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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The Spring of Living Water

Reading: Jeremiah 2: 4-13

Verse 13: “My people have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns”.

Jeremiah 2 opens with God remembering when Israel was young and was faithful to God. Then, in our verses for today, God questions why the people have strayed so far and asks what was so wrong that led them away. The nation has turned to worthless idols and has become worthless themselves. They have forgotten God’s deeds for them; even the priests and prophets have turned from God. Verse twelve sums up God’s emotions at this point: “Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great terror”.

A quick glance around our world and one would guess that heaven is appalled. There is certainly no lack of people following idols and worshipping false gods. Many today seek to find happiness and contentment in money, possessions, titles, status, popularity… A good deal more seek happiness and contentment in alcohol, drugs, sex, hobbies… Add in the violence, abuse, war, injustices… and heaven must shudder. There seems to be a great distance between our world today and the world that God created long ago.

Our passage closes with verse thirteen. Here we read, “My people have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns”. God is like a spring of living water. Jesus made this claim as well. A spring of living water is active and fresh and moving and full of energy. It never runs dry and is always available to nourish, cleanse, renew. This is a good description of God. But instead of going to the living water, the people have built cisterns. And they are cracked. The stagnant, tepid, lifeless water is leaking out, being wasted. This too is a good analogy for a people who have gone astray from God. Overall, this is a good metaphor for those who walk without God. Without God, what is the point of life? What is the meaning of all this?

It is quite a contrast to think of God as a spring of living water and to think of the ways of the world as a broken cistern. It is spot-on. One is eternal and one is temporal. Which do you choose?

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, your life and spirit is everywhere: in the chirp of the crickets, in the sway of the trees, in the beat of my heart. May your spring of living water ever nourish and renew me. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-8 & 22-23

Verse 7: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God”.

Within the 150 Psalms we find a variety of types or styles. Psalm 50 is a Psalm of judgment. We prefer the Psalms that praise God, that remind us of God’s love and care, that bring us comfort. Psalm 50 is a testimony against the people. Their sins have angered God and judgment is upon God’s lips. Verses one through six remind the people of who and what God is. God is in charge, God will gather the people, a fire is before and a tempest is around God. God summons the people to judge them.

In verse seven God opens the case against Israel. In this verse we read, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God”. Prepare yourselves, Israel. It is about to begin. In verses eight through 21, which we did not read today, God lays out the case. In the first half, God addresses the sacrifices. Thank offerings are good, but otherwise – well, God has no need of animal flesh and blood. In fact, God owns all the animals, birds, cattle… anyway. Starting in verse sixteen God addresses the sins: the people ignore God’s words, they are thieves and adulterers, they speak evil. This section ends with, “But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face”. Judgment is coming.

When one looks at the list of sins in the middle verses of our Psalm, our first thought is ‘phew’! We think we are okay. But look a little deeper, search a bit more. You or I may not be thieves or adulterers and we may not ignore God’s words all the time and we do not offer meaningless sacrifices on the altar. But we are certainly not without sin. We are not without harsh words, gossip, maybe even slander. We struggle with pride and ego and selfishness… If we were Israel, we could not stand innocently before the Lord our God either. Thankfully, our story does not end here though.

Verse 23 speaks of “the salvation of God”. For the early readers of Psalm 50, this was a promise yet to come. Not so for us. Jesus Christ offers us the way of salvation. Through his gift on the cross we no longer stand condemned. Through his life we follow a Savior who shows us the way to live righteously in our world. In Christ we find forgiveness. In Christ we see the way. In all things may we bring honor and glory to his name.

Prayer: God, the judgment that we read about in Psalm 50 is so deserving. So too are my sins. Thank you so much for Jesus, the sacrifice for me and my sins. May all I do and say and think today bring honor and glory to you, my God. Amen.


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Moments of Faith

Reading: 2 Kings 5: 9-18

Verse 17: “Please let me… be given as much earth as two miles can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”.

Naaman humbles himself and does what Elisha told him to do. It seemed so simple. On the journey over to Israel and then to Elisha’s house, Naaman must have envisioned some grand process to be healed. He must have thought a lot about returning to normal life. He would no longer be an outcast. No longer would his only human contact come through the violence of battle. No longer would others look at him in disgust. There would be a lot of emotions inside of Naaman.

After dipping himself seven times in the Jordan, Naaman’s flesh is restored, becoming “clean like the flesh of a young boy”. Healing! Healing! Naaman and his folks head back to Elisha’s to give him the thank you gifts that they brought. Elisha refuses the gifts. The proud Naaman would have become angry and perhaps left the gifts in a pile in the road. But Naaman is not so proud any more. He knows how he was healed: by the one true God. We cannot miss Naaman’s request: “Please let me… be given as much earth as two miles can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”. He wants dirt. He must return home to continue his service to the king. But he wants enough dirt to stand or kneel upon to worship God. This request shows how grateful he is for his healing and how moved he is by God. To take a physical piece of Israel home to worship on speaks volumes about the impact of the healing upon Naaman. He wants to remember his God moment.

This is something we all do. As I look back over my faith journey, I can recall images of God moments. These experiences are etched in my mind. There are also physical items – like Naaman’s dirt. Each item is tied to a faith experience that moved me forward on my journey of faith. Take a moment or two and recall your God moments. Join me in thanking God for each and every one of them.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the many ways and times that you have touched my life, reminding me over and over of your love for me. Please continue to do so. Amen.


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Perceive

Reading: Isaiah 43: 19b-21

Verse 19: “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”.

Thirst comes in many forms. It can be physical at times. After a long hike on a hot day that cool drink of water can taste so good. It can be emotional at times. When I have been away at school or on a mission trip or at an event over a long weekend, it feels so good to see and hug my family once again. When a good friend returns to your life, it is refreshing and renewing too.

The thirst can also be spiritual. This is the thirst that Isaiah writes about. Israel’s unfaithfulness has drawn them away from God. Our sin does the same to us. Because of their behaviors and choices, they cannot drink deeply of their faith. Exile has deepened the thirst and made it feel more profound. Through Isaiah, God says, “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”. God is starting the renewal process. God asks, can’t you see it? God is beginning to pour back into a people starting to seek God again. The exiles feel like they are in a dry and weary place, especially spiritually. Even though they may not see it yet, God is preparing to bring them back to the Promised Land. God is at work in the happenings of the world to orchestrate their return to their homeland. God is bringing streams of hope and restoration to “the people I formed for myself”.

God seeks to do the same in our lives. God is always at work seeking to draw us closer, to deepen our faith. When we wander, the Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us back into right relationship. When we feel a bit disconnected, God brings us a spark through the Word or sends a brother or sister in Christ to us with the presence or words of encouragement or accountability that we need at that moment. God is ever at work in our lives. Sometimes the question is the same for us: do you not perceive it?

We perceive it best when we engage with God and our faith. God wants to fill us up, to be our all in all. God wants us to drink deeply of our relationship with and connection to Himself. We too are His chosen people. The promise is that if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Each day may we engage in our faith, seeking the Lord. In doing so we will find God is very present and we can then proclaim our praises. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, this day may I sense you all around me and in me. As I seek you, help me to grow closer and deeper in my faith. In all I say and do and think, may I proclaim your praises. Amen.


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All Nations, All Peoples

Reading: Luke 4: 21-30

Verse 23: “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”

It is likely that almost everyone in the synagogue in Nazareth knew Jesus – many since He was a baby or since He was a small boy. As He claims that He fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 61, many in the crowd think or say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son”? Isn’t Jesus just the carpenter’s boy? Hearing or sensing this, Jesus says, “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”. It is hard to be at home as something or someone different than you were just a few months before. The crowd, who are hanging in the balance, want to see someone new, someone who has made good. To know it is true, they want to see a sign, a miracle. They want proof for who Jesus is claiming to be.

Perhaps the words from Jeremiah 1 – the words that we have been looking at the past two days – began to ring in Jesus’ ears. Maybe Jesus hears God reminding Him of who He was created to be. Jesus knows the plans that God has for Him. Perhaps this is what keeps Jesus from offering a sign at this moment. Pretty fresh off of the temptations in the wilderness, perhaps Satan returns with a fury, egging Jesus on to ‘just do it’. Satan would delight in Jesus using His power for the wrong reasons – to bring Himself glory. But Jesus resists all of this.

Instead, Jesus chooses to redefine their understanding of God and faith. To His audience, who are part of the chosen people, Jesus shares two stories that illustrate that God is bigger than Israel’s God. In reminding them that God rescued a foreign widow’s son fro death and healed a Syrian army commander of leprosy, Jesus is saying that it is not all about Israel. The idea that God’s love extends beyond them, beyond the people who keep the circle tightly closed, beyond the people who look down upon all outside of Israel as Gentiles, this was too much.

Yet we know it is not too much. To go just to Zarephath or to heal just an outsider who wanders in is not enough. Jesus called us to go to the ends of the earth, to make disciples of all nations, if all peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may I live into Jesus’ vision of the kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that includes all people. May I see all as a part of your family, especially those who have trouble seeing it themselves. Guide me to help others to become someone who walks in the light and love of Jesus. Amen.


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Light and Love

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Verse 3: “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

As Isaiah writes today’s words, most of Israel remains in exile in Babylon. Some of those have melded into the culture there and will not return to Israel. Exile has become home. A small remnant has returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they feel like foreigners in a strange land. They are not strong or powerful; they feel weak and helpless. Yet Isaiah reminds them that God is with them.

Sometimes I think this is what many Christians feel like in this post-Christian era. We feel like we are in the minority. Much of the time our beliefs and understandings clash with today’s cultural norms. It feels like we are a small remnant. And often we feel powerless in the world, like strangers in a foreign land.

Isaiah speaks words of hope to Israel. He writes, “The Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you”. Even though they feel powerless and a bit out of place, God’s presence rises over them. Their power is not in arms or swords or thick walls around Jerusalem. Their power is in God’s presence with them.

We too can claim this message from Isaiah. In a world too easily filled with darkness, we too are surrounded by God’s presence. God’s presence in our lives fills us with a light and love that we can share with those we know and encounter who are living in darkness. In a nation where diversity and differences seem to be the priority, God’s light and love offer unity and cooperation. Verse 3 reads, “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”. As Christians, we know God’s light and love. May we bring that light and love into the broken and dark world, bringing hope and peace. May this verse be our prayer for the day and for the new year that lies just ahead. May our lives and our faith be a blessing to our world.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace and hope, of light and love. May your light and love shine out brightly every day. May the light and love of Jesus in my heart become a beacon of light to all who are lost and living in darkness. May it be so O God! Amen.