pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Encountering Jesus

Reading: Mark 6: 30-34

Verse 34: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”.

Today’s passage begins with the disciples telling Jesus all about their mission trip. They were excited about the teaching and healing that they had done. Soon the buzz would wear off and the exhaustion would set in. Jesus wants to take them to a quiet place to recuperate. Jesus and the disciples finally get away and head for a solitary place across the lake. But, alas, the people see them and run ahead of the boat. A large crowd gathers. It is not such a solitary place.

Perhaps Jesus will send the crowd away? No, that’s not Jesus. We read: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. That’s the first lesson for us. Even when we have other agendas, even when we have other plans – take the time to see those before you, those in need. Allow compassion and love to lead your decisions and actions. There’s another lesson too: be the crowd. Recognize Jesus and pursue him. Acknowledge your need. Meet him where you can and welcome him when he steps into your life. At times we are all lost – like sheep without a shepherd. May we all encounter Jesus Christ today.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see you in my life today. Make me a willing recipient of all you have to teach me. Amen.


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Connected

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-2

Verse 1: “The mighty one, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Psalm 50 opens with the image of God, mighty in power, calling out to all the earth. God “speaks and summons” from east to west. To all of the earth – mankind, plants, animals, all of creation – God calls out. Can you see the trees straightening up ever so slightly? Can you notice the bluejay quieting its song for just a moment? Can you sense God’s presence there with you at the start and end of your day? What about the moments in between?

God is there for all of creation. In the beginning the work of his hands was pleasing to God. God called his work “good” or “very good” in the case of humankind. God, the Lord, continues to be in love with all of creation. It is all the work of his hands. The question that comes to mind this morning is this: how do we acknowledge and honor God’s connection to all of creation? In the general or corporate sense we begin by loving all of creation as God loves it. We continue to reveal his love by caring well for the created world and for one another. A second way we can love all of creation is by being connected ourselves.

God interacts with the world and with each of us every single day. One of my best and favorite ways to be connected is to literally write out each morning the ways that God blessed my life the day before. My list of 5-8 things contains mostly small ways that God blessed me or my day. I also close my quiet time each morning by writing about an act of kindness or two that I did to bless another that previous day. Both keep me focused on the love of God as it is revealed in the world and in my life. Both keep me mindful of my calls to love God and to love others.

In what ways do you seek to be in connection with God, with the created world, and with your fellow human beings each day? How do you take time each day to praise God for these connections and for the blessings in your life?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, each day it humbles and amazes me to pause and look at the ways you touch my life and my days. Thank you for your love and care. I too am blessed when I touch other’s lives in small ways, sharing your love and care. Thank you for these blessings. Continue to use me each day as the revelation of your love and care for all of creation. Amen.


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The Foundation

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse 1: “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”.

As our passage opens today, we learn that Moses is once again up on the mountain speaking with God. This is not the first or last time that Moses speaks to God. Conversations have already happened many times and this is his third or fourth trip up the mountain. Moses’ conversations with God are sprinkled throughout their forty years in the wilderness. But this trip takes longer than usual. The people grow restless and they gather around Aaron, who is second in charge. They say to him, “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”. Scholars believe the Israelites have been in the wilderness about three months at this point. The many gods of Egypt are still fresh in their minds. Aaron fashions a golden calf and the people worship as the Egyptians had. The Israelites rise early and offer sacrifices and then proceed to eating and drinking and they party it up.

My initial reading of the passage stirred up feelings of judgment inside of me. How could they so quickly lose their focus on God? Then I remembered that snow day back in college. The weather was so bad that school was cancelled. We walked to the liquor store first thing that morning so we could “celebrate” not having to go to class. Classes the next day weren’t the best. Another reaction I felt was disgust with how easily they abandoned Moses, the one who has led them so faithfully. That triggered another thought, also from college. Sometimes the professor was late for class. In about one minute we were discussing how long we needed to wait. We’d give five minutes if we didn’t like the class and a whole ten minutes if we really like the professor or the class. Moses was “always” correcting them and giving “tons” of rules to follow. Maybe those who chafed at these things were the first voices to stir the pot, rallying the people to abandon this fellow Moses.

These are but two examples of times when I have quickly fallen into poor decisions or have abandoned leaders who had my best interests at heart. I believe we all have these experiences. Like sheep we are easily led astray. Like the Israelites, we can quickly turn to our own “golden calves” – to things or people that we think will make us happy or that we think will do what we want them to do. We too can quickly abandon the Lord our God when it seems to be taking too long for that answer to prayer or when the outcome isn’t to our liking. We quickly turn to our selfish desires and to the things of the world. As we are honest and acknowledge these truths today, may this story serve as both a reminder and as a warning. May it serve to always help us to keep God as our foundation, as our guide and as our way of life. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, when I begin to look to other things, when my heart starts to wander, send the Holy Spirit’s voice to call me back to your ways. When my will begins to rise up, gently nudge me away from placing self on the throne of my heart. Help me day by day to find peace and joy and contentment in following you. Amen.


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Acknowledging Sin

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”.

David begins Psalm 32 recognizing that the person whose sins are forgiven and not counted or held against them is blessed. He then offers a juxtaposition to that idea in verses three and four, recalling how he wasted away and felt a heaviness upon him in those times when he lived with sin in his life. We can all relate to the two places or emotions that David brings to light.

In verse five we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He is owning a step we too must own: confession. David saw the sin in his life and came before God, claiming his sin and laying it before the Lord. In love, David received God’s grace and mercy. His sins were forgiven, the guilt was washed away. We too come to this place. We live with sin to a point. Then the Holy Spirit will work in us, bringing a conviction that leads us to lay our sins before God.

The step that follows next is a changed life. We call it repentance – a desire to leave our sin behind us and an effort to live accordingly. In verse eight God’s voice is heard. God lets David (and us) know that he will “teach us in the way we should go”, counselling and watching over us. We are warned not to be like the stubborn mule, returning to our sinful ways.

In verse ten we read, “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in him”. May that be our walk of faith this day and every day – turning to God, being honest and transparent before God, calling on God to guide us. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your mercies that are new every morning and for your unending love that never fails. Lead me over and over to the place of kneeling before you, being made right again. Thank you for your love and mercy. Amen.


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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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Solomon’s Request

Reading: 1 Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 5: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”.

Solomon is now King Solomon. He is the ruler of the nation of Israel. He inherits the kingdom from his father David. Israel has enjoyed a recent period of peace and prosperity under David’s leadership. Often, with a new king, the competing and rival nations around him want to test him and see if he really can lead. And although Solomon has worked hard to eliminate all possible and known enemies or threats within, one never knows who amongst your “friends” might be eyeing power. So when God comes and tells Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”, he could have easily and naturally asked to be king for “x” years or to have rest from his enemies.

Kings also often like to look “kingly” so Solomon could have asked for people to admire him. Or he could have asked for more wealth or a bigger kingdom… But Solomon does not ask for any of these worldly trappings. In essence, he asks for more of what it appears he already has. Solomon’s response to God’s offer: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”. This is such an interesting response!

First, notice how Solomon identifies himself: your servant. He is acknowledging God’s supremacy and defining his preferred role in their relationship. Solomon shows both great faith and also deep humility. Second, he asks for a “discerning heart”. Solomon is asking for eyes to see and a heart to feel. This is different from knowing. To know means that 2+2=4. This is a fact that we can know. Discernment is deeper – it adds the ‘why’ to the knowing. Third, Solomon asks for the ability to distinguish right from wrong. We cannot miss why this is important. This request applies on two levels: as a leader of Israel and as a follower of God. Not only does Solomon desire to lead the nation well, but he also wants to walk upright before the Lord. Verse 10 tells us, “This pleased the Lord”. God not only granted Solomon’s request, but He also blessed him in many other ways as well.

When we come to God with our requests, may we be as wise and humble and faithful as Solomon, seeking ever to please God, to bring God the glory, and to walk in His ways. Amen.


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Trust

Reading: 1 Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 17: “What was it He said to you?  Do not hide it from me”.

No one likes bad news.  No one likes to hear bad news.  No one likes to be the bearer of bad news.  We can all relate to what unfolds in today’s scripture.  For Samuel, he is young and inexperienced with hearing from God.  The bad news pertains to his mentor, who is old and in failing health.  For Eli, the first news is unspoken: the torch has been passed.  God will now speak through another.  Eli mush have known that God spoke something to Samuel and because Samuel did not come right away to share the news, that the news must not have been good news.

Both Samuel and Eli could have sat on the bad news.  Both could have waited it out – maybe God could bring a new word.  Eli is old and failing, but he remains faithful to God, in spite of his failure to deal with his sons.  Eli calls Samuel and begins with, “Samuel, my son”.  I can envision Eli putting his arm lovingly around Samuel and looking deeply into his eyes as he says these words.  Eli then encourages Samuel to share, saying, “What was it He said to you?  Do not hide it from me”.  Samuel tells Eli all that God had said.  As a witness to his faith, Eli acknowledges that this will be done according to God’s good will.

What can we learn from this passage?  The first lesson comes from Eli – help the bearer of bad news to know that it is OK to share the news that they have been entrusted with.  Also from Eli we can see the example of receiving bad news knowing that God is and will be present in and through it.  The third lesson we learn comes from Samuel – trust in God for the strength and courage to share what He has given us to share.  In all of this we are called to learn from Romans 8:14: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.  He loves us and will care for us.

Our God is just and loving and true.  We can trust into all that God has for us and for our lives.  May it be so.  Amen.


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The Struggle

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-3

Leading up to today’s story, the Israelites have had quite a relationship with God.  After hundreds of years in slavery, God hears their cries and delivers them from bondage.  In the process, they witness ten miracles that lead to their release.  The final miracle is so amazing that it becomes an annual festival that celebrates God’s saving act: Passover.  Then, just as all seems lost again, God parts the sea, the Israelites cross over, and the pursuing army is destroyed.  Shortly thereafter God provides manna each day and quickly follows that up with quail for meat.  The people have seen blessing after blessing after blessing.  In this way, many of our lives are like this.  God blesses us in so many ways.  We too can look back and see where God’s hand has been at work in our lives.  Maybe we too should have a rock-solid relationship with God, walking hand in hand all the time.

But if we delve a little deeper into the Exodus story, we see another side of the Israelites that we probably recognize in ourselves as well.  The Israelites liked the idea of freedom but grumbled to God when Pharaoh’s reaction was harsh. Then they tasted freedom, only to grumble about starving to death in the desert.  They next complain about water and God leads them to a spring.  They complain about food and long for Egypt and God provides.  The pattern is pretty consistent.  Instead of God’s miracles leading to deeper faith, the Israelites continue to show a lack of faith and trust time after time.

If we fast forward to today, the struggle continues.  Today the sense of community has largely been replaced by rugged individualism.  Instead of grumbling to one another, we simply put our heads down and try to forge a way forward.  We grip the wheel a little tighter.  And often as a last resort, we turn to God.  We look back on the people that God called ‘stiff-necked’ and wonder why they couldn’t trust God after all He brought them through.  Then we see a mirror and realize we are much the same.  We cling to control.  We too allow doubt and fear to creep in.  We too struggle to trust and to live by faith.

Acknowledging it is the first step.  Releasing control is next.  Lord God, help me to yield all to You.  Grow in me the trust that allows You to fully lead my life.  Please.


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Prayer

Reading: Psalm 67

Psalm 67 contains a common prayer pattern.  In the opening verses, the psalmist speaks of God’s grace, blessings, and light coming to mankind.  Through these gifts, mankind is drawn in and comes to know God’s ways so that salvation may come.  For us, each time of extended prayer should begin the same way, by recognizing how God has worked in our lives and by allowing this to draw us close to Him.

Then the Psalm moves on to our role: praising God, being glad, and singing for joy.  When we praise God, we are lifting Him up to His rightful place of majesty and power.  In this is the implication of our smallness and our dependence upon God.  We praise partly because we recognize our absolute need for God and also because He is just and because He guides our lives accordingly.  Our praise and thanksgiving flow out of our recognition of His activity in our life so it is a natural second phase of our extended prayers.

The Psalm wraps up by recognizing that the land yields it’s harvest as God blesses us.  In the psalmist day, the literal land was the source of life for the people.  It was a very agrarian society.  For us today, we rely on the harvest of the land too but most of us are several steps removed from the process.  Today, for most of us the figurative land is our place of employment, our homes, our relationships with each other.  In this sense, God continues to bless us richly with all we need.  Within this also is a recognition that all comes from God; none of our blessings come solely through us.  There is an interdependence between God and our lives.  It is through our relationship with Him that we come to see how much God provides for us.  This third part of our extended prayers is a time to recognize our connection to God.

By daily praying through these three phases or parts, we come to know God more deeply and begin to be daily transformed by His power.  As we recognize His hand in our lives, as we offer our praises for this activity, and as we acknowledge our connection to and need for God’s presence and blessings in our lives, our faith deepens.  This day may we each offer a prayer like Psalm 67 and through it draw closer to our God.


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All the Time!

Being grateful for all of God’s blessings makes such a difference in our lives.  Every day, as part of my morning ‘routine’, I write in my ‘thanks journal.’  I write down at least five things I am thankful for from the day before and lift up a little prayer of thanksgiving to God.  It is important to me to recognize all God does for me.

In hospitals and hospice care they asses a person’s spiritual vitality by measuring the patients’ gratitude towards God.  Psychologists have identified gratitude as a powerful force in the lives of people who are healthy and resilient.  When one is truly thankful for the things one has in life, it shows in their attitude.

In life all is not roses.  Trials and sufferings will come.  These things are inevitable.  They are a part of life.  As with the Psalmist, we too know God is with us in both the good and the bad.  In the bad, God offers us relief from all sorts of suffering and oppression.  When we experience God’s liberation, or response is grateful praise.  The psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  When we have an attitude of gratitude it is natural to want to share how good God is with others.

When our normal mode of operation is to recognize God as the giver of all good things, then we know Him as good and through this can better weather life’s storms.  In these times of trial we can go to God for peace, comfort, strength, … in prayer, in reading His Word, in worship.  When we know the Lord is good through our daily practice of gratitude, the darkness is not as deep and we know there is His light at the end of the trial.  God is good.  When we live and acknowledge this often, we are blessed by His presence all of the time, in both the good and the bad.

Scripture reference: Psalm 34: 1-8