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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Up from the Foundation

Reading: Psalm 137: 5-9

Verse 5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”.

In the short-term of life it seems like things never change. The context of our Psalm today is the period of exile that followed the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been in Babylon for what feels like forever. It feels like their situation will never change. Deep within they long for their past. But at this moment they are stuck in Babylon.

In the long-term of life it often feels like things are always changing. Kings come and go, foreign powers rise and fall, there are times of freedom and times of captivity. Humans in general do not like change. The routines that we fall into in life feel like “forever” after a while. Our faith is one of these routines. In exile, the people of Israel cling to the songs and stories of faith. The telling and retelling of their oral traditions and the singing of their sacred songs connects them both to God and to the past that they long for. The deep desire to always remember is captured in verse five, where we read, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”. If one forgets the most important thing – God – then all else is lost.

Our faith exists and thrives in between the past and the future, between the constant and the change. The Bible and the practices and traditions that we derive from it keep us connected to God and to Jesus. They remind us of who we are as Christians and as communities of faith. Yet our faith also looks forward. One way we look forward is our trust in the future promises – to one day enter heaven and to one day see all things made new as Jesus Christ returns. The other way we look forward in our faith is the idea of journey. Our faith today is not what it was five years ago. We seek to journey forward, ever becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible, the traditions, the practices – these are the solid foundations of our faith. The desire to grow to be more like Jesus – this is the building up from that foundation. We are blessed by both. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for being who and what you are: unchanging love and mercy and grace. Thank you for showing us all these things lived out in your son, Jesus Christ. Keep me connected to both. Amen.


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.


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Step in Faith

Reading: Jeremiah 32: 1-3a and 6-15

Verse 6: “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel… is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anatheth'”.

As our passage opens, we learn three important facts. First, the word of the Lord again came to Jeremiah. Second, the Babylonians that Jeremiah had prophesied about are now beseiging Jerusalem. Third, King Hezekiah has imprisoned Jeremiah for said prophecy. Life does not seem very good for Jeremiah. It is with this knowledge that we read verse six: “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel… is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anatheth'”. In so many ways this does not seem like a good idea. Jeremiah has warned the people – telling them that the Babylonians will win and will haul many off into exile. He knows that the exile will be long. So, buy some land?

God is always at work, often in ways that we either don’t realize or don’t understand. Because of more limited resources and a desire to more efficiently serve a smaller client base, our church lost our client relationship with this agency. The decision was then made to end a fellowship meal that was made possible because of the food we had been receiving from this agency. Almost immediately God began to work in my heart to do something new. The idea of starting a marriage makers group for young couples rose up in my heart. Driving to a conference last weekend, God planted another seed. I had arranged to have coffee or lunch with some youth who were at the college hosting the event. But one that I reached out to shared that they were taking a year off and were actually home. Thinking about her led me to think of other college-aged kids from church who were also in town. God posed this question: what about a Bible study for our young adults? My initial thought to both of these whispers was: now? Maybe not the greatest timing God? Yet in my heart I know God is right. ‘Trust me’ is the echo I keep hearing.

What land purchase as war wages around you is God leading you to? Where is God asking you to take on more when often you feel overwhelmed? God promises to provide the way. When we have the faith and courage to walk where God is leading, God will walk with us. We may not know the whole plan or even the next step, but God does. When the word of the Lord comes, may we step out in faith, finding God’s presence and strength as we go.

Prayer: Guiding God, thank you for giving me a heart for ministry. Reveal to me the next steps to minister to our young couples and to our young adults. Bring me the words of invitation and show me the plan to follow. If it’s just one step at a time, help me to step forward with you. Amen.


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Good News Story

Reading: Psalm 79: 5-9

Verse 9: “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”.

As I sit and look across the street at the gray house surrounded by big green trees, the world seems so peaceful. Looking to the left I see the church. The sand-colored bricks and darkened windows present a place of calm and rest. In the little moments like these, when God draws us in, the world feels like such a beautiful place. Then my mind turns to Psalm 79 and to the troubles of today.

The psalmist cries out to God, “How long”? It is a familiar refrain in the Bible and in our lives today. Because of the hard situation of exile, the psalmist cries out for an end to God’s anger. The psalmist asks God to pour it out instead on all those nations that do not believe in God. “May your mercy come quickly to meet us” is the desperate plea. In our time and in our lives we experience all of this. There are times when it feels like God is angry – or at least distant. There are times when a non-believer is living a blessed and enjoyable life and we wonder why the faithful suffer. There are times when God cannot lift us out of our valley quickly enough. We can relate to the psalmist’s words and to the place the Israelites find themselves spirituality and emotionally.

Even in the midst of such times Christians hold onto hope and to the promises that God is near and that we are beloved. Like the Israelites, we have experienced the hand of God intervening and have been brought up out of the pit by our God. But in this window of time, relief has not come. On behalf of the people, the psalmist petitions God, asking God to “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”. We pray this prayer or one much like it often. We find ourselves or we get ourselves into a tough place and we too seek God’s mercy and grace. When God finds us and renews us to wholeness and full life, as God surely does, then it becomes part of our good news story. And when we choose to tell that story to others, it brings God the glory. May we rejoice in the Lord our God, sharing the good news with others today.

Prayer: God, your mercies never fail and your love never ends. This I know to be true because over and over you are present to me in my need and in my joys. May my witness today help others to know you more. 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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Building God’s Kingdom

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 22-28

Verse 22b: “They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good”.

These verses for today are downcast. God laments that Israel does not know God, that they are fools. God notes, “They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good”. The nation of Israel has become exactly the opposite of what God intended. God’s response? Lay all its towns to ruin. Verses 23-25 are reminiscent of the beginning of the Bible – formless and void, no light, quaking mountains. These verses also feel similar to the day that Jesus drew his last breath. Yet God was not without hope. God knew the larger plan that was at work.

In Jeremiah’s day he was not the only faithful person around. With a quick glance it might have looked like it. This is why, in verse 27, God says that the destruction will not be complete. Even in exile leaders and people will rise up to keep the nation connected to God and to their faith. The towns laying in ruins and the time living in a foreign land will be a hard time. But it will also be a refining time for the Israelites.

The exile will end and a faithful people will rebuild. The nation will grow and flourish. But then the leaders will lead the people astray and the Romans become the new Babylon. Israel keeps some faith but the poor are oppressed, sinners become less welcome, religion becomes more exclusive and somewhat legalistic. In essence Jesus will raze the same criticism that we read today in verse 22, calling the religious leaders “whitewashed tombs” and hypocrites (Matthew 23).

This time God’s response is not exile but sacrifice. After Jesus sets us an example of what God’s love looks like when lived out in practical, tangible ways, he goes to the cross and grave to establish a new covenant. After rising from the grave, Jesus also fulfills his promise, sending the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives and dwells in all who profess Jesus as Lord, a presence that helps us to walk as Jesus walked. As we do so, following Jesus, we help that remnant to grow as others come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior too. As we share our faith, we help in building God’s kingdom here on earth. In all we do and say and think today, may we bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, you have ever been at work leading us away from sin and back into right relationship with you. Continue to do so in my life. Show me today how to best be your light and love so that others can come to know you or can come closer to you today. Amen.