pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


1 Comment

Welcome and Hospitality

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verses 5 and 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles invites them to become a part of the society that they have been forced into. It can be the tendency to try and remain isolated and to hold onto what makes one unique. Thinking back to the high point of immigration in the US, for example, cities had ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. In some cases whole towns had a mostly homogeneous ethnic make-up. In our passage today, God is encouraging the Israelites to become a part of where they are. They are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”. They are to live with and amongst their new neighbors.

Today we have both immigrants and refugees that come to the US. The refugees are most like the exiles because these groups tend to arrive in significant numbers. There are often language barriers and usually social and cultural differences as well. These factors tend to isolate us from our new neighbors and vice versa. But they do not have to. A little north and east of the town I live in is a town that welcomes refugees and immigrants. The school system works hard to help the children and the community provides employment opportunities for the adults. Churches play a role in the acclimation process in a number of ways. The Latino and Hmong people have enriched and have helped the whole community to thrive. They are not without instances of prejudice and intolerance, but overall it is a successful experiment. They are modeling well Jesus’ example of loving the other.

In almost all of our communities we have new people move in. In my town they usually come from another town in or near South Dakota, but occasionally they are from further abroad. In these cases, we too should extend welcome and hospitality to them. We as Christians should do what we can to help them succeed and flourish because when they prosper, we prosper too – not just economically but socially and spiritually as well.

As individuals, as churches, and as communities, may we be people of love, extending radical hospitality to all we meet. In doing so we also extend God’s love.

Prayer: Father of all, help me to be a friend to all. Empower me to love others unconditionally, just as you love me. Create in me generous hands and feet and a giving heart, just as Jesus modeled for us. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


Leave a comment

Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.


1 Comment

Righteous

Reading: Psalm 1

Verses 1-2: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked… but his delight is in the law of the Lord”.

Psalm 1 paints a pretty sharp contrast between those who are righteous and those who are not. The psalmist begins with a warning not to spend time with the wrong crowd: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…”. The psalmist also includes sinners and mockers in the groups to avoid. While all Christians sin, we do not live a life of sin. In the general sense, the psalmist is spot-on: if we hang out with the wicked, the sinners, the mockers, then we will likely become these things ourselves.

In verse 2, the writer goes on to say, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord”. The righteous not only delight in the law but also meditate upon it day and night. It is to live and breathe God’s ways. The blessing is compared to a tree – healthy roots soak up the water of life, it bears fruit, it does not wither. Prosperity comes to those who dwell in the Lord. All done in alignment with God’s ways and desires will prosper.

The Psalm returns to the wicked in verses 4 and 5. They are blown this way and that in the changing winds. They cannot stand in the judgment. Like the house built upon the sand in Matthew 7, the winds and waves beat down the house built upon a poor foundation. If we desire to stand firm, our foundation must be found in God.

A promise concludes the Psalm: “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous”. God is present to the righteous. He goes with us always. The Holy Spirit is our constant companion offering guidance, direction, discernment, conviction… We are never alone. Thanks be to God.

Lord, help me to walk in your ways. Keep me intimately connected to your Word and your ways. Grant me discernment so that I can walk in your truth. May my life allow others to see you and your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

God is There

Reading: Habakkuk 1: 1-4

Habakkuk begins by voicing what many of us have voiced as well: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen”?  Sometimes our prayers have been for a loved one, sometimes for a friend, and sometimes they are for a far away someone or a group of people that we do not know personally but are somehow connected to our heart strings.  We see hurt and injustice near and far and we bring it to the Lord.  But is seems to persist anyway.  Like Habakkuk, we cry out, “How long?”

Sometimes we come to a place where we feel we cannot bear the pain or hurt any longer.  Our cries turn to anger and we express our frustration with God’s apparent inactivity.  We hear this cry in Habakkuk’s words.  In our mind it makes no sense why our living God would ‘allow’ it to continue.  In our anger we may even want to turn away, to just forget the situation.  But we cannot.  Deep down we know that God does not ‘allow’ pain…  It is part of the world, just as joy is part of our world.  The Spirit reminds us of Jeremiah’s words, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11).  We may not be able to understand God’s plans, but we still hold onto the promise.  There is comfort in this as we walk through the midst of a time of suffering or pain or injustice.

Even as we cry out, “How long?” we know that God is right there.  Our God of love seeks to bring us peace and strength and comfort and reassurance and whatever else we need right in the midst of our trial.  “I am with you” says the Lord.  In our trials, may we always trust into God and hold tightly to the hope we profess.  God is faithful.  God is love.  May we cling to the Lord our God in the storms.


1 Comment

Community

Reading: Jeremiah 29:7

In our lives connections are important.  We live within a web of connections or relationships.  We have connections first to our families.  Here we gain our sense of belonging and here we develop who we are – all within this safe web of family.  Next we form connections with our friends and significant adults in our lives.  Soon we come to understand that how we live, act, and treat others matters.  How we are treated matters.  We learn how impactful our lives can be on others and vice versa.  Both for the good and the bad, we know that our connections to others is vital.

Jeremiah advises Israel to seek prosperity and peace for the city of Babylon.  He goes on to advise them to pray for the city too.  The welfare of the exiles is bound up in the welfare of the city.  One does not have to look too far in America to find examples of this concept.  When there was unrest and protest and violence in a city, the impact was felt by all inhabitants of that city.

In our lives we have many layers of connections and relationships.  The closer in, the more they impact us.  For example, a parent losing a job impacts us more than a third cousin losing a job.  We still feel for that cousin, but don’t necessarily deal with the affects.  This distance can lead us to not be as connected to those we do not know and to those who we see as the stranger.

Our reality is that we are connected to all in our community.  Our faith calls us to be aware of all in our community.  The idea that our community as a whole is less when even one member suffers is an extension of God’s love for all of us.  It is when we choose to address basic needs and to correct injustices that our whole community prospers and flourishes.  When life is better for one, it is better for all.  This sense of equality and well-being for all is deeply rooted in our faith.  For whom in our community could we make life better?


1 Comment

Bloom

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and hauled off the leaders and gifted people to Babylon as slaves.  Many Israelites were the victims of this forced relocation.  They found themselves slaves in a strange new place, surrounded by a culture much different from their own.  Instead of instructing them to keep isolated, to long to return to Jerusalem, or to rebel, God instead instructs them to settle in, to build homes, to marry off their children.  The message is that this is not temporary.  To further indicate this God instructs them to begin praying for the Babylonians to prosper.

We too can find ourselves in a strange or foreign place.  Sometimes this is physical.  Our parent or spouse receives a new job or is transferred and we find ourselves in a new place amongst many new faces.  It can be when we head off to college or to our first ‘real job’ and we come to realize we are alone in a new world.  Sometimes our new surroundings are emotional.  We come home to find out a divorce looms and life is suddenly altered.  We receive the phone call that a loved one has passed and life is forever different.  Or one day, in the middle of a normal day, we realize that we are lost in life or are just drifting along and we long for an anchor, for a purpose.  And, of course, all of these physical and emotional changes affect our spiritual life too.

God instructed the Israelites to become part of their new surroundings.  God wanted them to grow, to multiply, to prosper in this new place.  When all else was stripped away, all the Israelites had to rely on was God.  God was the one constant for the people.  In the midst of our own times of exile, God calls out to us as well.  When all else seems new or foreign, God is still the same.  Like the Israelites, our instructions are the same: trust in God alone, cling to God alone, and bloom where God has planted us.  May we trust in God’s plans and may we obediently follow God’s will as we follow wherever God leads.