pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hope in Babylon

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verse 7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”.

The leaders, the craftsmen, those will skills are carried off into exile. Through Jeremiah the Lord God sends them a message of hope. Within this message is an unspoken truth: the exile will be long. This is not an exile that can be endured for just a few years and that will suddenly end, allowing life as they had known it to resume. Life as they had known it will cease to exist for an extended period.

Most of us can relate to what the exiles must have been feeling. In times of loss or unexpected change we too have felt out of sync and out of place, out of control and out of our ability to cope. There must have been a sense of hopelessness and despair hanging over the people. Into the exiles’ situation God gives direction and purpose. Instead of hunkering down and angrily riding out this period, God tells them to buy instead of renting, to intermingle and to intermarry instead of living in isolation. God tells them to find jobs and to start businesses. God says, through Jeremiah, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”. In this place of exile God tells the people that they will thrive and experience blessing. In the midst of what must have felt like a horrible situation God reminds them that it will not only be okay, but it will be good because even in Babylon God is in control.

This leads me to wonder where there is hope and maybe even new life in my Babylon. How or where do you feel exile? As we ponder this thought, events or people or situations come to mind. These thoughts can cause us to lose hope or to feel a heavy weight upon us. Or… we can remember that God is in control and we can seek to trust in God alone and maybe, just maybe, to thrive in our Babylon.

Jesus himself invites us to lay down our burdens and to trust in him, promising us that he is “gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). In Babylon, God is there and in control. Turn to the Lord, our hope and our deliverer.

Prayer: Providing God, you are the rock in the storm, the sure foundation in this life, my only hope in the life to come. In the tempest, be with me. In the valley, carry me. Shine your face upon me and be gracious to me. Amen.

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Healing and Freedom through Trust in God

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 22: “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”?

Much of Israel is in exile. They are living in a foreign land. The people want to be restored, they long for freedom. Jeremiah pleas with God to “listen to the cry of my people”. The people feel as if God were no longer there. Jeremiah mourns and cries right alongside the people. Today many people feel trapped and long for freedom. The things that enslave are many and are quite varied. Some feel that the systems of the world are entrapping them. For example, those struggling with the poverty of the inner cities and reservations cannot see hope. Those dealing with addictions live often with a sense of hopelessness. Those who return to the same sin over and over question God’s presence and power. No one wants to live in these valleys. All want to be restored. Every one longs for freedom and a future with hope.

The people that Jeremiah is serving want freedom, but are still being influenced by and are still clinging to the world around them. God remains angry because the Israelites are still worshipping foreign idols. They say they want God to free them but they are still holding onto those idols with one hand. We fall into this trap too. We pray to God to intervene or give guidance or direction and then we blast out the door to do our own thing. We ask God to help while still keeping one hand on the steering wheel. When we fail to allow God to be the one in control, when we take matters into our own hands, when we still trust at least partly in our abilities or in the ways of the world, we too will end up asking, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”? Tears in heaven are shed because we cannot quite turn it all over to God.

Jeremiah sees this in the people and he mourns as horror grips him. He wishes his head were a spring so that he could cry more tears. In heartfelt prayer Jeremiah longs to pour out his heart and his sorrow to God. We too mourn at times. It may be for ourselves, for one we love, for our church, or for events in the world. When we do mourn, may we be like Jeremiah, asking God with all that we are, trusting in God alone to bring the freedom and healing that is so needed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, my heart grieves for those hurting and for those who feel alienated. My heart pours out tears for the church. Help me to put my trust in you alone to lead and guide us. It is only through your love and power that we have a future with hope. O great Jehovah, make me fully yours. Amen.


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Certainties

Reading: John 10: 22-26

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

The Jews had a clear idea in their minds of who and what the Messiah would be. They were certain that the Messiah would restore Israel to its full glory. Jesus did not match the vision that they were certain of in their heads. But they were so certain of it that they could not see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah. In today’s passage they say to Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

I too struggle with certainty. At times I have been certain of how God should answer this prayer or open that door or close this one. At times I have been certain of the plan I have made or of the direction I think we should go. At times I have been certain that this action or that thought or those words were justified. In almost all of these cases, my certainty has gotten me in trouble and has melted away before the power of God.

Jesus’ response is sure and is straight forward. Jesus reminds them that He did tell them who He is. His claims of divinity brought anger and words like blasphemy. Jesus also reminds them of the miracles that they have witnessed. It is between two certainties that the Jews are caught. They are certain that God would not come in the flesh like this and they are certain that the miracles reveal divine power. Jesus then connects back to what He was talking about recently. We find this conversation at the beginning of John 10. It is about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus explained the loving and caring relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus speaks of being the gate – both into the pen and into eternal life. He also reminds them that He will lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus returns to these ideas in today’s passage. He bluntly tells them “you are not my sheep”. This is why they do not believe even though they have seen the miracles. Their certainty is the barrier that prevents faith in Christ.

My certainty has done this too. Whenever I place my will and my wants before God’s will and His plan, I am trying to live by the ways of man. Over and over I have found that this is not the best path. I find the best path when I listen to the voice of the Shepherd, when I follow the voice I know. I plainly see that Jesus is the Christ. It is by faith alone that I must follow. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the only sure thing. In you alone can I truly trust, in you alone do I find hope and meaning and purpose. Step by step may I walk in faith, trusting you with all that I am. Strengthen me to follow closely. Amen.


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Righteous

Reading: Psalm 1

Verses 1-2: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked… but his delight is in the law of the Lord”.

Psalm 1 paints a pretty sharp contrast between those who are righteous and those who are not. The psalmist begins with a warning not to spend time with the wrong crowd: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…”. The psalmist also includes sinners and mockers in the groups to avoid. While all Christians sin, we do not live a life of sin. In the general sense, the psalmist is spot-on: if we hang out with the wicked, the sinners, the mockers, then we will likely become these things ourselves.

In verse 2, the writer goes on to say, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord”. The righteous not only delight in the law but also meditate upon it day and night. It is to live and breathe God’s ways. The blessing is compared to a tree – healthy roots soak up the water of life, it bears fruit, it does not wither. Prosperity comes to those who dwell in the Lord. All done in alignment with God’s ways and desires will prosper.

The Psalm returns to the wicked in verses 4 and 5. They are blown this way and that in the changing winds. They cannot stand in the judgment. Like the house built upon the sand in Matthew 7, the winds and waves beat down the house built upon a poor foundation. If we desire to stand firm, our foundation must be found in God.

A promise concludes the Psalm: “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous”. God is present to the righteous. He goes with us always. The Holy Spirit is our constant companion offering guidance, direction, discernment, conviction… We are never alone. Thanks be to God.

Lord, help me to walk in your ways. Keep me intimately connected to your Word and your ways. Grant me discernment so that I can walk in your truth. May my life allow others to see you and your love. Amen.


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Like Moses and Joshua…

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 9-12

Verse Nine: Now Joshua was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.

How would one ever follow Moses as the leader of the Israelites?  His shoes were mighty big to fill.  Moses actually talked face to face with God.  He came down from the mountain and his face was aglow. Moses had turned water to blood, caused hail, and brought in frogs, flies, and locust.  He had even orchestrated the passing of death over the Israelite homes.  He had called down manna and quail from heaven.  He had parted the sea and made water come from a rock.  How in the world would one follow this guy?

Moses comes down the mountain one last time, knowing his life has drawn to a close.  He comes to Joshua and passes the torch.  Verse nine reads, “Now Joshua was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him”.  Just as Moses was, Joshua has been chosen by God to lead His people.  Moses has already addressed the people and established Joshua as his God-given successor.  Moses spoke of God’s plans for the nation in the Promised Land with Joshua as their leader.  Joshua has been empowered to lead and the people now look to him as their leader.

Joshua steps forward boldly not because of his own strength and abilities.  He steps up not because Moses has passed the torch to him.  Joshua steps up because God has chosen him and has filled him with the Spirit.  All those miracles and signs and wonders during Moses’ leadership?  They were 0% Moses and 100% God.  It will be the same with Joshua.  God will lead and guide them.  Anything done or accomplished will be by God alone and in accordance with His will.  Joshua is a man of deep faith and trust in God.  This is his greatest strength.

Each and every day, Joshua will seek God’s guidance and direction.  Each and every word and action will come through the lead of the Spirit.  Joshua will lead fully trusting in the Lord.  These things are what made Moses a great leader.  They will make Joshua a great leader.  They will also make us great leaders.  In all we do and say and think, may we also strive to lead like Moses and Joshua, fully trusting in the Lord our God.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse Four: I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt.

Joseph is at a good place in his life.  He has gone through some difficult experiences but has had a sense of God’s guidance and presence during his time in Egypt.  The old hurts and scars are a thing of the past.  And then his brothers suddenly appear before him, begging to buy food.  Oh how the tables have turned!  All that distant hurt and anger must have come rushing back for Joseph.  In the text we see that this is right where his brothers go – terrified in his presence because they too remember what all they did to him.

In life we experience hurts and offenses.  We all have been let go by an employer or have been dumped by one we love or have been cast aside for a cooler or better connected friend.  More often than not we absorb the hurt and over time it lessens and we come to a new place of peace and contentment as we allow God to heal and love us.  We see that God has continued to be at work in our lives, bringing us a new job or a new significant other or a new best friend.  And then our old boss comes looking for a job or the ex shows up with regrets over their choice or the old friend comes looking for your help.  Thanks feelings come rushing back and it is hard to be loving and caring and to act as Jesus calls us to act.

Joseph exclaims, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt”. It is not, ‘I am in charge now!’ or ‘Get out!’ or anything else harsh or negative.  It is love and mercy and reconciliation that Joseph offers.  He knows that God has been with him and will continue to be with him.  He chooses to let go of the past and to embrace a future with God leading and guiding.  When we are faced with the choice to love or to seek revenge, may we also find a way guided by God’s love, bringing healing and wholeness to what was broken.


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Your Will

Reading: Genesis 24: 42-49

Verse 42: O Lord… if you will, please Grant success on the journey to which I have come.

In today’s passage, Abraham’s servant recounts what happened at the well.  In doing so he is trying to persuade them to allow Rebekah to go and become Isaac’s wife.  In a way, it is a very strange request.  This stranger shows up and wants to take your daughter or sister off to a far away land.  But as the story unfolds, two things become apparent to Bethuel and Laban.  First, this man has been sent by Abraham.  Lava’s father is Abraham’s brother.  This is family!  Second, God is clearly at work in this process.  Through earnest prayer and deep trust in God’s guidance, the servant has been led to the well and now to their home.  God’s presence flows throughout the recounting of the story.

Sometimes we too can experience God’s presence in the midst of our unfolding lives.  For me it is most often becomes apparent after the fact.  I look back on some event or experience and I can see how God led me this way or orchestrated that to happen.  In these cases it is reassuring that God was present and guided me.  But once in a while we realize that God’s hand is active right in the midst of an event or experience.  We have a sense that God is actively there.  It is almost as if we were being washed along by the current.  We are there, but only sort of.  We are acting on behalf of God and He is fully in control of us and of the situation.

In our story today, the faithful servant invites God’s guidance and direction and really triggers God’s active hand.  He earnestly wants God to lead and guide him.  He is boldly praying a prayer I sometimes only half pray.  When the faithful servant prays the “let your will be done” prayer, there is no ‘but’ or any other condition or stipulation.  It is simply here I am Lord, let’s go!  This day, may I live more fully into the example set by this faithful servant of God.  This day may your will be done O Lord.