pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.

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Shining for All to See

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 6-11

Verse 11: “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah God widens the circle. The metaphor of the potter and the clay is expanded to the nation. The application extends to all nations and people groups. In verses seven through ten God outlines how this works. If a nation is doing evil it will be uprooted and torn down. But if it repents of its evil, God will relent. The reverse is also true. These verses imply that God is engaged not only in our personal spiritual lives but also in the public and corporate lives of our communities and of society.

Together people form a community. This happens at all levels. Our families and our churches are the base level and this is where our faith lives seem most evident. Our identity or our “collective life” comes from the sum of us. In a church, for example, if most of the people are friendly and welcoming, then the church will be friendly and welcoming. Jeremiah is extending our lives out further today. Jeremiah is implying that how we live out our lives of faith in our community, town, city, state, and/or nation affects the social and political realities of said groups.

As people of faith we can seek justice for all and can stand with those facing injustice. As people of faith we can seek to be positive contributors to the projects, events, and happenings in our localities. As people of faith we can care for and call others to care for the marginalized and victimized. As people of faith we can work for peace and reconciliation in our spheres of influence. As people of faith we can be strength and comfort and aide in the midst of loss, violence, and other tragedies. As people of faith we can speak words of love and understanding instead of words of hate and division.

Through Jeremiah God warns Israel and, by extension, all nations. In the last verse of our passage today we read, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”. No, as people of faith we cannot be a part of the evil or injustice or abuse or… But, yes, we are also called to live out an active and engaging faith. We are called to let our light shine for all to see. In doing so we strength not only our own faith, our families, and our churches, but our communities as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be light and love outside the walls of my home and my church. Lead me to shine your love and light out into my neighborhood, my community, and beyond. Amen.


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A Choice

Reading: Ephesians 4: 25-29

Verse 25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”.

Today’s five verses form four messages unto themselves. Paul begins with, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”. In other words, do not say what others want to hear but speak the truth in love. Sometimes it is hard to say or hear, but truth is truth. Why let a neighbor pursue something that is hurtful or sinful when you can help them back to the righteous path?

The next verse is about anger. Paul’s advice – do not act out of a place of anger and do not let it fester. Find the middle ground. Offer forgiveness, be a part of reconciliation, be open to differing thoughts and opinions, allow the Holy Spirit to guide your words and actions. Why? Because when we give anger control, then we are giving the devil a foothold. Satan is already working hard enough to pry us away from our faith. Why give him a straight path into your life?

Verse 28 calls for us to work, to do something useful. Paul equates choosing not to work with stealing. Do not take from others (or the government) when you are able to work. And as a bonus you will be able to bless those truly in need. Work is good for us. Plain and simple. It is God’s design.

The last verse is a warning, followed by a better option. Paul writes, “Don’t let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths”. Don’t slander, don’t lie, don’t gossip, don’t curse, don’t judge, don’t insult, don’t quarrel, don’t grumble, don’t complain… Yes, this list is long but also very incomplete. There are many other ways that unwholesome talk escapes our lips. Paul says, instead speak only words that build others up. When we use words to encourage, to compliment, to applaud, to edify… then we build one another up in love.

Each of these ideas are choices. We can choose to do the Christian thing or we can choose the earthly thing. We can build up or we can tear down. We can glorify God or we can elevate Satan. We can walk the narrow path that leads to life or we can meander the wide way that leads to death. It is a choice. Like Joshua declared, may we too declare each day that we will serve the Lord. It is a choice. May our choice ever be for God.


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Conflict Resolution

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 17: If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Today’s passage deals with conflict resolution in the church.  Although the church is intended to be the loving body of Christ and to reflect His light out into the world, at times there is conflict in the church.  Sometimes the conflict involves just two people, but at times the conflict can involve larger groups of people.

Jesus chooses to address conflict resolution in the church because it does happen.  And it is no coincidence that this address follows the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew’s Gospel.  Perhaps Jesus addresses it so directly because He knows a second truth as well – when conflict arises most of us avoid it at almost any cost.  If we are hurt or offended or sinned against by another at church we would much rather “get over it” and avoid further conflict than go and talk with that person.  Yet Jesus tells us to do just that – go and talk with them.  Why?  Because unresolved conflict becomes a murmur always humming just below the surface.  It becomes a feeling that can pervade gatherings and can inhibit the church’s ability to function as the loving body of Christ.

Jesus also gives two more steps to try next to try and resolve the conflict.  If a one on one visit fails, Jesus says to go back with one or two other believers.  Bring someone wise and respected to navigate the waters of reconciliation.  He is not saying to make it three on one but to bring in others who will help both sides come to the table to find resolution.  The next step, should the second step also fail, is to bring it before the whole church.  Hopefully more heads will work together to find a solution that leads to repentance and forgiveness.

At each step the goal is always reconciliation and restoration.  In the end, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over”.  This is the goal: to help one another along on our journey of faith.  We are called to hold one another accountable.  This is true love in the church – being open and honest and transparent and speaking the truth in  love as we all journey together, each seeking to grow in our faith.


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Surrender

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 15: He kissed all his brothers and wept over them.

Joseph could have easily lashed out at his brothers from his position of power or he could have sought revenge.  But the bond of family and the influence of God in his life lead him to seek reconciliation instead.  Living in a foreign land without any true family had to be hard.  Even though he had been through his share of trials, Joseph had come to have a very good life.  Yet he was alone and missed his family – especially his father.

Joseph clears the room of all his attendants and court officials for two reasons.  One is so that he can be open and honest with his brothers.  Yet even the removal of everyone else does not keep the time private.  Joseph is so overcome with emotion that the officials hear his weeping and report it to Pharaoh.  The second reason is to surrender his position of power so that his brothers can draw near to him.  It is close and personal – something that would never happen in the official court setting.

Joseph seeks to be reunited and reconciled with his family.  It begins with him reaching out, surrendering his power, making the first move simply as their brother.  To repair a broken relationship someone has to make the first move.  It also requires the other party to accept the offer of reconciliation and to respond accordingly.  Both sides must be willing to let go of the past – whatever caused the separation and brokenness – and to begin to love again.  In the end, “He kissed all his brothers and wept over them”.  Then they talked.

On our faith journey, we go through cycles of reconciliation.  We sin and break our relationship with God.  Sin separates us.  Then in an act of love and surrender of self we repent and ask for forgiveness.  In His great love and mercy, God offers us grace and our sin is forgiven.  We are once again reunited with the God we love until we stumble again and then we repeat the process.  Joseph had to become less to meet his brothers again.  We too must surrender some more of ourselves each time we say we are sorry and repent and commit to a closer walk with Jesus.  Each day, may we become less and He becomes more.


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God’s Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

The vision Isaiah lays out is hard to wrap our minds around.  We can picture a wolf with a lamb or a lion eating straw.  But to imagine this and all the other images Isaiah presents as the daily reality for all of the animals of the world really stretches our minds.  When Isaiah writes, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my Holy mountain”, he means everyone and everything – man, animals, plants, nature…

We imagine heaven a number of ways.  Some see a beautiful city with streets paved with gold.  Some see us floating up in the sky, lounging on the clouds.  Some imagine a giant mansion with endless rooms in it.  But even more than what heaven will look like, we ‘know’ what it will be like.  We will constantly be in the light and live of God.  There will be no tears, no pain, no hurt, no hunger, no injustice, no oppression, no sin.

Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray… your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6: 9-10).  These familiar words from the Lord’s Prayer tie into the vision in Isaiah 11.  When Jesus taught the disciples this prayer, He included the idea of God’s kingdom coming here.  God’s will for the earth is peace, love, understanding, reconciliation, mercy.  God’s kingdom vision for the earth is the same as the vision for heaven.

So, what would our world look like if we put an end to all the harm and destroying?  What would life be like for all people if there was no violence, no abuse, no injustice, no oppression?  What would the world look like if there were no famine or drought or pestilence?  We, as God’s people, are kingdom builders.  What are you going to do today to help bring God’s kingdom to all the people you will encounter this day and to all the places you will be this day?


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Ambassadors

Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

Christ offers us healing and wholeness.  Through Him we are made into a new creation.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can renew our minds every day to remain in a right relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  In the relationship we are no longer slaves to sin and death because we know that through Jesus we too have conquered these things.

All people have hurts and scars from living life.  As all is not in our control and as Satan is active in this world, there will be people, events, and circumstances that bring us pain and harm.  But the good news of Jesus Christ is that we do not walk alone.  Jesus wants to carry our burdens; He wants to take away the pain and hurt.  All He asks is that we bring these things to Him, to lay them down, and to trust Him with them.

We too at times bring hurt and pain to others.  In our humanity we can be less than God intends us to be.  In these times we are not fulfilling the call to be ambassadors for Christ and bearers of the good news of salvation.  Yet even in these times God is at work, calling us back to Him.  Through the whispers and nudges of the Holy Spirit God is always seeking to reconcile us back to Him.  As we grow in our faith, we increasingly bring the love of God out into the world with us as we seek to help reconcile others to God as His ambassadors.

God seeks to draw all people into relationship.  He seeks to have His love known in every heart.  As we experience this in our own lives, may we seek to share this good news with others, living as the ambassadors Christ calls us all to be.