cries out to God, asking, “Have mercy and lift me up”. He turns to God, trusting in God’s power, leaning into his presence, declaring “the Lord is known by his justice”. When we are faithful, when we are walking out our faith in alignment with God’s will and ways, then we too can lean into God in times of oppression and trouble, trusting in our refuge and stronghold to lead us through. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever present, always hearing the prayers of those who trust in you. In those times of trial or trouble, remind me again and again that you are ever my strength and my shield. Your love always surrounds me. Thank you and amen!


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You Are gods

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 6: “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”.

Our Psalm opens with the God of the universe questioning the ‘gods’. God asks them how long will they defend the unjust and show favor to the wicked? This idea ran through yesterday’s reading. It is why God sent Amos to speak against the actions of the king. In our lives, do we ever defend the unjust? In our lives, do we ever favor the wicked?

The psalmist goes on to define God’s preferred behavior for the ‘gods’. First, they must “defend the case of the weak and fatherless”. Speak against injustice and poor treatment. Second, “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed”. Stand beside those who cannot stand up for themselves. Third, “rescue the weak and needy”. When the unfortunate have fallen victim or are suffering, step in to rescue and redeem them. And lastly, “deliver them from the hand of the wicked”. Place yourself between the unjust and wicked and deliver the marginalized out from their abuse and I’ll treatment. Place yourself in the line of fire.

These behaviors or actions that we hear the psalmist calling for in verses 3 and 4 sound a lot like Jesus to me. He was certainly on the side of the marginalized and the poor. Jesus definitely spoke out against the people and institutions that created or allowed for the lesser treatment of people. Much of Jesus’ ministry focused on loving and caring for and restoring the other. It should be no surprise that in speaking God’s word the psalmist directs the ‘gods’ to do the same things that Jesus did.

In verse 6 the psalmist writes, “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”. We Christians, we who have claimed our eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High, we who have claimed our birthright as brothers and sisters with Christ, we are the ‘gods’ that the psalmist addresses today. Accordingly, may we choose to side with the poor and needy. May we speak up for the abused and oppressed. May we stand against people and institutions that take advantage of the weak. In short, may we walk as Jesus Christ walked.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs in my community. Fill me heart with compassion and with courage to walk with the marginalized and the weak. Help me to live as Jesus lived each day. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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Hard Pressed

Reading: Exodus 1: 8-14

Verse 12: But the more they were oppressed, the more they flourished.

Life has been good for the Israelites.  God had sent Joseph ahead many years before as a slave.  God blessed Joseph’s life.  He did not live as a typical slave.  God blessed him over and over and eventually he rose to second in command under Pharaoh.  Famine had struck the land but Joseph had prepared the country well.  Joseph’s family came to Egypt looking for food.  Because of his position, Joseph was able to bring his whole family to the region of Goshen, where they grew and prospered.  God blessed the Israelites and they grew in number, in livestock, …

Over time Joseph and his generation died off.  God continued to bless the Israelites and they continued to grow in number.  Enter a new king.  This new Pharaoh did not know Joseph or their history with the Israelites.  But he knew his country needed the labor of the Israelites.  They had become the backbone of the economy.  Then he came to fear them.  He saw how numerous they were and he feared them.  He feared they would one day be numerous enough to leave so he began to deal very harshly with them.  He inflicts oppression and hard labor on the Israelites.  “But the more they were oppressed, the more they flourished”.  Even in the midst of the hard times, God continues to bless His people.

At times we too find ourselves hard pressed and we may even feel like we are being oppressed.  At times our good life becomes difficult.  In these times, do we cling to God or do we question God?  Do we hold fast to our faith and trust our difficulties to the Lord?  The Word tells us that God is always at work for the good of those who love Him.  Where in our lives do we need to live into this today?  When we find ourselves hard pressed, may the God of the peace that passes all understanding lead and guide us through.


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Perfectly Extraordinary

Reading: Matthew 5: 38-48

Once we begin our journey of faith, we are committing to walk in a way of the Lord, to work to become more and more like the perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ.  While we may never reach the perfection that Jesus exhibited, we are nonetheless called to press on towards that goal.  This is God’s desire for each of us.  It is why we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us – to be a constant presence and reminder of our call to live as children of God.

God calls us not to the ordinary, to the run of the mill, but to lives that are extraordinary, to lives that are outstanding.  In the opening verses of today’s passage, Jesus gives some examples that demonstrate going above and beyond.  If one strikes your right cheek (to show insult or offense), then offer your left cheek next (to extend love and friendship).  If someone demands your tunic, then give them your cloak as well.  If a Roman soldier ‘asks’ you to carry their pack one mile (as required by law), offer to carry it a second mile as well.  It is living with a willing and generous heart, even to those who harm, sue, and oppression you.  It is demonstrating extravagant love even to those who are hard to love.

It is a call to be “more” that Jesus issues.  He reminds us that we all love those who love us.  That is ordinary, normal.  Jesus says even tax collectors and pagans do this.  Jesus calls us to more.  In verse 48 He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  Jesus himself is our example of what God’s perfect love looks like lived out.  Jesus offered life, hope, healing, forgiveness, and love to all He met – regardless of whether or not they loved Him.

God expects the same of us.  Yes, this is perfection we are called to.  Yes, on our own this is impossible.  We are not alone.  The Holy Spirit leads and guides and corrects and redirects us to love as Jesus first loved us.  Each day God seeks to renew us, to make us each new creations, ‘born of the Spirit, washed in His blood’.  This day may we each offer extravagant love and extraordinary witness to all we meet, bringing glory to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, our risen King.