pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. Amen.

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You Are gods

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 6: “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”.

Our Psalm opens with the God of the universe questioning the ‘gods’. God asks them how long will they defend the unjust and show favor to the wicked? This idea ran through yesterday’s reading. It is why God sent Amos to speak against the actions of the king. In our lives, do we ever defend the unjust? In our lives, do we ever favor the wicked?

The psalmist goes on to define God’s preferred behavior for the ‘gods’. First, they must “defend the case of the weak and fatherless”. Speak against injustice and poor treatment. Second, “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed”. Stand beside those who cannot stand up for themselves. Third, “rescue the weak and needy”. When the unfortunate have fallen victim or are suffering, step in to rescue and redeem them. And lastly, “deliver them from the hand of the wicked”. Place yourself between the unjust and wicked and deliver the marginalized out from their abuse and I’ll treatment. Place yourself in the line of fire.

These behaviors or actions that we hear the psalmist calling for in verses 3 and 4 sound a lot like Jesus to me. He was certainly on the side of the marginalized and the poor. Jesus definitely spoke out against the people and institutions that created or allowed for the lesser treatment of people. Much of Jesus’ ministry focused on loving and caring for and restoring the other. It should be no surprise that in speaking God’s word the psalmist directs the ‘gods’ to do the same things that Jesus did.

In verse 6 the psalmist writes, “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”. We Christians, we who have claimed our eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High, we who have claimed our birthright as brothers and sisters with Christ, we are the ‘gods’ that the psalmist addresses today. Accordingly, may we choose to side with the poor and needy. May we speak up for the abused and oppressed. May we stand against people and institutions that take advantage of the weak. In short, may we walk as Jesus Christ walked.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs in my community. Fill me heart with compassion and with courage to walk with the marginalized and the weak. Help me to live as Jesus lived each day. Amen.


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You Will Be Blessed

Reading: John 13: 2-7 and 31-35

Verse 5: “He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him”.

The alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the Lord and Savior of the world gets up from the table and takes off His outer clothing. The Messiah, the King of Kings, the One who is to come wraps a towel around His waist. “He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him”. God’s only Son, the risen and eternal one, the Good Shepherd, our Redeemer humbles Himself and becomes the lowest of all. Jesus tells the disciples that they do not yet understand what He is doing, but that they will understand later.

Jesus goes on to explain that, yes, they rightly call Him ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’. Jesus is both of these things but so much more. In verse 15 He says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”. Jesus willingly set aside these titles, all I listed above, and more. He humbled Himself once more, laying aside all status, all selfishness, all pride, to kneel and wash some feet. Jesus models what He expects His disciples and followers to do. In verse 17 Jesus states, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them”. The washing of feet is no longer culturally a symbol of humble servanthood. But there are still many ways that we can be a humble servant to others. There are many tasks that we can willingly take on that demonstrate the love of Christ to others. Jesus names many: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the lonely and imprisoned, care for the sick, give to those in need, befriend the outcast and marginalized, be present to those walking in the valley of grief, loss, depression, or addiction. We too are called to lay aside our titles, our status, our importance, our stereotypes, our stigmas,… to be in ministry to each other and to the world.

Our passage today concludes with a new command. Jesus commands the disciples and us: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”. To love as Jesus loved is a pretty extraordinary command. His love was unlimited and unconditional. It was a love that knew no bounds. He concludes today’s passage by giving the impact of loving this way: “by this all will know that you are my disciples”. May we be well known.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, use me today as you will. Give me eyes to see the opportunities and a heart to love into them. May it be so. Amen.


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Called to Go

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

Today’s passage is an interesting one to begin the new year with. I think it is very appropriate. As we consider our year ahead, our faith should be our first consideration. Our faith calls us to follow Jesus and this passage speaks directly to what that looks like. He is the light and hope and love of the world. Matthew 25 challenges us to be all of these things. It especially calls us to the poor and to the marginalized.

In all of our cities, towns, communities, neighborhoods, and churches, we have folks who are hungry and thirsty – physically and spiritually and emotionally. To these, may we offer sustenance, God’s Word, and support and encouragement. We all have folks around us who are strangers or on the outside looking in. To these may we offer fellowship and belonging. We all know others who are lacking adequate clothing or other necessities. To these may we offer a coat or whatever else we can to meet their needs. We all know folks who are sick or who are incarcerated. To these may we offer our presence and our prayers. We can go and spend time, offering encouragement and the light of Jesus Christ.

For many of us, today is a day off. Who can we take a little time to bless today? Will it be one who is hungry or thirsty? Will it be one who is sick or imprisoned? Will it be one in need? It is to these that we are called to go. In going to these, we meet Jesus in their presence. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. May we do for Jesus today.

Prayer: Lord, put me where I can see you today. Lead me to those in need, to those on the edges. Amen.


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Engaging

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 7-12

Verse Ten: “… so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”.

Today’s passage has this idea that we have something inside of us that we share with the world. In our perishable and finite bodies, these jars of clay, we have this “all-surpassing” power that assures us of the eternal and infinite promise of heaven. It is the source of this hope and promise that we share with the world.

Verse ten reads, “… so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”. Our call is to be followers of Jesus. Figuratively, this means to walk as Jesus walked. As we look at how Jesus walked, we see that He often walked with the sick and the marginalized, with the sinner and the outcast, with the lonely and the spiritually hungry. Jesus engaged one and all as He walked in this world. It seems as if Jesus always had time for the one He found standing before Him. This is the picture of the man that we are called to follow.

This following is not easy. Paul writes of the challenges we will face – hard pressed but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. Yes, following Jesus and walking in the places and with the people that He walked with will be hard. I’ll add one more: hard but not impossible.

Paul also writes, “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake”. When Jesus is alive in our hearts and in our lives, we do offer ourselves willingly to others. We are willing to die to self and to our own selfish desires, putting the needs of others ahead of our own. This verse finishes with these words: “so that His life may be revealed”. So that others may come to know Jesus Christ too. So that others may take hold of the hope and promise that we profess.

Where can you walk as Jesus walked today? Is there a jail or prison nearby to visit? Is there a care facility or hospital that you could stop by? Is there a place in your community that feeds people or hands out food? Is there a family in your neighborhood that could use a bag of groceries? Us there an elderly neighbor who needs their lawn mowed?

May we each find a way to walk as Jesus walked – engaging the one who is in need, offering ourselves to them.


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Some Things

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 23: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”.

Jesus is speaking of death and life I today’s passage. On one level He is talking about His own physical death that will come on the cross. We hear a hint of emotion in the next verses about what He will soon face, but He also reveals this is why He came. Jesus knows that His death will bring glory to God. He knows this is true in a sense for all who will follow after Him as well.

Jesus speaks of the sacrifice a seed makes, saying, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed”. The seed must be willing to fall into the ground and to give up being a seed for a tree or flower or some other plant to spring up with new life. In turn, the plant will create more seeds which will then produce more plants. Jesus then ties this idea to those who follow Him. Some men, Jesus says, love the things of this world – possessions, power, position… They have no hope. However, the man who ‘hates’ life in this world will find eternal life in the time to come. The implication is that if one hates the things of the flesh, then one will love the things of God. By loving and serving God, one finds eternal life.

When one ties these two ideas together, we come to see that we must allow some things in our lives to die. Those things are the things of the world. As followers of Christ, we follow after Jesus. In doing so, we value the things He valued: loving others, honoring God, giving of oneself, caring for those in need… When we walk this path we die to the pursuit of worldly things. There is simply not room for them when we are filled with Jesus.

This passage closes with this thought: “Where I am, my servant also will be”. Where will we find Jesus today? Will it be in the comfortable and routine of life or will it be in the places we find the marginalized and disadvantaged? May we willingly go where He leads us today.


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Truly Blessed

Reading: Psalm 14

The psalmist paints a grim image of society.  It speaks of fools who say there is no God and of people who are corrupt.  The writer says all have turned away from God.  We hear of evildoers frustrating the poor and of the masses being overwhelmed with dread.  It is bleak indeed.

As I read this Psalm, I was reminded of the doom and gloom prophets of our day.  One does not have to wait too long into a conversation about politics or the economy to hear something along the lines of: “our country is going to heck in a hand basket”.  If the conversation turns to young adults or teenagers, there is similar doom and gloom spoken.  In both cases, it makes me pause.  I think one of two things: “Do you live in the same place I live?” or, “Boy do you need to spend some time at Youth group” in response to the bleak thoughts.

Yes indeed, it can be all too easy to become self-focused and to lose site of God.  Yes indeed, it can be easy to fall into temptation and sin.  Yes indeed, it can be easy to allow busyness to steal our attention and to then ignore the marginalized of our society.  But our God is greater than all of this and will overcome any sin, apathy, or misstep on our part.

For most of us, life us truly blessed.  We live a life of comfort, of peace, of belonging, of freedom.  Our faith calls us to help all people live this life.  It is a life founded and centered in a relationship with God.  As we live in this place, connected to God, we are led to be other-centered, righteous, and compassionate.  There is much good in the world.  May we bring a little more of it with us today.