pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Caring Well

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 34: “There were no needy persons among them”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

The early church thrived on Jesus’ love and compassion. Within this group that was of “one heart and mind”, they loved and cared for each other. In verse 34 we read, “There were no needy persons among them”. The early church was like a close-knit family, willingly giving to the community so that all had what they needed. This commitment ran so deep that they even sold significant holdings to provide for one another.

The early church stands in sharp contrast to our society today. In the common view of the world accumulation is the goal. Life is focused on earning more, on buying bigger and newer, on working up the ladder of success. To care deeply for the other, to give selflessly of what one has worked hard to earn – these Christian ideals run counter to much of western culture. Yes, the systems of our day are much different. In the days of the early church and for much of modern history, there were no government assistance programs. The family home was the retirement home. The family cared for the widows and the infirm among them. The church extended this idea, adding a layer of care to the existing norms of the day. Communities cared for those who were unable to care for themselves.

Yet the words of Jesus still call us to care for the widow and orphan, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry… In our communities today there are many in need. While we cannot help every person in need, certainly we can help some? How do we discern how, where, and who? We must begin in our community of faith, caring well for one another. We must also go beyond that, caring well for those in our communities who are in need. Can we meet every need? Can we alone care for all of the needs in our community? Probably not, but we can meet some as we are able. Led by the Holy Spirit, may we seek to model the love and compassion of the early church, caring well for those in need, loving one and all.

Prayer: Lord, your love for us is extravagant. It is generous. It is selfless. As I consider the needs around me and in my community, may I model your love well. Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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Called

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Verses 2 and 3: “We always thank God for… your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, your endurance inspired by hope”.

Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonica. He founded this church early in his ministry. Paul begins his letter to them with some words of thanksgiving for their faith and witness to Jesus Christ. These folks were living in a pagan culture that had no experience with faith in Jesus Christ. The church represented a very small minority. For most of us, growing up, Christianity was the norm. This was not the case for the early followers of Christ.

If we keep this in mind, we better understand what Paul is being thankful for in verses two and three. Here he writes, “We always thank God for… your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, your endurance inspired by hope”. In the midst of a pagan world, living out the love of Christ was not easy. Yet this early church worked, labored, endured. They were sustained by faith, love, and hope. In spite of suffering, they had “welcomed the message with joy” and their “faith in God has become known everywhere”. In spite of the culture around them, they were living out their faith well, making Christ known in a pagan culture.

In our part of the world, we now live in what has been called the post-Christian era. As the world has become increasingly secular, the overall witness of the church has declined. Yet there is much work, much labor, still to be done. Recent events have drawn attention to the racial tensions, to the oppression, to the unjust systems in our nation, to the economic disparity… The reality is that almost all of our communities contain the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the lonely, the widow… All of our communities have people living within who have experienced injustice, oppression, abuse… All of these conditions have existed for a long time.

Just as the people of the church in Thessalonica were called to be faith, love, and hope in the world, so too are we called. Will we be “imitators of the Lord”, perhaps even “in spite of severe persecution”, as we step out into the world around us? Doing so, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our faith will become known as we share the good news of Jesus Christ through our acts of justice, mercy, and kindness. May it be so as we seek to serve Jesus, the one who rescues.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to be faith, love, and hope in the world. Open my eyes to the needs of my community and guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to stand with those in need of your presence. Set me apart for service to the King. Amen.


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Partners of God

Reading: Psalm 99: 1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice”.

The psalmist’s love of and awe for God are obvious. In the opening verses the psalmist recognizes God’s reign over all the earth as well as God’s great and awesome power. God is exalted over all the nations of the earth because God is holy. It is a good and right thing to have a holy reverence for the Lord our God. Humility is then drawn forth from within us as we acknowledge the might and power of God as he reigns over the whole earth.

In the next two verses, however, we are reminded that God does not just reign with power and might. Yes, his voice can make the earth shake. But his gentle touch can also break the bonds of injustice and oppression. In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice”. In our world today this is an odd combination. Often those powerful enough to rise into places of authority have done so on the backs of others and have lost their sense of justice and equity on their way to the top. They become insensitive or even callous to the plight of the poor and the marginalized and the powerless. Not so our God!

Our God loves justice and seeks to stand with the oppressed, the broken, the hurting, the downtrodden. God has always been a protector of these as well as of the widow, the orphan, and the imprisoned. Nowhere has this love been more evident than in the incarnation. Jesus, God in the flesh, fully lived out this love of justice and all who were oppressed or pushed to the edges of society. Providing the example of what God’s justice and love looked like when lived out to the full, Jesus then invited us to “come and follow me”. In our awe and love of God and as our response to our loving Savior’s invitation, may we too be lovers of justice and sharers of salvation from all that binds. May we become partners with God, working daily to bring wholeness and restoration and reconciliation to a world in need.

Prayer: Loving and awesome God and blessed son Jesus Christ, fill me with your love and passion for the least among us. Guide me to those places and people who need to know your healing love and your freeing grace. May I be an instrument of your peace and love this day and every day. Amen.


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A Heart for the Weary

Reading: Psalm 68: 1-10 and 32-35

Verse 9: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”.

Reading the first few verses of Psalm 68, one gets a sense of God’s powers. God can scatter the enemies and can make the wicked perish before him. David has experienced these things happening and has a confidence that God remains capable. When these things have happened, the righteous have been made glad, they have rejoiced. In our own lives we experience this as well. We might not see the walls of Jericho fall or see the sea swallow up the whole Egyptian army, but we so see sins fall away as we seek to deny self and to live for God’s glory as a new creation. We experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, giving us the same confidence in God’s love for us.

God’s love is, of course, not limited to us. In verse four there is a shift in God’s care, provision, protection. David begins with praises to God. As one reads verses four through six, there is a connection to Jesus, the shoot of David’s line. Jesus came to more fully reveal God to humanity and in doing so more fully revealed the special place in God’s heart for the orphans and widows, for the lonely and the prisoners. The list in the Psalm is just a partial list. To get a fuller list we turn to the gospels. God has a special love for the broken and the lost, for the marginalized and the powerless. Verse nine sums this up: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”. God pours out his love on the weary… From this love God also “provided for the poor” from “his bounty”.

As people created in God’s image we too should hold a special place in our heart for the weary, the poor, the broken… In verse 35 of our Psalm we read, “the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people”. This remains true today. When we seek to partner with God, when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, we too can pour out abundant blessings on the outsiders, on those on the edges, on those who are imprisoned. May we seek to praise God not only with our voices, but with our hands and feet as well.

Prayer: Loving Father, break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill me with your compassion for those often overlooked or pushed aside. Empower me to be your hands and feet today. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Luke 18: 7-8

Verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night”?

At first reading of verse seven we think that Jesus is referring to us. Surely if we are a disciple of Christ we are part of the family of God, part of the chosen ones. If we consider the context of the whole parable, maybe we are not the ones that Jesus is speaking about.

In arguably the best known prayer we pray, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. In these words we are asking that God’s will would reign – not just in heaven but here among us on earth as well. It is asking that God’s will be done, not our will be done.

The widow is the central figure in the parable. She would be one who lived on the edges of society. She represents not just the widows but the orphans, the sick, the lonely, the outcast, the prisoner, the stranger… What if these were the chosen ones? God has long directed Israel to care for such as these. In his teachings, Jesus makes it clear that as his followers we too are to care for the lost and the broken. What if these are the chosen ones who cry out day and night for justice? What then is our role to bring about justice?

Are we then the judge – the one who neither cared about God or men? We cannot pray the “thy will be done” prayer and then ignore the cares and pleas of the needy and the outcasts. We must instead hear their cries and seek to be light and love, first meeting their immediate needs. Second, we must seek to remedy injustice and other things like oppression and unfair treatment. Lastly we are to start them on a new road – one with Jesus at the center. We are to walk alongside and with the lost and broken, the needy and the outcast, until they are these things no more.

As we hear Jesus teaching us to pray without ceasing, to come to God over and over, may we ever remember that we pray for God’s will to be done. As we pray and as we live out our lives, may all we do be aligned with what God wants us to do – loving the chosen ones. May it be so.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, tear my heart for what tears yours. Open my eyes to the needs and empower me to be one who walks with those in need. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Merciful and Just

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 3: “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”.

Today Jesus teaches us to pray and not to give up. The scene in the parable begins with the one able to answer the request. The judge has the power but is not concerned with God or with men. He feels that his power has placed him above and out of the reach of anyone or anything. Any courtroom decision comes with a price – justice had very little to do with his courtroom proceedings.

Next we meet a woman who is about the exact opposite of the judge. She is powerless. She has no husband to speak for her and she lives in a society that does not value women. She operates on justice. In verse three they meet. Here we read, “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”. Right is right. That does not change tomorrow or any day to come. So she keeps coming at the judge day after day. Not right away, but after a while the judge gives in. The widow cannot pay him off yet he grants her justice. Why? So she will not wear him out.

The woman perseveres because she is right. She seeks justice. Even the corrupt judge recognizes this. Instead of barring her from court or refusing to acknowledge someone without means, he does what is right. Here we find our model of God – the one who always does what is right, the one who is on the side of justice and the weak and powerless. When our prayers are right and just and when we bring them to God over and over, our God hears and answers. God is merciful and just and loving. In our times of need, God draws near and is present to us. In our persistence we grow stronger and our faith grows deeper. As we bring holy and just prayers to our God, know that God hears and answers.

Prayer: Lord God, when my prayers align with your will and your way, they are just and right. When I cry out for your mercy and grace with a repentant heart, you are pleased. Thank you for being a God of both justice and mercy, of grace and love. You are an awesome God! Amen.


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God Calls

Reading: Isaiah 1: 16-20

Verse 17: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”.

Verse sixteen opens with God’s admonition to “wash and make yourselves clean”. It continues the strong language of verses ten through fifteen. God continues on to tell his people to “stop doing wrong, learn to do right”! One can hear the frustration in these words. God set the law before them long ago, had led by example, has sent prophetic voices that have called the people back over and over. Once again, they have wandered away. Once again God seeks to call them back.

God does offer instruction on how to ‘do right’. In verse seventeen God implores the people to “seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”. These are common themes throughout the Bible. Moses dealt with it, Micah addresses it. In the New Testament Jesus addresses the cause of justice, care for the other… often. Jesus himself quotes from Isaiah 61, revealing how the oppressed, the widow, the orphan have a special place in God’s heart. God is clear that these should have the same special place in our hearts. Why is this?

Most of us are secure in life, confident in who and what we are. We have position and status that allows us to voice our needs, our thoughts… We also have people and a community around us that will listen, that will care for us. Through Isaiah today and throughout the Bible, God is calling us to stand with those who do not know these privileges. God is calling us to walk beside those who are powerless and who are often outside of community. God is calling us not only to stand with and walk beside these, but also to bring them into community, into relationship. God calls us to love as God loves so that WE can become more like him. The prophets and then Jesus echo this call over and over again. May we join them all as we seek to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to release from darkness the prisoners, and to comfort all who mourn. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, break my heart for what breaks yours. Pour into me your compassion and love so that I may minister to the oppressed, to the poor, to the widow, to the captive among us. Grant me your heart, Jesus. Amen.


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. Amen.