pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Choose Love

Reading: Genesis 45: 3-7

Verse 5: “For God sent me before you to preserve life”.

Today’s passage is part of a familiar story. As we pick it up today, Joseph has been in Egypt a long time and has risen to the second place in the kingdom – second only to Pharoah. But it has not been an easy ascent. He has been a slave, has been falsely accused, and has spent time in prison. And he has been blessed over and over by God. Now the brothers who sold him into slavery stand before him begging for some food. Famine has struck the lands far and wide.

Joseph may have felt a twinge to extract a little payback from these brothers of his. A lesser man might have chosen revenge. But God has been at work in Joseph’s life for many years now. Each trial and suffering that he has been through has refined and developed his trust in God. No matter how bad things seemed to be, God has always seen Joseph through. So as he looks back on the events of his early life, when he had those dreams and when his own brothers sold him off into slavery, Joseph can see the overarching hand of God at work. He says to his brothers, who are fearing the worst: “God sent me here before you to preserve life”. It was God – not you – who sent me to Egypt. It was God’s plan all along that it would work out just like this. It is pretty amazing to see the story through God’s eyes.

In our lives we too come to these moments. We come to these crossroads where we can choose love or hate, where we can choose to forgive or to hold onto our anger. Our faith calls us to choose love and to extend mercy every time. Every time. Our faith calls us to lay aside our own hurts and to offer healing. Every time. We may feel like we have the right to be mad or hurt or to strike back. Not so. Never. We are people of love and light and hope and mercy. Always. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord, when it is hard, grant me the courage to lay aside my anger and jealousy and bitterness. Help me to cling to light and love. Allow all I say and do to shine your glory out into the world. Amen.


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A Right Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse Two: I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery.

Today’s passage is perhaps one of the most familiar in all of the Old Testament.  They are but ten of the hundreds of laws or commandments found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  Yet we know these ten fairly well.  They are on countless Sunday School room walls and most Christians can name a majority of the ten.  They are mostly a list of “shall not” laws with a couple “do” laws in there too.  They are partly about our relationship with God (1-4) and partly about our relationship with each other (5-10).

Maybe the Ten Commandments are well-known because of their timing.  Maybe they are well-known because of the dramatic fashion in which they are given.  Maybe they are top-of-the-list because of their simplicity.  When Moses receives the Ten Commandments on top of the mountain, it is the first time that God has given laws to live by.  This is significant.  The scene below the mountain was powerful too.  God has just led them to victory, a violent storm rages on top of the mountain, and Moses speaks with God in the storm and lives.  And the Ten Commandments are pretty straight forward.  They are simple enough to be taught in Sunday School classes – even for the little ones.

But ultimately, I think the Ten Commandments are significant because of what they begin.  Verse two reads, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.  For the initial Israelites, they were literally brought out of physical slavery in Egypt.  But quickly for them and for each generation since, right up and through us, the slavery we face is sin.  The Ten Commandments represent the beginning of a personal relationship with God.  This personal relationship is essential if we are to ultimately conquer sin and death.  The first four commandments, in particular, establish the relationship we must have with God.  These must be kept in order to stay in a right relationship with God.  These are summarized in Deuteronomy Six and again by Jesus – love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  The next six commandments cover how we are to live in a right relationship with each other.  These are summarized in Leviticus 19 and by Jesus – love your neighbor as self.  The Ten Commandments begin our right relationship with God and each other.  May we honor the Ten Commandments as we live out our love for God and for neighbor each day.


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Freedom

Reading: Psalm 114: 1-2

Verse Two: Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel His dominion.

Growing up in Connecticut, going to the Department of Motor Vehicles was a daunting task.  The adventure began in the parking lot.  It was always a challenge to find a spot to park.  If you went early, so did a thousand other people.  If you went during the day, it seemed like a thousand cars were circling the lot, all looking for the same space.  Once inside you saw a sea of chairs, lined up in long row after long row.  Then you would stand in line to get a number.  You pulled a little ticket like one does at a deli in a busy supermarket and then you headed for a seat.  If you forgot a book or your Walkman, you were in for trouble.  The big red number on the sign would read something like “24” and you’d look down at your ticket – “327”.  After just a few hours it would be your turn and you’d walk towards the correct window praying you had all the right paperwork…  When you finally emerged into fresh air to begin the search for your car, it felt as if a major victory had been won.  You survived the DMV!

The Israelites had been in Egypt for over 400 years.  Life was monotonous.  It was the same thing day after day.  Hurry up and do the same thing again today.  The slave drivers were always pushing and seemed to expect more and more.  Then one day the Israelites’ number is called.  God’s chosen people hear, “Next”!  God redeems them from slavery and they head off towards the promised land.  After their experience at the sea, they breathe in the fresh air and are confident in the victory that God has brought.  They know without a doubt that God is with them.  “Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel His dominion”.  God says, ‘you are mine and I love you’.  The chosen people head off, freedom at hand, the future looking oh so bright.

Fast forward a few centuries and we too have joined the family.  God says to you and to me, ‘you are mine, I love you’.  We too claim the victory.  Thanks be to God.