pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Salvation Has Come!

Reading: Psalm 14

Verses 5-6: “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their refuge”.

As we read Psalm 14 there are some similarities and connections to the passage from Jeremiah 4 that we read yesterday. The opening verse – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” – echoes Jeremiah 4:22, which reads, “My people are fools; they do not know me”. As God looks down on the earth all have turned aside and have become corrupt. Through the words of David, God laments, “there is no one who does good, not even one”. The state of affairs is not good.

Yet, as we turn to verses five and six, we begin to find hope. David notes that the “evildoers” devour God’s people. In the midst of this, though, we are reminded that “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their refuge”. God continues to be present to those who still follow God and still seek to obey God’s ways. Even though evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, God is with them as their refuge. Not all is lost. As we read in Jeremiah 4 yesterday, there is still a remnant that are faithful and obedient to God. The Lord our God remains faithful to these.

Today we can feel like a remnant. The church and the followers of Jesus Christ can feel like these righteous people that David is writing about in Psalm 14. The ways of the world and the lures of Satan – wealth, possessions, popularity, beauty – continue to challenge the walk of the faithful. In our workplaces, our schools, and in other settings we can feel frustrated by the plans of the evildoers of the world. Like the righteous and the poor in Psalm 14, we too need the Lord to be our refuge.

Just like the faithful of David’s day, we too persevere and endure suffering because we trust in God’s plans. Verse seven reminds us of this truth. Here we read, “O, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion”! About 1,000 years after these words were written, the Messiah did come out of Zion. Jesus was born to bring salvation to all who call on him as Lord and Savior. Even though we face trial and temptation, we can rejoice and be glad because Jesus reigns. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being with us, especially in the times when we feel like a small island in the storm. Be our refuge and our strength as we seek to walk faithfully with you. Thank you most for Jesus, our only hope and our salvation. Be with us today, O God. Amen.


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Hands and Feet

Reading: Luke 14: 12-14

Verse 13: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed”.

The list Jesus suggests in Luke 14 is not all-inclusive. Do not think that because you do not know or encounter anyone on this list, that you are off the hook. This is a general list of who was marginalized by society in Jesus’ day. Back then there was no government assistance, no shelters, homes, or places for the blind… Add to this the Jewish understanding of sin causing said ailments and conditions, and these were the people who lived on the fringes, who had to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive.

In my last community there was a sizeable homeless population. There were lots of opportunities to serve a meal, to help out financially or with other donations, to even engage personally. In my early years my involvement was helping to cook and servr a meal at the shelter or giving someone on the street a few dollars. As opportunity arose I began volunteering one afternoon a week at a day center for the homeless and thr economically disadvantaged. This connected me in a new way to those living on the fringes. In turn, I was able to invite someone to lunch instead of just giving them the $5 they were asking for. Maybe that is past your comfort zone, but there is a place to start.

Maybe you do not have homeless persons in your community. But there are certainly opportunities to give to those in need. Perhaps you cannot give monetarily, but we all have time. In my new community there are no homeless people, but there are many struggling financially. For these, help with an electric bill or with a little food or clothing are opportunities for ministry. For those who are gifted accordingly, helping someone to budget and understand money can make a huge difference.

There are many other ways to minister in every community. On Saturdays, during visitation time, folks from church go to the jail and hang out and color with the children whose moms or dads or grandparents are visiting a loved one. Our youth decorate Christmas cookies with the residents of assisted living centers and then make them Valentine’s cards later in the year. There are many ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. How can this happen in your community?

Prayer: Lord, help us all to see the opportunities to serve those on the edges. Lead us to be your hands and feet. Show us how to build relationships as we minister to those in need. 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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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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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.