pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Even in This

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 10-20

Verse 18: “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

After God acquiesces to the people’s request for a king, God gives some words of warning to the people. Yes, a king can bring stability and leadership and authority to the nation. Yes, a king can negotiate with other kings and can lead the troops out into battle when needed. A king can fight for the people! But a king can also demand or, at times, take when the demands are not met. A king can call for military service and can seize land, crops, livestock, and servants. A king can tax the people to support his reign. A judge or prophet would never do any of these things. The leader that the people reject, God, would never do any of these things. Yet the people want a king.

All of this, both the good and the bad, comes true as king after king leads Israel. Reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, we see that God is right. There are more bad kings than good kings. The fate and the lives of the people rise or fall under the leadership of each king. Yet even though the people reject God in favor of a king, God remains engaged. Even though God grants them this autonomy, God does not abandon his children. God continues to send prophets to guide and redirect and shepherd these kings. God even chooses the first few kings.

God leads you and me in the same way. God does not force us to love and obey him or to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God engages us, the Spirit leads and guides us. But we are free to choose our own kings, our own gods. God allows us free will, just as he did with the Israelites. God warned them, saying, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”. When leadership is oppressive, selfish, authoritarian… God will allow them to learn their lesson. In time God will respond to their cries. We too experience this process. We have to endure a consequence for our poor choices. God will always forgive us when we’re repentant. But our poor choices and bad behaviors often impact others, creating ramifications. We too must go through a refining and learning process. Even in this, God is at work. Thanks be to God for loving us enough to always be there on the other side.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love always leads and informs. Your love is greater than our limitations and failures. We are ever a work in progress. You are so patient, so faithful, ever true. What a wonderful God you are! 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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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.


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Standing Firm

Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall”.

Paul begins today’s passage by reviewing the years after the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The people were all “under the cloud” – the pillars that were God’s constant presence with the people. They all experienced the miracles of God – the manna and quail, the water from the rock. Even with God’s presence day and night and even with the miracles that all saw, they slipped into sin often. They fell to idol worship, sexual immorality, and they tested God over and over. Paul concludes verses 1 through 10 with the reminder that this history is an example and a warning to them.

As I think back over my years, I think Paul would easily find several examples of times when my story has been similar. There are plenty of times I have chased after the things of this world or have acted in ways much less than pleasing to God. There are ample choices for examples of grumbling at, complaining to, and testing God. In my life are also times when I have felt the tangible presence of God and scores of times when God has guided me or answered prayers or has provided for me or has guided me through a trial. In many ways I am much like the Israelites. If we are honest, these truths – these goods and bads – are a part of all of our journeys of faith.

Paul, in verse 12, gives us this warning: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall”. Satan is ever on the prowl, always looking for the next opportunity to try and lead us astray. If we are not aware of this fact, we are more likely to fall. Then, in verse 13, we find hope.

Paul first reminds us that being tempted is a common thing. We all face temptation. Some of what it is may vary from person to person, but we all face it. And then Paul offers this great line: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear”. God protects us. Like with the Israelites in the desert, God watches out for us. We, through Jesus Christ, have what it takes to stand firm. Our passage concludes with the reassurance that God will always provide the way out of or the way past temptation. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, when the temptations come, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Remind me of your promises in the Word and of my experiences with you as my savior and rescuer. Help me to stand firm. Amen.


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Listen

Reading: Genesis 2: 15-17

Adam and Eve began in the garden.  Each day they walk and talk with God, enjoying all that God has provided.  They have been given almost unlimited access to the garden and all of its bounty.  The one restriction God places is upon the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God lets Adam and Eve know that they will die if they eat of this one tree.

Can you remember as a kid when your Mom or Dad said, “Don’t do” this or that?  At least some of the time these were things you never would have thought of on your own.  But more often than not, your wise and loving parents knew from experience that sooner or later that tree or rooftop or toy your sister had would be more than you could resist.  We were the same way.  All parents are.  If there was something that could harm or be bad for our children, we warn them about it.  God was doing the same thing in the garden.  God knew that once the knowledge of good and evil entered the minds of mankind, that the world would never be the same.  He was right.

As grown adults, we continue to get many warnings.  Sometimes they come from our spouse or our friend or our coworker.  Sometimes the warnings even come from our own minds.  Sometimes the words are in the form of a whisper from the Holy Spirit.  Like we would have been when we were children, we would be wise to heed the warning, to listen to the voice of those with our best interests at heart.  This day, O Lord, help me to be obedient and faithful as I try to follow the example of Jesus.  It is only possible through your power and presence, so please be with me today.


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Listening and Seeing

The prophet Micah is like all of God’s other prophets.  He speaks the word that God gives him to speak to the people.  While much of the time the prophets are warning the people of the consequences of their sins and calling them to repent, sometimes the prophets also spoke of the hope in and the promise of God’s faithfulness.  Such is the case with our passage today from Micah.

Since the life of Jesus, Christians read this section of Micah like many other prophecies found in the Old Testament.  As Christians we read the Old Testament not only as the history of the people of Israel and our faith, but also as a book that points to the New Testament and ultimately to Jesus.  When Micah writes of a leader who will come out of Bethlehem and speaks of him as one who will shepherd the flock, our mind immediately links up with the story of Jesus’ birth and life.  Micah also connects Jesus to long before His birth – “whose origins are of old, from ancient times.”  These words echo the message we find in the opening lines of John’s gospel.

The prophets, Micah included, also always provide hope and remind us to believe in the promises of God.  God is always at work in our lives and in our world.  In hard times that can be difficult to remember.  But Micah reminds us of the promises and that in hard times we most need to rely on God’s presence and call upon His strength.  Micah also reminds us that we must seek God’s word and see God in our daily experiences.  This day may we have a heart that listens and eyes that see God.

Scripture reference: Micah 5: 2-5a