pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Enemy? Love them!

Reading: 2 Samuel 23: 6-7

Verse 6: “But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns…”.

King David had accumulated a few enemies. He ruled in a time and place where conflict with the tribes and kingdoms around you seemed constant. He also had some enemies within his kingdom and even within his own family at times. In a way, each of these were “evil” – trying to take land or goods or slaves or power from the one who God anointed to rule Israel.

King David’s take on what to do with evil men fits right in with the rest of the Old Testament. Evil is to be destroyed like thorns – cut down with the sword and/or burned in the fire. When we move to the New Testament we get a different approach. Yes, in the end, Jesus did recognize the fact that some will be condemned to the eternal fires and to torment. But for Jesus this seemed like a far-off event.

Jesus also had many people who opposed Him. But I don’t think Jesus would have called them “evil” or would’ve thought they should die by the sword or by fire. Jesus’ first reaction to those who opposed or attacked or threatened Him was to love them. He did not see them as evil to dispose of but as sinners in need of saving. They may have evil intents or may have even done evil, but they were not evil themselves. Some did not agree with Jesus’ teachings or with who He chose to hang out with. His response was to love these too. Jesus tried to show them the better way, the way that God called Him to love God and neighbor. It is not a wonder that Jesus instructed us to love our enemy, to pray for our enemy. It is what Jesus did. May we follow His example well.

Prayer: Lord, help me to do what can be hard – to love those who seek to harm or hurt me. Lead me to love them and to pray for them – not to change them but to change me. May it be so. Amen.

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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.


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Deep Loss

Reading: 2 Samuel 1:1 and 17-27

Verses 24 and 26: “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”.

David returns from defeating the Amalekites heavy with grief. Victory was won but it came with a high cost. King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle. In our reading today we can feel David’s pain and grief. Loss is always hard, unexpected loss even more so.

David has had a difficult relationship with Saul the last few months. They first crossed paths when David stepped up to slay Goliath. David soon found a place in Saul’s court, playing and singing for Saul, soothing his troubled mind and soul. David became best of friends with Jonathan, Saul’s son. Over time, Saul became more and more jealous of David as God brought him victory after victory. In fits of anger, Saul would try and kill David. Once, aware of his father’s altered state, Jonathan even acted to save David, betraying his father. In time Saul would gather soldiers, attempting to hunt down and kill David. In spite of all this, David still respected Saul as God’s chosen king. David respectfully waited his turn.

During David’s time in the court, he became best if friends with Jonathan. They were like brothers. Jonathan could have been the next king as an heir to the throne, but he saw God’s blessing upon David. He did nothing to defend his right to the throne. Like David, he was aware of God’s hand at work. Because if this, at times Jonathan protected David from his father Saul’s anger and jealousy. They were true friends. There is a personal pain in the loss of Jonathan.

In today’s poem of lament, David writes, “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”. In the loss of Saul, David calls upon the daughters of Israel and the men of Judah to lament the loss of a great leader and warrior. In Jonathan, David lost his best friend. He personally grieves this loss. There is hurt in his words. This loss is like the loss of a spouse or a child – a deep and profound loss.

This day may we lift up those we know who are feeling what David felt – deep loss, difficult grief. May we pray for those we know who are hurting today, praying for God’s powerful and sustaining presence to surround and carry them this day.


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Strong Faith

Reading: Exodus 1: 15-22

Verses 20 and 21: God was kind to the midwives… He gave them families of their own.

Shiphrah and Puah we’re very brave women.  They feared God more than they feared Pharaoh and they did what was right according to God instead of bowing to the king’s orders.  Pharaoh’s cruel and ruthless treatment of the Israelites had not curbed their growth, so Pharaoh goes one step further.

Pharaoh calls in Shiphrah and Puah and orders these two midwives to kill all make babies during birth.  These two women are told to murder the babies of their own people.  They have the power to carry out this cruel and hateful order.  Refusal to follow the order will probably not end well for these two midwives.  Pharaoh had demonstrated his evil and dark side in the harsh treatment of the Israelites and with this new order.  Fear and paranoia are clearly guiding his thought process.  It took quite a strong faith in God to choose to not follow Pharaoh’s newest order.

These two brave women are summoned once again when Pharaoh discovers that they are not killing the Israelite make babies during childbirth.  He asks them, “Why have you done this”?  They offer up a lie and Pharaoh buys it.  God protects them.  Because of their faithfulness, “God was kind to the midwives… He gave them families of their own”.  Shiphrah and Puah are looked on with favor because they chose God over the powers of this world.  In this high-stakes decision, they trusted in God and stayed strong in their faith.

Shiphrah and Puah are two of many women of strong faith in the Bible.  Ruth and Naomi, Rahab, Esther, Deborah, and the women who followed Jesus all the way to the foot of the cross are a few more examples of women of strong faith.  All of these women resisted fear and possible physical loss as they chose God’s ways rather than the ways of the world whatever the cost.  They are shining role models of strong faith who bear witness to God’s love and power.  May we follow their example, choosing what is righteous and godly above all else.  And may we have the courage and strong faith they demonstrated, not counting the cost but giving all we can for our God and King.


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Us?

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 58: …and the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Oddly enough, in the middle of our passage today, the author mentions that Saul is there.  That people laid their clothes at his feet would indicate that maybe Saul is “in charge” of the stoning of Stephen.  He may not cast a stone, but he is there to make sure the job is done right.  Saul is becoming the leading figure in the efforts to persecute and eliminate this fledgling church.  In Stephen we find one absolutely willing to die for his faith.  Saul is just as passionate and dedicated to upholding Mosaic Law as he and many others interpret it.  Just as much as Stephen loves Jesus, Saul hates Him.  It is quite a contrast, but it is a contrast we can relate to.  While we may never “hate” Jesus, at times our lives may look like we certainly don’t love Him.

As Saul’s story unfolds, his reputation for attacking the church and all followers of the Way grows to the point that the mere mention of his name brings shudders to all believers.  It is quite the shock to the young church when Saul suddenly becomes Paul just a couple of chapters later in Acts 9.  Many asked the question people may ask if us: him?  How could this man who killed and arrested so many Christians become one of Jesus’ greatest apostles and champions?  How could this man so filled with hate become so filled with love?  Jesus.

Once Jesus got ahold of Saul and changed him into Paul, he was fully dedicated to the good news.  This leads us to ask, what about me? Maybe we do not need the 180° change that Saul needed, maybe we do.  But let us ask, what about me?  What would Jesus like to change in me?  If Jesus could change Saul into such a way, imagine what He could do with us.  May it be so.