pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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!


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Praying for Our Leaders

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7 and 10-14

A good king in Israel would rule with justice and righteousness.  A good king would protect the people and provide for their needs.  A good king was sensitive to the needs and concerns of the poor and needy, giving them voice and meeting their basic needs.  A good king ruled according to God’s will.  The people prayed daily for the King, asking God to bless their reign with justice and righteousness.  Life was simply better when a good king reigned.

Today we do not have kings but have presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, senators, representatives, judges, governors, legislators, mayors, councilmen, and councilwomen.  The titles have changed by the roles should not.  As whatever level one serves, it should still be with righteousness and justice.  All should serve for the good of the people and the prosperity of the nation, state, city, or community.  It should not be a self-serving role.  Our role should not change either.  Our role is still to pray daily for all of our leaders.

As the people of God, we should pray each day for our leaders, at all levels, whether or not we align with their political leanings.  Each day we should pray for our leaders to govern with righteousness and justice, with compassion and understanding.  Each day we should pray for our leaders to be sensitive to the needs of the poor and the outcasts, for those without voice.  Each day we should pray that our leaders would lead according to God’s will.  And each day we should pray for our leaders to know and walk with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

May we be faithful in our daily prayers for our leaders so that God’s blessings and justice and righteousness may touch the land.  May we ever lift up our leaders so that God’s glory may shine through them.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-5

In many places winter is settling in.  On the coldest of windy days, one just wants to hunker down inside with a good book and a cozy blanket.  In this way, one finds a little comfort and solace in a harsh world outside.  In today’s passage, Isaiah is offering a vision filled with words of hope and promise.  The people are in exile.  Their surroundings are secular, polytheistic, and oppressive.  To a degree, they have begun to ask God how long this season of exile will last.

Into this despair and a growing sense of abandonment, God uses Isaiah to speak a word of hope.  Isaiah speaks of a shoot that will come up.  Just like us looking for that first burst of green after a long winter, Isaiah tells of a time coming soon when hope and promise will rise up from the house of Jesse.  Isaiah goes on to describe this new King – He will reign with wisdom and understanding and power and knowledge.  To these Isaiah adds that the King will give wise counsel and will live with a fear of God.  And not only all of this, but the king will also stand for the needy and those dealing with injustice.  To a people living in oppressive exile, someone who reigns by righteousness and faithfulness would provide great hope and promise.

Many living today need to hear these words of hope and promise.  Many in our country and probably some in all of our communities need to find a little hope and promise.  Some in our congregations need to know hope and promise.  Hope and promise abound in this passage from Isaiah.  A king who loves and cares for the needy and oppressed, one who rules with justice and righteousness – this is a king many need.  This King comes to us again this year in a manger, soon to be celebrated in all of our churches.  In this season where we prepare to welcome again the baby Jesus, may we also share the King of Kings, the King of justice and righteousness with a world so in need.  May we each share the King’s hope and promise this day.


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God’s Economy

Reading: 1 Kings 21: 1-21a

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  The wealthy strive to attain more and more while the marginalized cling to what little they have.  The powerful use the system to add to their position and possessions; the downtrodden feel trapped and isolated.  This is part of the world’s economy.

The last shall be first.  When you do this for one of the least of these…  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love one another as I first loved you.  Do not go over your field a second time and do not harvest all the way to the edges.  These things are part of God’s economy.

In Elijah’s time the precedent was set for the king to care for and protect the people.  The king’s role had been established in the desert when God gave t he covenant.  The king was to be the champion of the oppressed, the poor, the widow.  But King Ahab strayed far from this idea of benevolent king.  Queen Jezebel, who was not an Israelite, certainly helped this departure from God’s covenant.

Today many stray from the commands of God.  Today many, like Ahab and Jezebel, seek to place themselves and their desires far above God’s.  The forces that drive the world’s economy are powerful.  The pull on individuals to be successful in the world’s eyes is strong.  Injustice and oppression often occur as the costs of the world’s economy.

God stand opposed to these things and calls on His children to do the same.  We are called to be servants to one another and to share His blessings with those in need.  God desires for our hearts to grow to become His heart, loving and caring for those with less.  May we bring God into the world, being a people who give freely and love deeply.  May we lay aside self and seek to care for the needs of all of His children.


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Hope … in a Child

Hannah’s prayer is answered and she gives birth to a son.  After weaning him, Samuel is given to Eli the priest to fulfill her pledge to God: “as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.”  For the end to long years of shame and feelings of inadequacy and out of thanks for God answering her prayers, Samuel is given as a gift to the Lord.

Following these events Hannah offers up a moving prayer to the Lord.  One might expect it to be thanking God for a child or seeking blessings upon his life.  But it is not.  One can read Hannah’s experience into the prayer, but it is much more about God and who God is for us all.  It speaks of no rock like our God.  It reminds us that He raises the faithful up.  It tells us that God raises up the poor and needy to seats of honor.  It warns of what God will bring to those who think they are high and mighty.  The prayer flows with God’s love, grace, mercy, justice, and equality.  The prayer is quite upside down compared to the society of Hannah’s day – and to our’s today as well.

Yet today we still have hope in a child who was born to us, who descended from heaven’s riches and glory to dwell among us and to live a poor and simple life here on earth.  In Jesus we are taught that love, grace, mercy, justice, and equality are what matters and that we are to live our lives sharing these with others.  In Christ we learn that none of thee can be earned but that they are freely given so that we too can freely give them away to others.  Through His promise and by His example, may we do so today.

Scripture reference: 1 Samuel 2: 1-10