pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:27-28 and Psalm 14:7

Verse 7: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

The bulk of this week’s readings from Jeremiah 4 and Psalm 14 is about the people wandering away from God, choosing to live in sin and rebellion. Both of these Old Testament passages reference how these evils actions and choices bring God’s heart sadness and pain. These two ancient texts also speak of the cost of living in sin. It goes deeper than just separation from God. Living in sin is also destructive to our lives.

Another overarching idea in both of these passages is God’s unfailing love. Even though the people have chosen to worship idols and have grown selfish and prideful, God’s love remains. Yes, this is why God’s heart is affected but it goes deeper. God’s love remains because God honors the covenant. Long ago God promised to be Israel’s God – no matter what. No matter how deeply they hurt God, no matter how far they wander… God is faithful and true to the covenant made with Israel. Because of this, God declares, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

Since God is a God of covenant, God sees things through. In time salvation did come from Zion. Almost 2,000 years ago God-in-the-flesh came, lived, and died for us, bringing freedom from sin and death. It was necessary because we, like those being spoken to in these ancient texts, we struggle with sin and other forms of selfishness. We continue to wander off, to bring God sadness and pain. In the process we do harm to ourselves. Yet God’s covenant love washes over us too. God’s unfailing love remains faithful and true. The promise remains. We are loved beyond our sin. Salvation has come. It is ours to claim and to live into. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your love that endures all things and continues to love without fail. It is a gift beyond my ability to fully understand, yet it is one I treasure above all else. I know I am a sinner saved by your grace. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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Lead in Light and Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:11-12 and 22-28

Verse 22: “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

As I read and reflect on these words in Jeremiah 4, there is a sadness. It is a sadness both for the people of God in Jeremiah’s day and a sadness for our time as well. In the opening two verses God tells Israel that a “scorching wind” is coming. It will not be to “winnow or cleanse” however. It is a destroying wind that comes from the north. In our time it feels like the scorching wind comes from the edges, from the extremes.

Verse 22 sums up the state of the people. Here God says, “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” This is quite the charge. The people of God have chosen idols over God, evil over good. They are now like “senseless children.” These words mirror our society today. Our nation as a whole has lost its connection to God and to faith. We have become like senseless children, intent on getting our own way, no matter who it hurts, not the least bit interested in other people’s perspectives. We, as a nation, have grown faithless, becoming polarized and divided along the way.

Verses 23-26 present an interesting image. Using the language of the creation story found in Genesis 1, here God deconstructs the story. It is a regression story now. Just as the people have regressed in their faith and in their actions, so too will the earth regress. The light, the people, the plants and animals – they will all be gone. All will be a desert, left in ruins. It is where that path of evil and selfish behavior leads – to death and destruction.

This image does not have to be the end of our collective story. We can learn to do good, to honor the other, to understand and value differing perspectives. We can once again seek to build up, choosing not to tear down and create division. We can extend a hand instead of a fist, a smile instead of a scowl. We, as the people of God, can lead, letting the light and love of God guide our words, thoughts, and actions. It is a choice. May we choose God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. You ever call us to living and walking as your children, reflecting your goodness into the world. Help us to change the world and its ways, making space for and truly valuing all people. Amen.


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Oh the Depths

Reading: Psalm 81:1 and 10-16

Verses 11-12: “My people would not listen to me… I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.”

Psalm 81 is a song of celebration, disappointment, and promise. The first verses, 1-2, prepare the people to worship and sing and play. The next verses, 3-7, celebrate how God rescued Israel and led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Then, in verses 8-9, God reminds and warns Israel: no foreign gods! We did not read most of these verses.

Verse 10 again promises provision and rescue by God. God longs to care for Israel. But it is not to be so. In verses 11-12 we read, “My people would not listen to me… I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.” They would not submit to God. They followed their own wants and desires. We can almost hear and feel God’s frustration and disappointment. At times we too must make God feel this way. I’ve often thought that God must be shaking God’s head at some of the things I’ve said and done and thought – like a parent with a foolish child.

In spite of all that rebellion and self-centeredness, God still longs to care for and to provide for the children. In verses 13-16 God reminds Israel and us that God will subdue our enemies and fill us with the finest wheat and honey – if one will follow God’s ways. If one “would but listen to me.” God will subdue our rebellious and selfish ways, will defeat our sin, if we will turn our hearts back towards God. Oh the depths of God’s love for you and for me. “Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!”

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me even though I can be selfish and inwardly focused. Thank you for your no-matter-what love that is always ready to restore and redeem me, to care for and guide me. What great love! You are an amazing and awesome God. I love you too! Amen.


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How Long?

Reading: Amos 8:7-12

Verse 8: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today’s portion of Amos 8 begins with God stating that “I will never forget anything they have done.” Through my New Testament eyes, this is a hard verse to read. Yes, I realize that there may be consequences to my/our sin. Yes, I recognize that God can punish. But my New Testament eyes see God as a God of love and mercy and grace and compassion and forgiveness. So I want to add a “…” to this verse. “… until they repent and turn back to God.” In fact, if one reads on in the Biblical narrative, this is what happens. Death and destruction will come. Exile will occur. But God will restore and redeem the people of faith.

In the next verse we read, “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?” The wake up call is coming. As the enemy floods and totally overwhelms Israel then Judah, there will be much weeping and mourning. This chapter will end “like a bitter day.” Because of the punishment, because of the consequences, there will be a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” Yet the time in exile will work like the forty years wandering in the wilderness, readying the people of God to return to just and holy living.

On days when there are readings like these, I wonder: are we as a nation and world on this same path? It seems that those who have get more and those with less have even less. How long will God tolerate our collective selfish and uncaring hearts?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for today’s reality check. Continue to work and stir in me, leading me toward acts of justice and liberation. Show me the way to a better world. Amen.


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“Hear this…”

Reading: Amos 8:1-6

Verse 4: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.”

Photo credit: Nick Sarro

We continue this week with Amos. Last week God used a plumb line to reveal how askew or crooked the Israelites had become. In this week’s reading from Amos 8, God reveals some details. As our passage opens, God shows Amos a basket of fruit. The fruit is ripe, maybe even appealing – at first glance. When one looks closer, however, one can see the rot along the edges. Using this analogy, God says, “The time is ripe for my people; I will spare them no longer.” We all know what happens when you leave rotting fruit in the bowl with good fruit. It will all go bad. It is time to deal with the rot.

In verse 4 God speaks to the rot: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.” The Sabbath is a farce. The powerful go through the motions, anxious for it to end so that they can return to making dishonest profits and to trading on the lives of the poor and needy. Selfishly living they ignored the needs of their brothers and sisters. We too can play these games. I’ve gone to church and spent the whole time thinking about that afternoon or the week ahead. I’ve given the homeless man a granola bar or a bottle of water while tightly clinging to that wad of cash in my pocket.

God declares that their songs will turn to wailing. Bodies will be strewn everywhere. This brings to mind recent images of responses to times when those with power have abused or oppressed those without power. Punishment will surely come for being selfish and ignoring the plight of those on the margins. God will not stand for such evil. What would Amos tell us about how we live and about how we treat those in need around us? How could we better reflect God’s heart for all people?

Prayer: Lord, guide my eyes to look beyond myself. Lead me to be more generous, more willing with all that you’ve blessed me with. 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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Truth Remains Truth

Reading: Amos 7:10-17

Verse 10: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear his words.”

In today’s reading from Amos, he is confronted by the high priest in Bethel. The confrontation begins with Amaziah sending word to King Jeroboam that “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear his words.” Yes, indeed, Amos is stirring things up with his words, calling all of Israel to turn back to God. The main issue is that the evil is a top-down problem. It is Amaziah and Jeroboam who are leading in the wrong direction.

Turning to Amos, Amaziah tells him, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there.” He just wants Amos to leave, to go and focus on the other kingdom’s sinful living. Amaziah just wants left alone. I can relate. When I’m confronted with something I’m doing wrong, my first instinct is to tell the truth-speaker to just go away.

Amos doesn’t flinch. He reminds Amaziah that God called him from tending sheep and trees. Amos reminds him that God said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” This was not Amos’ idea. These are not Amos’ words. Then Amos shares the cost of trying to silence truth, prophesying against Amaziah and his family. There is a cost to working against God. And, oh yes, Israel “will certainly go into exile.” The truth remains the truth.

Like Israel, when we choose to live out of alignment with God’s will and ways, we too will be judged. Truth will be revealed. Walking in our own selfish ways will not yield good fruit. As we consider this passage today, may we reflect upon what might be said to us. May we have ears to hear what we need to hear. And may we choose to align with God, walking closely to God’s will and ways.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me where I need to change. Lead me to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in my life. Align my heart and mind with your will and ways. Amen.


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To Whom?

Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.”

Today we return to the story of the ascension. We’ve jumped from the gospel of Luke to the book of Acts. Luke uses this key story to connect the life and ministry of Jesus to the life and ministry of the church. This hinge moment is very important. We catch a glimpse of it’s importance in verse 6.

Even after these 40 additional days of tutoring by the risen Christ, the disciples still ask, “Lord, are you now going to restore Israel?” At least a part of the disciples is still longing for a powerful and dominant Messiah. This part is focused on the temporal, on developing an earthly kingdom of man. It is focused on selfish desires, not in God’s desires.

Jesus once again corrects their misguided thinking: “It is not for you to know…” He refocuses them on the task at hand. In verse 8 Jesus tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” This is a different kind of power. This Holy Spirit power will come upon them and fill them with the words and example of Jesus. It will empower them to witness to who and what Jesus is and to who and what his followers are called to be. The Holy Spirit will lead them to the ends of the earth, carrying with them the good news of Jesus Christ.

This task remains the task of the followers of Jesus. There are many who do not know the salvation and grace, the joy and love, the hope and peace that Jesus Christ offers. And most of us do not need to go to the ends of the earth to find them. To whom shall you witness today?

Prayer: Lord, provide me an opportunity to share Jesus with another today. By the power of the Holy Spirit, use me today to change a life. Amen.


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Walk with the Light

Reading: John 12:20-36

Verse 35: “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you.”

Our passage today begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are likely Jewish converts in town to celebrate the Passover. They’ve heard of Jesus and want to meet him. In response Jesus speaks of the hour at hand. At present, Jesus is just one man. He is the kernel of wheat that must die to produce a crop. The risen Christ will send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of all who believe, producing a crop of followers that will continue to bring light into a dark world. At that time, in that hour, Christ will be brought to the Greeks.

Jesus then reminds us of the contrast between followers of the world and followers of the Word, Jesus Christ. People of the world get caught up in chasing this and wanting that. They are selfish, loving self and this earthly life. People of the Word focus on serving Jesus. They do not get caught up in the things of this world. They are selfless. Serving Christ fills them with a holy presence that shines out into the world.

Again speaking of his death, in verse 32 Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” The light of Christ will manifest itself in the lives of his followers, shining out through acts of love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and service. As the seed dies it creates a crop – Jesus followers who will go out all over the earth, carrying the light of Christ with them, drawing others to the light. They will go to the Greeks and beyond.

Speaking to those present and to all who will one day seek to follow, Jesus says, “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you.” Faith is a journey. It is a process that ever leads us closer and closer to being like Jesus. When we choose to quit growing in our faith, it begins to die within us. What we don’t feed, it starves, it wastes away. In these words Jesus encourages us to keep walking forward in faith. The light will lead us on, allowing us to take the next step. While Jesus lights our way we can keep moving forward in faith. When we quit walking, when we stop growing as disciples, then the darkness begins to overtake us. May it not be so. Day by day may we choose to walk in the light, taking step after step, growing in our faith, sharing Jesus’ light and love with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, shine your light on my path, leading me in the way I should go. Daily guide me to grow more and more in my faith. Fill me to overflowing so that your light shines out from me too. Amen.


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Champion the Cause

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Verse 10: “I have appointed you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Jeremiah was called by God to speak God’s word to the world. His voice did not just go out to the people of God. He also spoke to those who were negatively impacting the children of God. God called Jeremiah to speak against the corruption and injustices of Judah. God appointed Jeremiah “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.” This is a sweeping appointment.

Jeremiah was charged with uprooting and tearing down, with destroying and overthrowing. He was tasked with rooting out the causes of corruption and injustice and with tearing down the systems that perpetuated these evils. Jeremiah was led to destroy the sins that led to selfishness and to overthrow the systems of power that disenfranchised much of the population. God is clearly on the side of the poor and powerless. God sent Jeremiah to be God’s voice, championing their cause.

As I think about Jeremiah’s charge and our world today, I can’t but help think that God continues to call us to speak against the people and systems that are corrupt and against the acts of injustice and oppression that these create. God remains on the side of the poor and powerless, of the voiceless and marginalized. As in Jeremiah’s day there are plenty of self-centered and prideful leaders who are seeking to perpetuate and even create unjust systems that keep power in their hands. The ideals that were there at the founding of our nation – servant leadership, striving for the common good, equality and justice for all – seem to have been forgotten. Hand in hand, in many ways, we have forgotten our call to care for those without voice or power.

Just thinking about the small kingdom in which you dwell, what needs to be rooted out, what needs torn down? Is it corruption or is it racism or sexism or some other -ism? What needs destroyed or overthrown? Is it a lack of access to education or health care? Is it leaders focused on self and on gathering power and wealth? How can you and I champion the cause if our nation and of those who are powerless and voiceless?

Prayer: Lord God, heal our land. Let the healing begin with me. Let the planting and building up of what was of old – equality, justice, the common good, humble service – begin anew in our land. Give me eyes to see the systems that work against your vision for our world. Empower me to work against these sinful behaviors and against these harmful -isms. Heal our land, O Lord. Amen.