pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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A Wonderful Day

Reading: Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5

Verse 26: “On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”.

Today’s passage comes at the end of the Bible. The world that we see outside our windows and will step into just outside our doors today will not exist any longer. Our passage opens today with John seeing the Holy City coming down. It is a city of light and love. There is no temple – God and the Lamb are the temple. There is no sun or moon – God is the light and Jesus is the lamp. Only the children of God will inhabit the city and “on no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there”. All whose names are in the “Lamb’s book of life” will come and go freely. The river of life will feed the tree of life. It will bring healing to the nations – there will “no longer be any curse” – no pain, no tears, no grief… God and Jesus will reign forever. It will be a wonderful day.

Yet today, in the world just outside our window, just beyond our door, there is brokenness and evil and despair and division. This vision of heaven in Revelation is a someday vision. We live in this earthly reality. Our task as followers of Christ is to work to bring vision and reality closer together today and each day. We are to seek to build the kingdom here on earth. This heavenly vision draws us and helps us to focus on the task at hand. Our primary focus is how we live our day to day lives, striving to bring healing and hope and love and light to the world we inhabit. In building the kingdom here on earth we seek to end division and to break down barriers that separate us from one another. When we live together, celebrating our differences, not in spite of them, then the peace and love of God and Jesus will reign. If we can live and love and bring hope and light into the world each day, then each day will be a wonderful day. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: Bringer of light and love, of hope and peace, use me as an instrument of yours today. Help me to walk side by side with all of my brothers and sisters in the world today. Enable me to break down all that separates in order to build up your kingdom here on earth. Guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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Do It Quickly

Reading: John 13: 21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”.

At the start of John 13, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has “set you an example” and encouraged them to do as He has done. Next Jesus goes on to predict that one of His own disciples will betray Him. In verse 21 we read, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”. The disciples react as we all would in Jesus’ presence – at a loss. They each think in their own hearts – surely not I! They are all curious and Peter prompts John to ask. By sharing the bread with him, Jesus reveals it is Judas Iscariot. Jesus directs Judas to “do quickly” what he will do. At this, Judas slips off into the night.

Reading the story, we think poorly of Judas. Yes, it had to be done to fulfill the scriptures. But we still dislike him because he betrayed Jesus, the one whom he had spent the last three years with. It feels like a worse betrayal than if it had been one of the Pharisees or a stranger. It could have been Matthew or John or James or Bartholomew or Thaddeus or even Peter, the one who most seemed like a leader. In the next section, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. It could have been any of the twelve.

It is Judas Iscariot that slips off into the night to betray Jesus. John tells us “it is night”. Night and darkness symbolize evil and Satan. By contrast, day and light represent God, Jesus… Because Judas does not question or linger, but acts, we can infer that he has been wrestling with this. He has been brought to the decision point this night: light or dark? Good or evil? When he takes the bread, we read “Satan entered into him”. On this night, the darkness won. The scale tipped in favor of evil.

We are all in this place often. The Spirit works to keep us walking in the light and the evil one tempts us to step off the narrow road and off into the darkness. The temptation may be to gossip or to tell a little white lie. It may be to steal that set of headphones that is just lying there or to cheat on that big test. Maybe it is to turn in a false tax report or to click that pop-up that is so enticing. Perhaps it is to falsely accuse another to paint a better picture of ourselves or it is finally consummating that affair. The degree of sin matters not to God. Yes, the human or earthly impacts and affects will be greater for one scenario versus another. But to God, all temptation that leads to sin is the same. We are choosing dark over light, evil over good, Satan over God. Each week, each day, each hour, we face temptation. May we each turn to God and may we do it quickly. May we allow the light to chase away the darkness. May we strive to walk in the light.

Prayer: Lord, the battle is hard. Satan is ever at work. So I pray that the voice of the Holy Spirit is loud and strong in me today. Quiet the call of the earthly and fleshy desires within me. When they rise up, remind me quickly of your will and your way and your word. Strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Two Realities

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 11: “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”.

The Psalm today acknowledges two realities: evil in the world and God’s constant presence. The psalmist encounters evil men who attack and besiege him, who surround him. The psalmist acknowledges times when mother, father, and others have turned away. These are hard, difficult trials. The bigger reality, though, is God’s presence. There is no fear of the things of this life. God is his present and eternal stronghold, his eternal light and salvation.

The psalmist finds refuge in God. When he seeks God and is in God’s house, there in assurance. There is a peace and a beauty found in the house of the Lord. It is the place he wants to dwell. There the psalmist can sing and make music; there he sees the goodness and the beauty of the Lord. To become closer to God, he requests, “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”. When not finding refuge in the house of God, he wants to know God and His ways so that he can take it with him out into the world. He will seek to walk a straight path – one that is pleasing to God and brings honor to God.

We live within these two realities as well. We will encounter people who are unkind, who attack us, who gossip about us, who take advantage of us, who abuse us. We will also experience times of illness and loneliness and we will separate ourselves from God as we sin from time to time. We also seek the Lord our God. We turn to God in prayer, we worship God in God’s house and in His world, we read and study our Bible… We too seek to dwell with the Lord. And as we go out into the world, we seek to bear witness to the light and love of Jesus Christ. We too live between these two realities that the psalmist writes of today.

The Psalm concludes with these two verses: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness and beauty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. God is here. We can be confident of that. When we seek the Lord, we will find Him. God wants to be known. We do not have to wait long – God is as close as our next breath. Turn to God and breathe in the Lord.

Prayer: God, I thank you for your abiding presence in my life. May I ever look to you and always seek your face. Draw me to you, O God, moment by moment, day by day. Amen.


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No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.