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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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.


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Shining for All to See

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 6-11

Verse 11: “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah God widens the circle. The metaphor of the potter and the clay is expanded to the nation. The application extends to all nations and people groups. In verses seven through ten God outlines how this works. If a nation is doing evil it will be uprooted and torn down. But if it repents of its evil, God will relent. The reverse is also true. These verses imply that God is engaged not only in our personal spiritual lives but also in the public and corporate lives of our communities and of society.

Together people form a community. This happens at all levels. Our families and our churches are the base level and this is where our faith lives seem most evident. Our identity or our “collective life” comes from the sum of us. In a church, for example, if most of the people are friendly and welcoming, then the church will be friendly and welcoming. Jeremiah is extending our lives out further today. Jeremiah is implying that how we live out our lives of faith in our community, town, city, state, and/or nation affects the social and political realities of said groups.

As people of faith we can seek justice for all and can stand with those facing injustice. As people of faith we can seek to be positive contributors to the projects, events, and happenings in our localities. As people of faith we can care for and call others to care for the marginalized and victimized. As people of faith we can work for peace and reconciliation in our spheres of influence. As people of faith we can be strength and comfort and aide in the midst of loss, violence, and other tragedies. As people of faith we can speak words of love and understanding instead of words of hate and division.

Through Jeremiah God warns Israel and, by extension, all nations. In the last verse of our passage today we read, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”. No, as people of faith we cannot be a part of the evil or injustice or abuse or… But, yes, we are also called to live out an active and engaging faith. We are called to let our light shine for all to see. In doing so we strength not only our own faith, our families, and our churches, but our communities as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be light and love outside the walls of my home and my church. Lead me to shine your love and light out into my neighborhood, my community, and beyond. Amen.


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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Mercy and Truth

Reading: Psalm 85

Verse 10: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed”.

Psalm 85 continues verse 10 from Hosea 1. There Hosea began to tell of God restoring Israel. In our Psalm today, there is a feeling of hope and expectation, a feeling that God will restore the people and the land. The psalmist petitions God to remove his anger, to show mercy. As the Psalm unfolds, forgiveness is there to be had. It is a beautiful story.

In the opening verses the captivity has been ended and the sins of the people have been forgiven. God’s wrath has been spent. Yet the relationship still is not wholly restored. It is not whole. The psalmist gives a sense that God is still angry. The people have work to do. The psalmist pleads for God to show them mercy, to grant salvation. In verse 9 the Psalm expresses the feeling that “salvation is near”, that glory will dwell in the land.

Coming out of a time in sin, I too have felt this almost restored feeling. I come to realize my sin and the Holy Spirit begins to work in me, guiding me towards confession and repentance. This feels like where the psalmist and Israel are at. God has begun to woo me, to draw me back to walking in the light. The desire of God to be in right relationship with me is an awareness. Once I confess my sin and commit to repentance and ask for God’s forgiveness, the restoration and redemption process begins. In verse 10 the psalmist writes, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed”. To me, this sums up the full restoration. Confession and repentance is what I bring, mercy is God’s gift to me. I do not ever deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy, yet I always receive it. God justifies me, making me righteous again. God’s grace comes flooding in as my life resembles Christ’s once again.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Yes, the Lord will give what is good… he will make his footsteps our pathway”. We will walk in the light as he is in the light. There is a confidence in the Psalm that God will grant what is good – mercy and healing and wholeness. We too come to have this same confidence in God. Over and over we are restored and redeemed. Over and over we experience God’s love and mercy. And over and over again, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, thank you for never giving up on me. My imperfections and failings are so far from your grace and mercy and steadfast love. Yet you bring me back, you restore and redeem me again and again – that holy kiss! Thank you God for your love. Amen.


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The Call Remains

Reading: Amos 8: 1-12

Verse 2: “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”.

In last week’s reading, at the end of Amos 7, we learned that all was not “plumb” in Israel. The Lord God declared that judgment is coming. Today reading opens with a basket of ripe fruit. When fruit is ripe, it is picked and is consumed shortly. In verse 2 we read these ominous words: “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”. God is ready to act. The temple will soon be filled with wailing.

In verses 4-6 we read of the ways that the people have fallen away from God. The general charge is that they “trample the needy” and they “do away with the poor”. The merchants are using dishonest scales – raising the price while selling less than advertised. The people rush through the festivals and Sabbath so that they can get back to the business of making money. They may be present at the temple, but there is no worship. The rich are also selling the poor into slavery because they cannot pay off the debts they have accumulated. God promises not to forget anything they have done.

If we flash-forward almost 2,800 years, we as a society continue to trample the poor and needy. The exile that the Israelites endured was not enough to rid the people of God of our selfishness and of our appetite for more. The poor are forced to pay high rent for substandard housing because they have no choice. Homelessness is high in many places. Payday loan businesses and pawn shops help keep the poor trapped in cycles of poverty. Handing out money has become our choice because it is easier than walking alongside people, helping them learn a better way while building their self-worth. The sex industry is huge. Drug epidemics plague many places and people groups. God must look sadly down upon our world today.

God called Amos to reveal the woes of society. His words did not bring change, so judgment came. We are the voice of God today. The call remains. May we seek ways to right injustices, to end wrongs, to halt abuses, to carry the cause of the poor and needy. In doing so we will reveal God’s love for all people. It is the only thing that can heal our broken world.

Prayer: Lord, like most I do not actively oppress or take advantage of the poor and needy. And like most, I do not always seek to stand and speak for those in need. Open my eyes and move my hands, feet, and voice to be your light and love in the world. Amen.


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The Foundation

Reading: Psalm 97

Verse 11: “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright heart”.

Right up front the psalmist declares the point of his Psalm, writing, “The Lord reigns”. It is a good reminder for us and also for the world in general. Too many people live without understanding this simple truth that God is in control. In verse 2, righteousness and justice are declared as two of God’s central characteristics. These two play out in the next verses as God’s fire consumes His foes and God’s light reveals the condition of humanity, causing the earth to tremble. God’s righteousness and sense of justice means that those who live lives of sin and who do not acknowledge God’s reign will spend eternity in the fires of hell. This is not God’s intent or hope or choice for anyone, but the reality is still true. Some will choose evil and the desires of this world.

Zion and Israel rejoice over God’s judgments. The people of God recognize that God reigns. They also understand that God’s righteousness and justice are founded upon love. For those who worship God, there is an understood choice: God or the world. In verse 10 we read, “for those who love the Lord hate evil”. This makes clear the distinction. Even though the faithful understand the distinction, we cannot forget the foundation of God’s righteousness and justice: love.

If we choose to look at evil or those struggling with sin and then to simply resign them to the fire, then we have lost sight of God’s love. If we choose to simply judge those we determine are living in sin, then we are utterly failing to live out God’s love. In verse 11 we read, “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright heart”. We have light and joy within us to share with the world. God fills our cup to overflowing not so that we can watch His light and live spill out on the ground but so that it can be shared with those who do not know God’s love and righteousness and justice. Experiencing and knowing these things will help the lost to choose them. God does not wall up with the saved but goes out as “the Lord of all the earth”. This day may we rejoice in the Lord our God and may we make His glorious name known in all the earth.

Prayer: Reigning Lord, thank you for the light and love that is shed in my heart. Thank you for the joy you bring into my life. May all that I am reflect your glory and may I walk each day within your holy righteousness, seeking to bring justice and mercy and humility with me wherever I go. May love lead the way. Amen.