pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Provider and Defender

Reading: Psalm 81: 15-16

Verse 16: “You would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock”.

Most of Psalm 81 laments Israel’s most recent choice to worship idols instead of the God who did so much for them. In today’s passage, the last two verses of the Psalm, we hear the “if only” of the writing. The enemies of Israel would cringe and receive punishment and the Israelites “would be fed with the finest wheat; with honey from the rock” if only the people would turn again to the Lord their God.

The Promised Land has always been that special place set aside for God’s people. Ever since Abraham received the promise, it has been seen as the “land flowing with milk and honey”. As the Israelites finally entered it at the end of the exodus, there was an abundance of crops and resources that simply became theirs to reap and harvest. The land could not have been any better for a people who had been roaming the desert for forty years.

The bounty of the land is just one symbolic way that shows God’s love for the Israelites. God’s offer to protect them from their enemies is one more example of God’s love and care. Many years later, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray, these two ideas were included. Jesus taught to ask God to “give us this day our daily bread”. This reminds us that God is our provider. Later on in the prayer we pray, “and keep us from temptation”. Keep Satan, our biggest enemy, from us, O God. This reminds us that God is our defender.

We, like the Israelites, have our times when we wander off from God. Although it could be for forty years, let’s hope not. No matter how long it is or how quickly we seek to return to God, God is always there, always quick to grant mercy and to extend forgiveness. Some things never change – God still desires a personal relationship with each of us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, for being my provider and my defender. In all that life and the evil one brings, you are my only hope. Thank you for walking every day with me. You’re an awesome God! Amen.


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A Season of Sin

Reading: Hosea 1: 1-10

Verse 2: “The land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord”.

Hosea is a prophet that lived during the divided kingdom. Israel and Judah are separate nations, each with their own king. Hosea first preached in Israel and then, after they fell into captivity, he preached in Judah. The king of Israel had instituted idol worship and the people became unfaithful to God in every way. Their relationship with God was in tatters.

God calls Hosea and instructs him to marry Gomer, who is a harlot or prostitute. This marriage represents God’s relationship with Israel. They are running around with false gods. They have chosen to step outside of the loving, covenant relationship that God offers in exchange for the worldly worship of idols. Israel had turned to the things of this world and the emptiness that it brings. Yet God remains present and longs for his people to return. In our world many have turned to things other than God. At times we too choose to turn from the things of God. We can pursue the power and wealth and popularity that the world dangles in front of us. We can chase after things that lead us away from our relationship with God.

Hosea and Gomer have children. These children’s names each have meaning. The first is Jezreel. This is a bloody massacre that occurred in the past that was displeasing to God. The idol worship and related letting of much blood is now displeasing to God. Their daughter is named Lo- Ruhamah, which means ‘no mercy’. God will not show mercy now. The people will be defeated and taken off into exile. Israel will experience the consequence of their sins. The third child is named Lo-Ammi, which translates to ‘not my people’. Because of their sin, there will be separation. Israel will not be God’s people and he will not be their God. God’s patience appears to have come to an end.

When we allow temptation to lead us to sin, we too have a moment or season when we do not deserve God’s mercy. When we are willfully living in sin, we cannot receive God’s mercy. In those moments or seasons of sinful living we too have stepped outside of our covenant relationship. It is a cold and dark place to be. It is a place we can find ourselves at times, but it is not a place we must remain. Our faithful God waits patiently, continues to love us, longs for us to repent and to come back into right relationship. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, stories like today’s are hard to read. They are hard to read because they point out a reality that can be our lives too. Sin is ever at the door. Help me, O God, to ever turn from sin and towards you. Amen.


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gods

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-4

Verse Four: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”.

Paul writes, “the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing”. ‘You can’t see until you see’ is a saying that is applicable as well for those who just don’t ‘get’ Jesus. There are many reasons that the gospel remains veiled to people today. And it’s not that people don’t worship today. It’s just that most people’s gods are not the one, true God. People pursue and worship many things. For some it is position or title or status. For some it is wealth or possessions. For some it is beauty or popularity. Driving much of this is the cultural lie that self is all that matters. Almost anything is permissable if it makes oneself feel good or gets you closer to your idol.

Paul writes, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”. It is a timeless line. For the most part, the gods are still the same. By and large, people are blinded from the good news of Jesus Christ by the same old idols. Yes, there are new versions and wider variety now, but the fact remains: many pursue and worship other gods. “They cannot see the light of the gospel”. Well then, how do unbelievers come to see the light?

Today most people see you the light through the lives of Christians. Most people are positively affected by Christians long before they step inside the walls of a church. Most new believers first experience Jesus Christ through the witness of the faithful. Sometimes it is through the love and care we offer to others in need. Sometimes it is through the grace and peace with which we live our lives. Sometimes it is by being there when no one else is. There are many ways in which we can share the light and love of Jesus Christ with others. This is usually the first brush with Jesus for most unbelievers.

As Christians, we must also be wary and self-aware. Other gods call out to us as well. We too can stumble over ego and pride and selfishness. We too can be prone to gluttony and addiction and want. Our list of gods is no shorter than the world’s list. So, Father God, strengthen us as we live as witnesses to Jesus’ light and love. Pick us up when we stumble. Help us to hear and follow the Holy Spirit each day. Use us for your glory, O Lord. Amen.


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Stumble Behaviors

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-13

Verse One: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”.

Paul is dealing with a controversy in the church in Corinth. Because of their life experiences, one group in the church feels that eating meat sacrificed to idols is sinful. To them it has been tainted, so it should not be eaten. But to others in the church, they do not think there are other gods than God himself. Therefore, they see meat sacrificed to gods that do not exist as being okay to eat. These two groups are at odds.

Paul opens our passage today with these words: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. He is referring to those who know it is okay to eat the meat as being ‘puffed up’ or arrogant in their stance. Instead of looking down on those struggling with this issue, those Paul calls ‘weak’ or who are less mature believers, Paul encourages them to choose love instead. Paul goes on to acknowledge that idols are “nothing at all” yet reminds the puffed up believers that some are still so accustomed to idols that eating this meat defiles them. Paul then asks the mature believers to abstain from eating such meat because it has become a stumbling block to the less mature Christians. Paul even goes so far as to call it a sin when they intentionally do something that is not a sin if that causes another believer to stumble.

We do not eat food sacrificed to idols today, but we do practice behaviors that cause others to stumble. Imagine the impact on one considering a walk with Christ if they see you regularly joining the office gossip circle or if they hear you harshly judging a fellow worker. Imagine the effect of a Christian using unethical business practices or acting in immoral ways concerning their marriage. Imagine the consequences of making your children go to youth group or Sunday school when you use the same hour to grab a coffee or to do the grocery shopping. As the world witnesses the words and actions of Christians, they can draw others to Christ or they can lead them away from Christ. Through and through we must reflect the love of Jesus Christ first and foremost. We must be diligent in our walk with Jesus, guarding our words and our actions so that we always build one another up. May it be so today and every day.


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Listen, Remember

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3a

Verse One: “He summoned the elders, leaders, judges, … “This is what the Lord says..”

Joshua gathers up the leaders and officials of the twelve tribes of Israel – all the men in charge of the people.  In this farewell chapter Joshua wants to make clear to them the correct path forward.  Just as it has been for Joshua and for Moses before him, so too must God remain at the center of the lives of these leaders and those they lead.  So Joshua does not begin with his own words of wisdom, but with, “This is what the Lord says…”

God begins by reminding them of the story of Abraham.  It is a story they all surely know well but it is important to return and recall the stories often.  The story begins with “long ago” and connects to one of the most important people in their common history.  As God mentions Abraham, his wife Sarah certainly also comes to mind.  Both heard God’s promise that even at 100 they would have a baby.  The covenant would then be given: Abraham will be the father of a great nation.  Both Abraham and Sarah heard and lived out God’s promise in the covenant.  For the elders, leaders, judges, … the message is clear – listen to God and live out His covenant.

There is also a second message in our passage.  God reminds the people that they have worshiped foreign gods.  God connects not doing so with the promise of a new land.  For Abraham it was Canaan; for them it is the Promised Land.  In this warning against worshiping foreign gods, those gathered would recall the story of the golden calf and its consequences.  They would also recall the commandments brought down the mountain by Moses that told them to have no other gods or idols.  This message is also clear – love the Lord your God and Him alone.

These are both good reminders for us as well.  We live into the new covenant established in Christ Jesus, clinging to its promises as we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  May it be so each and every day.


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Represent

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Verse Three: Work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope.

Thessalonica was a large city.  It was an economic and political hub.  In the city was a mix of Romans, Greeks, and some Jews.  It was a worldly city – a place with lots of idols worship and plenty of wild living.  Paul had been there on a missionary journey and had begun a church.  It was a challenge to be a Christian in such a setting.  Our world today is still filled with many false idols and it is easy to stray from the faith into the dark side of the world.

Yet the Thessalonicans remain faithful.  Paul commends the church for the faith that they have and live out in the city.  Their faith has drawn some persecution yet they remain steadfast and joyous.  Their faith is known around the city and region.  Paul notes the three ways in which their faith is seen: “Work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope”.  Their faith has gone from their head to their hearts and pours out of their mouths, hands, and feet.  It is a faith that is easy to see.

In our daily lives, is our faith so easy to see?  By simply watching us, can others see the joy of the Lord in us?  When the storms of life come, can others see our endurance that is inspired by our hope in God?  Our faith should pervade our lives in the good and the bad, being on display for all to see.  Do people see us as the hands and feet of Jesus in our daily lives?  Do they see in us a servant’s heart, offering our work and labor as an offering of love and faith?  In our daily living others should see the ways that we serve Christ.  In these three ways, we model Christ and introduce the world to our Lord.  May we represent well today.