pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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Hope in Exile

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 16: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”.

Ezekiel was one of God’s prophets. He ministered to Israel during their time in exile in Babylon. After being defeated by the Babylonians, many Israelites were dispersed throughout the kingdom of their conquerors. These words from God’s prophet would bring hope during a difficult time. These words of God would remind the people that their current experience will not be their reality forever. Both of these circumstances are true today. In our current pandemic, there is no doubt that this is a difficult time for almost everyone. Although it feels like it has been a really long time, we know that the virus and its effects will not last forever. Yet, in the midst of it, we are much like the Israelites in Babylon – isolated, feeling powerless, becoming a bit hopeless, grieving, separated.

Beginning in verse eleven God reveals his plan. In this verse God tells the people that he will “search for my sheep and look after them”. In the next verse God promises to “rescue them” from isolation, from exile, from “all the places where they were scattered”. Then God shares that he will bring them back home. In verse thirteen God states, “I will bring them into their own land”. God will search for his children; God will rescue them and gather them; and, God will bring them back home. Living in a time of defeat, in a time of exile, to hear that God is still God, that God loves and cares for them, that God will once again bring them all back together – these are words of healing and hope.

During these COVID times, just as was the case in exile, some people are coping or doing okay, some are not. Those who are naturally resilient, those who are disposed to optimism, those whose faith has grown in these times – these folks are going alright. There is a middle group who are mostly getting by. They have some of these positive characteristics, but life is now a delicate balance. And there are those who have depleted their reserves of these characteristics. They are struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally. This last group, especially, needs to hear verse sixteen’s promise: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”. God has a special love for those hurting the most. Jesus, his son, modeled this love. Jesus, our Lord, calls us to follow his lead. To those around us most feeling like they are in exile, may we share these words of hope and love. And, if we dare, may we be these words of hope and love. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to the list, to the strays, to the weak. Set my feet towards those hurting in my communities. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill my broken heart with your love and care. Use me to bring hope to those without. May it be so. Amen.


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Leaders and Mentors

Reading: Judges 4: 4-5

Verse 4: “Deborah, a prophetess… was leading Israel at that time”.

Deborah was a woman who led the nation of Israel for a period of time. Under her leadership and guidance, the people were freed from the rule of foreign kings and enjoyed peace for forty years. Deborah was the leader or judge because of her connection to God. As a prophet Deborah heard the word of God and used God’s direction to lead the people, to settle disputes, to guide military leaders. She relied on God to show her how to lead and to have the words to speak. The people looked up to Deborah and saw her as their leader because God’s connection to her was clearly evident.

As I think back over my life of faith, I can identify people who were Deborahs to me. In times of uncertainty their words guided me and helped me through. In times of suffering or trial, their words brought me comfort and strength. In times of difficult decisions, their words helped discern the correct path. I sought these men and women out because I saw God’s presence in their lives and because they had walked the path I was walking. As I have turned to more mature Christians, God has used their willingness to help me along on my spiritual journey. Like Deborah, they have freely given of themselves, patiently leading and mentoring me in the ways of God. I am grateful for their love and care, for their investment in me as a fellow believer.

As we each continue on our journeys of faith, we too may be called upon to be a Deborah. It might be for our church, for our community, for a family member, for a friend… As we grow in our relationship with God, his presence becomes more and more evident in our lives. When we are called upon as leaders and/or mentors, may we step forward as humble servants, leading and guiding as the Lord our God directs us.

Prayer: Lord God, on my journey of faith, help me to discern when to lead and what to seek the guidance and direction of others. Speak to me by the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to you. Keep me humble, turning to wiser and more mature Christians when other voices are needed. Continue to lead and guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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Granted

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 29: “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

As we did earlier in the week, we again hear the call to “conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel”. For Paul this includes steadfast faith, lived out in unity, sharing the good news. Paul also calls us to trust in God. Trust in God will help combat the fear we feel when others oppose the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul names two signs that indicate that the followers will be saved. In verse 29 he writes, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

“Granted” implies something that is given, a gift of sorts. A belief in Christ as Lord and Savior is where our faith begins. Trusting in Jesus as our Lord means that we look to him to guide our lives in the here and now. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus does just that. As Savior, it means that we trust Jesus to one day redeem us – to bring us on to our eternal home. As Christians we find assurance and comfort in these aspects of our faith. As Christians we find worth and contentment as well as peace and strength in these two aspects of our faith. Because Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior we live with joy and hope. All of this is granted to us through our relationship with Jesus. It truly is a gift.

Then we come to the “but” in this verse: “but also to suffer for him”. This too is a gift. Jesus called upon us to follow him by taking up our crosses and by dying to self. These acts entail giving up our preferences, our wants, our natural inclination to selfishness. We do so in order to see, to feel, to respond to the needs of the list and the broken and the suffering. In doing so, in coming into connection with and into relationship with those we serve, we draw closer to Christ. When we live love out loud, as Jesus so often did, then we enter into the lostness, brokenness, and suffering of the world. The cost may be physical, it may be emotional, it may be financial, it may be social. There are many ways that the Spirit may lead us to suffer when we place the call of Christ and the needs of others ahead of ourselves. Walking alongside these who suffer, including these in our personal relationships, we might be granted the privilege of sharing the gospel with them. We might be. As we strive to engage the world around us, may we surrender and walk the paths that the Spirit leads us upon. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, use me as you will today. Put me to the tasks that build relationships and build your kingdom. Amen.


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I Will Be with You…

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.

In today’s passage we see the love and compassion of God for his people. In the first few verses we hear how God has “seen the misery”, “come down to rescue them”, and “have seen… the oppressing”. God has heard the cries of his people and has decided to act. As is most often the case, God will act through a person. God chooses Moses to go to Pharaoh to “bring the Israelites out of Egypt”.

In response to Moses’ self-doubt God tells him, “I will be with you”. God does remain present to Moses from that day forward – in numerous trips before Pharaoh and through many trials and rebellions in the wilderness. God remained Moses’ constant. Many years later God was a constant presence again. Born of the virgin Mary, God became one of us. As Jesus Christ, God lived out what he told Moses: “I will be with you”. The same love, the same compassion, the same empathy lived among humanity. God’s action took the forms of bringing wholeness to physically and/or emotionally and/or spiritually broken and hurting people. It led people to a new or renewed connection to God and to community. Jesus brought people out of their darkness, isolation, brokenness, and sin. He broke the chains of slavery – of sin and death – so that we could live in right relationship with God. Jesus died to accomplish this victory.

His death was not the end of the story. Jesus gifted us with the Holy Spirit. In the giving of the Holy Spirit to dwell in each believer’s heart, Jesus says, “I will be with you – forever”. The Holy Spirit is our constant presence of God in our lives. The Spirit leads us just as it led Moses, just as it was lived out by Jesus. Our Christlikeness, our creation in the image of God – these lead us to see the misery of the people, to go to rescue them, to work to end their oppression, to hear their cries. This day and every day may Christ within us lead us out into the world to share God’s love, compassion, and empathy, to help others know the God who promises, “I will be with you”. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you hear and see and feel and act, help me to do the same. Lead and guide me to be your love in my world. Use me as you will. Amen.


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When God Calls…

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verses 4-5: “God called, ‘Moses, Moses’! And Moses said, ‘Here I am’… God said, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy ground'”.

Today we hear the beginning of Moses’ call story. It is God’s first direct reach out to Moses. God has certainly been present in Moses’ life – guiding Pharaoh’s daughter to find the basket and to be moved by compassion. God was there when Moses stood up for his kinfolk and was there guiding him to flee, preserving his life. We all encounter God in similar ways. God closes and opens doors for us, for example, to help guide our lives. God’s Holy Spirit leads us in our decisions of both action and inaction. God is always present and engaged in our daily lives. Out tending the flock, God comes close to Moses.

There on Mount Horeb, we read, “God called, ‘Moses, Moses'”! God called and Moses responded. Prerequisite one to being called is to have a relationship with God. Moses knew God and he recognized that it was God calling. The next necessary step is the response: “Here I am”. Like I do from time to time, Moses could have skipped this step. The burning bush probably helped. I too pay better attention to God when something in my life is on fire. But not always. In the day to day of life – especially in the day to day of life – when I am out there tending to the ordinary, I can miss the extraordinary. Moses is told that he has come close enough. As the story continues, God says, “Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy ground”. The sand and rocks there on the mountain were not holy because of themselves. They were holy because of a holy God’s presence.

We also can encounter God in the ordinary, in the regular places that become holy because God has shown up. It can be in nature – by a pure mountain lake, beside the ocean, on a path through the wildflowers. It can be in a church. But it can also be in the grocery store aisle or at a concert or event. Our limitless God is not bound by time or physical spaces. Anywhere and anytime we can experience the holy. Our questions are these: when God calls our name, are we attuned enough to hear and are we courageous enough to say, “Here I am, Lord”?

Prayer: Omnipotent and omnipresent God, keep my eyes wide open and my heart fully in touch with you. Guide the Holy Spirit within me to lead me to walk in your ways and to practice your will and purposes for my life. May it be so. Amen.


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God with Us

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-25

Verse 20: “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him”.

This week we turn to the story of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt. This is a foreshadowing of what will happen to the entire nation of Israel. Their path is different than Joseph’s but God’s chosen people will end up in Egypt, finally living as slaves. Without a little background to Joseph’s experience in today’s passage, what we read today seems hard to believe.

Joseph was the baby of the family. He was clearly Israel’s favorite child. Joseph was spoiled and bratty – and he was a tattle tail to boot. He had wild dreams that revealed him ruling over his brothers and even over his parents. And he boastfully shared these dreams with his family. Joseph would have been easy to dislike if you were Reuben or Judah or any of the other brothers. So when the spoiled child who never had to help tend the flocks was observed approaching in the special coat that daddy have him, it was not surprising to hear them say, “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him”. Out there in the middle of nowhere, Joseph could easily be taken care of by his ten brothers.

We do not hear anything from Joseph in this life changing experience. His character is silent during this whole interaction with his brothers and then as he is sold off to the Ishmaelites. Perhaps he sensed that it was best to keep quiet once he realized what was going on. It is not ever good to provoke those considering doing ill to your person. Allowing the brothers time to think results in being sold instead of killed. Perhaps Joseph thought a life was better than no life. Or maybe he trusted that God would work things out. God may have been speaking into his future when the dreams were given to him.

As the story unfolds we come to learn that God was with Joseph when he approached his jealous brothers and God was with him in the bottom of that dry cistern. God goes with Joseph to Egypt and continues to guide his life through many ups and downs. As our story unfolds, God’s presence remains a part of our lives. Looking back we can see how God has guided our story in the highs and lows and in the day to day of life. May we lean into that each day, trusting in God to always be with us.

Prayer: Lord God, looking back I can rejoice as I see your hand at work in my life over and over again. In each event, in each trial, in all moments you have always been present, have always guided, have always led in love. Thank you, God. Thank you. Amen.


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Way of Life

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse 1: “There is now no condemnation… because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”.

Once a person accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, life is forever changed. Before accepting Jesus we are tied to the flesh, to the sinful nature within us. Without Christ we live for ourselves, seeking to fulfill selfish desires and pleasures. Our focus is totally inward. The law of sin and death has almost full control of our minds and actions. Only social norms and the legal code keep us from being a frightful society.

In faith terms, before accepting Christ we are dead in our sins and our only future is one of death. We cannot remove the sin in our lives. The guilt and shame remain. But once we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ we find there is no longer any condemnation. God defeated the power of sin by “sending his son” as a “sin offering” – paying the price once for all. Through this gift we find new life, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”. Through the Spirit’s power and presence we are able to live by the Spirit instead of by the sinful nature inherent within us all. Yes, it is still present and ever seeks to rise up and lead us into sin. But the Spirit of life leads and guides and empowers us to walk according to the new way of life found in and through Jesus our Lord. This day and every day we rejoice in our new life in Christ!

Prayer: Thank you God for the Spirit within. It makes it possible to walk a walk of faith. On my own I would be so lost. The gift of life in Jesus Christ brings joy and peace, contentment and connection to God and to one another. It is the only way to truly live. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Walking Closer

Reading: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Verse 26:14 – “And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me'”.

Jesus has been in ministry for three years. All of the men who sit around the table with him have been with Jesus for those three years – hearing the teachings, seeing the miracles, observing his example. It is hard to imagine any of these twelve men turning on Jesus. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith. On this sacred night when they remember and celebrate God’s mighty saving acts that led the Israelites to freedom, Jesus will be arrested, tried, and beaten. As they share the Passover meal, Jesus shares these words: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me”.

It amazes me that Jesus could share this sacred and special time of faith and fellowship with the one who betrayed him. It is hard for me to even see someone who has betrayed me, never mind to sit and share a meal with them. It is hard to be kind and pleasant to one who has turned on me, never mind serving them the bread and cup. In passages like these I see face to face with my reality: I have a long ways to go in my walk with Jesus.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry today, we are on the edge of Holy Week. On Thursday we will again come face to face with this story and then with the crucifixion on Good Friday. Events along this week’s journey will again serve to remind me of my love of Jesus as well as of my areas of needed growth. I can envision what it would look and feel and be like to fellowship with my Judases and to offer them the Lord’s Supper. As I walk the road to Calvary with Jesus this week, may I come nearer to the place of loving those who harm and hurt me and those I love. As I follow in Jesus’ footsteps, may I come one day to walk in them.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for where I am in my journey of faith. I am grateful for my place in your family and for the walk so far. I know I am not what I was, but can also see that I have far to go. Lead and guide me to follow closer and closer, day by day. Amen.


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Stepping Forward

Reading: Matthew 21: 1-11

Verse 5: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”.

Today Matthew paints the picture of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The city is already abuzz as many have come into town to celebrate the Passover. As Jesus’ followers are joined by others along the road into the city, a spontaneous parade begins as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Cloaks and branches line the road to make for a royal entry. The people shout and cheer Hosanna as he rides on. But this king comes as he has always been. In verse five we read, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”. Zechariah had spoken these words long ago. Jesus, ever the one of peace and hope and humility, enters the city as such. Here is our first lesson from today’s passage: enter humbly, looking for ways to serve others, seeking to bring hope and peace.

As we consider the most recent events in Matthew’s gospel and what lies ahead for Jesus, we learn another lesson. In response to James and John’s mother’s request for her sons to have seats of honor in heaven, Jesus reminds all of the disciples that whoever wants to be great must first be a servant. He also reminds them that he came to “give his life as a random for many”. With these thoughts on his mind, Jesus heads towards Jerusalem. Knowing what lies ahead makes it both harder and easier. Knowing that he would physically suffer and would die a brutal death must have made the journey forward harder. Knowing that God was in control and was leading him to a far greater purpose and knowing that God was going to work in and through him made forward motion easier.

At times we too will see the way forward but will be challenged by the potential cost or suffering. To enter into servant ministry always comes at some price. It is most often messy. Yet we can enter knowing what Jesus knew: God goes with us, leading and guiding us all the way. We also know that when we step forward in faith, that we do not step forward alone. The Holy Spirit goes with us. As we feel or see or sense the call to humble servant ministry to our neighbor or to an older member of our church or… may we step forward in faith, trusting fully in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and my heart to the opportunities to serve you and others today in this unique time and season. Help me to be responsive as we all seek to remain safe and healthy. Lead me to love others as you first and still love me. Amen.