pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. 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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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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A Plumb Line

Reading: Amos 7: 7-9

Verse 8: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”.

God has called Amos out of the field to be a prophet to his people. The people have been living in ways that are displeasing to God. The king has led the people astray and the priest has followed along. The king and priest and the people are comfortable, even happy, in the lifestyle that they have settled into. The practices of caring for the other – the widows, orphans, needy… – have all been laid aside. Amos has been sent to pronounce judgment.

Today’s passage begins with God standing by a wall that has been built perfectly true. The wall and it’s perfection represent the law. The law is what is just and true and right. God stands by his wall. He asks Amos what he sees. Amos is still faithful to God and to the law. He sees a plumb line showing the wall to be true. God says to Amos, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”. Amos is the plumb line. It is his voice that will try to call the people back to right and holy living. God will not spare them. Their hearts have become hard because they have come to love other things. Destruction and ruin will come. The voice of the prophet is not enough to fix all that is wrong.

In our world and perhaps in our lives we find much that is askew and wrong. For a long time the world has preached power and wealth and popularity. These things have been emphasized so long that they are the norm and they are embraced. To say that accumulating excessive wealth is wrong is looked at as abnormal today. The world sees self as #1 so to encourage people to care deeply for the needy draws odd looks. Amos’ world and our world are pretty similar.

In our world and in our lives, where is God calling us to apply the plumb line? Where can we make things align better with God and his plans?

Prayer: Lord, help me to search deeply within, to search for what needs to be set right. Give me the courage to change what needs changed. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.


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Obedient Followers

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-4 & 10-14

Verse 2: “He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice”.

Today’s passage from Psalms speaks of a king who is “endowed with your justice”. All kings have power. Kings are at the top of the power structure and can act about any way they want. Justice may not be their top priority. This is too often the case with rulers today and with some in other positions of power. But our passage today is not about any earthly king. It is about the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the judge today and one day will be the final judge. As such, “He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice”. We will all face judgment one day. On that day I believe the question will be: “Did you know me as Lord and Savior”? Jesus will judge our answer based upon the fruit of our faith as we lived out our life as His follower. If we lived a life of faith that was obedient to the King then great will be our reward.

Psalm 72 tells us that a righteous king will defend the afflicted and save the children of the needy. A righteous king will crush the oppressor. A righteous king will take pity on the weak and needy and will rescue them from oppression and violence. All people will live in freedom and safety. Unity and equality will be the standards. Justice will be fair and unbiased. A righteous king sounds ideal. Yet is it possible?

When Jesus ministered here on earth, He lived as this type of king. He cared for the weak and the needy. He treated all people with justice and compassion. He welcomed and engaged one and all. When He returns in glory and establishes the new kingdom here on earth, the righteous King will once again reign.

In the interim, Jesus had commissioned us, His followers, to act as He acted. He charged us with living out a faith that cared for the orphan and widow, that visited the sick and imprisoned, that spoke against violence and injustice and abuse. If we truly know Him, if we truly worship and follow the King of Kings, then we will be obedient disciples. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, lead me to follow well, to lay aside self, to love all deeply, to stand for justice and righteousness. In me may others see you. Amen.


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For Others

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse Three: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

The opening lines to Isaiah 61 are a clear call to love all of our neighbors.  These are the words that Jesus read after He came out of the time of testing in the wilderness.  As He stood in the temple, these words from Isaiah 61:1-2 were used as the announcement for what He had come to do.  As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, it becomes clear that these things are what His disciples and all who will follow Him are called to do as well.  There is much joy in proclaiming these words as Jesus did and claiming our role to follow in His footsteps.

During this Christmas season, the children have risen to a new level of awareness in my heart.  Perhaps it is because these are the ones who often have the least and who are most vulnerable.  Whether it is buying gifts for an “Angel Tree” child or assembling a “Christmas ShoeBox” for one in need, it makes a difference.  Whether it is ringing the Salvation Army bell for an hour or two or helping to assemble a holiday food basket for a needy child’s family, it makes a difference.These are but a few of the ways that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, can help a child or their family to feel loved this holiday season.  In doing so, we will “bestow on them a crown of beauty… oil of gladness… a garment of praise…”

May we each find ways to do for others this Christmas season.  Whether big or small, it all makes a positive difference.  May we bless the children with God’s love this Christmas season!