pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. Amen.

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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.


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Natural Tendency

Reading: 2 Samuel 11: 1-5

Verse One: “But David remained in Jerusalem”.

Today’s passage is the beginning of a very familiar story. Simply saying the name “Bathsheba” recalls the whole story. It is a story about power and satisfying the desires of the flesh. Power and lust – two things that many of us struggle with. On that level this story is uncomfortable. But we do not willingly go there, to the uncomfortable place.

In verse one Joab and the whole army head off into battle. This was the norm for the springtime. It was the time for heading off to war. “But David remained in Jerusalem”. Here is where our story really begins. Here is where it goes astray. Kings always lead the troops out in battle. That is just one of their roles as king. They lead. “But David remained in Jerusalem”.

When we consider this decision, we do not ordinarily look at it as a sin. Choosing to stay home instead of going off to war is a decision we could easily rationalize or “what if…” and move on to the rest of the story. Yet let us not go there. Let us stay with this decision. The choice to stay home indicates something askew in David. It is a way to say that he is larger than the average guy. He does not have to do what kings traditionally do. He can break the mold. He can do his own thing. He is in charge.

Here is where I connect to the story. Here is where most of us enter the story. Yes, most of us struggle with the desire for power and with lusting after the things of this world. But the decision to do his own thing is what got David in trouble. If we are honest – and this is where it gets uncomfortable – it is what causes us to sin most often too. Our natural tendency is to want to be in control, to make our own decisions, to be in charge. Here is the danger though: there is only room for one on the throne of my heart. And if it is me, it is not God. This is the danger. It is what caught David. It is what catches me.

Lord God, strengthen my faith so that I can become weak, fully yielding control of my life to you. Come, be Lord of my life. Amen.


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Rescue

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse Five: “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”.

Our passage today opens with this “man” being given a vision and being brought up to the “third heaven”. The man experiences paradise and other inxpressible things. It is an experience that very few have. For those who walked with Jesus and long for His return, a visit to heaven would be the next best thing. For the Corinthians, to whom Paul writes, this would be an amazing person to talk to, to quiz, to gain insights into heaven from. Most experts believe that Paul was this man, so he probably could have gone on and on about his heavenly experience.

Paul is avoiding a temptation common to man. We have all been around people who enjoy telling of their great successes and their grand adventures. They love to go on and on about themselves. We have also been around people who always seem to have a better story. Someone shares about a lovely trip they just had and this person says something along the lines of, “Well, that was nice but let me tell you about MY trip to…”. At times maybe we are these people or certainly we are tempted to be these people. We do like to share our accomplishments or at least to have them recognized.

Paul instead says to his audience, “I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”. Weakness is an odd thing to boast about. This is counter to our first thought about how to introduce ourself to someone. We tend to want to share the good stuff. None of us starts off a conversation with something like, “Nice to meet you. I am up to my eyes in debt and I struggle with alcohol”. While it may be true, we do not begin here.

During his life, Paul has experienced some amazing things. He could go on and on with his experiences and his success stories. Instead, he wants his audience to be present to what he does and says now, when he is with them. To begin to do this, he turns the focus to his weaknesses. Maybe there is a lesson here for us the next time we want to have a faith conversation with someone. Being vulnerable and honest and transparent in sharing how Jesus rescued this sinner is perhaps the best way to help another see how Jesus could rescue them too. We’ve all done wonderful things in life. But our story of faith is not about us or what we’ve done, it is about Jesus and what He has done in us. This is the real story that we have to share – our rescue story. May we share it well today.


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Ring, Ring

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse Nine: “If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'”.

Today we have Samuel’s call story. Before he was born his mom dedicated him to the Lord. As soon as he was able he began serving in the temple. This life is really all Samuel has known for his twelve or thirteen years of life. I suppose he could have rebelled as a young boy, deciding this was not the life he wanted for himself. He wouldn’t be the first. Today people do this all the time – leaving one vocation for another or transferring to someplace else where it must be better.

Then one night God calls out to Samuel. Three times. It is only when old, wise Eli realizes that it was God calling did Samuel know to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”. Only with Eli’s help. This makes me think of my call story. God began to give a call to me way back when I began adult life as a middle school teacher in the early 1990s. As I grew in my own faith and became more involved at my church, volunteering in various capacities, the call grew louder. The voices of good friends and total strangers eventually joined the echoing of God’s call. Then, twenty-something years later, I accepted the call to full-time vocational ministry.

Although the span of time was much greater that Samuel’s, over and over I heard God calling. It was a long process convincing me that God was indeed calling. It was like a slow sunrise that quietly creeps across the landscape as God’s light spread more and more into my life. Certainly not all are called into vocational ministry. Most folks are called into a relationship with God that leads them to serve God in their daily lives as doctors or construction workers, as secretaries or teachers, … A few receive a lightning bolt call – one day an overwhelming voice or event catapults them into a relationship with God.

This all leads to the question: what is your call story? Or is God still calling you? We all have a story to tell. When someone asks, as one surely will, about this joy and peace that you have, what will you say? What is your story of faith? How will you explain how God has been and is at work in your life? When someone asks, how will you explain the call of God upon your life?


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Saved

Reading: John 3: 16-17

Verse Seventeen: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him”.

Not to condemn but to save. Not to seal our fate but to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Not to stand far above us in judgment but to live within us as friend. Not to be unknown but to be fully known. “For God so loved the world…”. He took on flesh, lived among us, was crucified and rose so that His Spirit could continue to live on in each of us.

God’s purpose in Jesus is to make His love known more completely. As we journey through life, our faith changes and grows. We become more and more who God created us to be in Jesus Christ. In doing so, God takes all of us – who we are and what we have experienced – and molds and remolds us day by day, reshaping us into who He wants us to be. Through God’s great transforming power we are made into a new creation so that we can be change agents in other people’s lives. God created us to use us for the transformation of others and of the world.

How will that look today and tomorrow and the next day? How will God take each of us and use us to build the kingdom here on earth? How will God use us to share the good news of salvation and hope that is offered through a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ? All of this is done through us and through our story. The change that God has wrought in us is the change that He can work in others. If we share our story with others, it opens the door for God to go to work in their lives as well.

Not to condemn but to save. Not to hate but to love. Not to separate but to draw together. May we be Jesus’ light and love in the world today and every day, helping others to be saved. Amen.