pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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Do Good

Reading: Galatians 6: 1-10

Verse 9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”.

Paul is writing to the church in Galatia. He founded it and he nurtured it. Now it is struggling a little bit. The folks are not acting as brothers and sisters in Christ. The loving community has splintered a bit due to quarreling and to some thinking themselves better than others. Paul wonders if they have lost their capacity to love one another fully and unconditionally.

Chapter 6 in my Bible is titled, “Doing Good to All”. Paul begins by encouraging us to lovingly help one another in our battles with sin. Then Paul reminds us to bear one another’s burdens as the need arises. He closes this little subsection by encouraging each of us to “test his own actions” so that we can keep focused on walking in God’s ways. All of these things involve loving in truth.

In verse 7 Paul returns to a familiar illustration. He begins by reminding us that “a man reaps what he sows”. Sin equals destruction and pleasing the Spirit leads to eternal life. It is quite simple. Sow seeds of faith and live faithfully and our fruit is life forever with God in heaven. Paul knows this is not an easy road to walk. In verse 9 he writes, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”. In 2nd Timothy 4 he calls this fighting the good fight. He encourages us not to give up in the battle because living a life of faith requires a constant effort. It is easier to allow sin to enter in and to walk with the world. But this would not be pleasing to the Spirit. Instead we must sow good seeds.

Paul closes our section for today be encouraging us to do good when we have the opportunity. Paul believes Christians should do good for all but especially for our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are great words to live by. Today, may we do good to all.

Prayer: Lord, help me today to seek to love first and always, striving to do good and not harm. Reflect in my eyes the beauty and depth of your love so that as I have opportunity today, I may share your love with others. Amen.


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.


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Compassionate Love

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-5 & 10

Verse Ten: “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.

Today we pick up the story of Jonah part way through.  Jonah has already been told to go to Nineveh, fled the other direction, been tossed into the sea during a fierce storm, been swallowed by a fish, prayed to God, and was vomited on to dry land.  This is Jonah 1 and 2 in a nutshell.  Our passage today begins with God speaking a second time to Jonah, instructing him to go to the great city of Nineveh to give a message which calls for their repentance.

Nineveh is a great city with over 120,000 residents.  Our passage tells us that it takes three days to visit the city.  We also learn that it is a city of wickedness.  God calls Jonah to go to save the city from destruction.  This is the first indication of God’s compassionate love.  God desires for the city to turn from its evil ways.  God’s compassionate love is also shown to Jonah as God is willing to tell him a second time to go to Nineveh.  God could have let Jonah drown and found another messenger.

Jonah goes to Nineveh and preached, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be over turned”.  The people believe God and a citywide fast is declared by the king.  The people also put on sackcloth as a sign of their repentance.  The king led the people to do this in hope that God would be compassionate and would relent.  In verse ten we read, “He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened”.  God delivered the second chance that He wanted to give the city.  The story does not end here either.  God still has some work to do with Jonah.  Even though God’s purposes for Nineveh have been completed, God still loves Jonah and goes on to show that.

In the continuing work that God does with Jonah we come to see that God not only gives Jonah a second chance, but also a third…  God does not give up on Jonah.  He continues to bring Jonah along, ever shaping him into who he was created to be.  This is a beautiful thing about our God.  He continues to do the same thing for each and every one of us.  In His great love, God works and works and works to help us along our Christian walk.  He never gives up on us.  It is a beautiful thing.  Thanks be to God for His never-ending compassionate love for you and for me.


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Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

The Hebrew people are on the brink of the Promised Land.  400 years in slavery in Egypt are not too far in the rear view mirror.  As God’s people began to experience life lived in freedom, God gave them the Ten Commandments.  These commandments gave guidance on how to live in a right relationship with God and with one another.  The commands are both quite simple and also encompass much.  The people have had their struggles living with these ten commandments, so as they prepare to begin a new era, a new way of life, Moses seeks to remind them one last time.  Moses urges them to “choose life” because he knows that living in the land of milk and honey with foreign cultures all around will be a great challenge to the people, to their relationship with God, and to their relationship with one another.

This choice sounds so familiar to me.  Each day when I rise, I can choose to seek God with all of my being and to “walk in His ways”.  It is the choice Moses begins his address with: “I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction”.  On my own, I am prone to temptation and sin.  On those days and in those moments when I do not intentionally choose God, I may not be doomed for immediate death and destruction, but it begins me on that path.  If I do not quickly see the consequences of my poor choices, I can soon find myself “bowing down to other gods”.  It is necessary for me to begin each day choosing to follow God’s ways, seeking to live in right relationships with God and those around me.  When my first few steps and my first few decisions begin with God, then the rest of the day tends to follow.

When we “choose life”, we are blessed by God.  The blessing is not necessarily in financial terms or in any other earthly measure.  The blessing comes in the peace and assurance of being held in God’s eternal hands.  The blessing comes with hope and contentment in this life and in the life to come.  The blessing comes in abiding in God’s love and grace.  This day, what do you choose?