pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Are You Willing?

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you a part.”

In verse 5 we hear Jeremiah’s call story. God is addressing him, readying him to begin his ministry. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This amazing statement is true for all of us. Before God’s hands brought our cells together, before God began to weave us together, God knew us. God knew our essence, our soul, our spirit. God knew who and what we were going to be created for before our first cells were formed. What an amazing and powerful thought.

Yet it gets better: “Before you were born I set you a part.” Woven together by God with a purpose for our lives, we were also set apart by God to live as a child of God. Created by God as a child of God we are to reflect our creator to the world. For each of us, God has a plan for how we are to do that. For Jeremiah, God created him to be a prophet. That might be what God created you to be too. Or maybe God created you to be a banker or a custodian, a mechanic or a lawyer, a business owner or a mom, a pastor or a carpenter, a chef or a firefighter… Whatever our vocation, we remain called by God to live a life set apart.

In verse 6 we hear Jeremiah’s ‘buts.’ we have them too. But God… Yet God says, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am with you.” God says the same thing to our ‘buts.’ Before I formed you… I knew you. Before you breathed your first breath, I set you apart. If we are willing, these are God’s truths and God’s promises. Are you willing?

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing to consider that you have a vision for me and for each of us. You put me together in a unique and special way – to accomplish what you set me apart for. Wow. And you promise to go with me, step by step, word by word, deed by deed. Wowza! Thank you, God. Amen.


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Rebuild and Restore

Reading: Psalm 85:1-7

Verse 4: “Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure towards us.”

Psalm 85 is written after the punishment and exile that Hosea foretold. God has allowed the people to begin returning and rebuilding what had been destroyed, both physically and relationally. Leaving Babylon, God “showed favor” and “restored the fortunes of Jacob.” God forgave their sins and “turned away from your fierce anger.” Things have gotten better, but…

Have you ever had a really big fight with your spouse or with a good friend? After some time apart, you begin to talk again. Yet all is not fixed, right? Reconciliation and restoration is the goal but you’re not quite there yet. Words must be spoken, behaviors demonstrated in order to begin to repair what was wounded or broken. Often trust must be rebuilt. This is where God and Israel are in their relationship.

In verses 4-6 the psalmist expresses a longing to get back into right relationship with God. There is an implication that Israel feels ready. Lessons have been learned. Humility and reverence are again present. It is usually the party that is at fault who first longs to re-enter relationship and to put the ugliness behind them. In verse 7 the writer asks God to “Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Israel longs to be made whole again.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all sinned and created separation between God and ourselves. Today’s text is a good reminder of how we can reapproach God as we seek to rebuild and restore our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, I long to live in a full and complete relationship with you. So often, though, I get in the way. My pride, my selfishness, my desires create a distance between us. Help the me inside to become less and less so that you can become more and more. Amen.


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God Calls

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

In today’s passage we read about the call of Jeremiah the prophet. In the first few verses of Jeremiah 1 we learn that Jeremiah was a priest in a small town in the land of Benjamin when he was called. The Babylonian empire was nearing Israel and Judah. There was a great need for religious reform. King Josiah was trying to begin the needed reforms. A prophet was needed. God asked Jeremiah to fill this role.

For the past two weeks I’ve been writing and preaching about our gifts and how God wants us to use our gifts to share the good news and to build the kingdom of God. This call is very similar to the call that all prophets received, including Jeremiah. In verse five we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” These words are true for you and me too. They are true for all people. Before anyone is knit together in the womb they are a thought in God’s mind. Before anyone is born, God has a plan for them. All people receive an invitation to live a life set apart for God. Many fight and reject and deny this invitation and the spark of the divine inside of them. Over time the spark grows dim, the call becomes fainter. Yet God continues to call.

When God called, Jeremiah found excuses. We do too. When God calls into our lives, nudging us to use our gifts, we often ignore it or try to get out of it. If we can’t ignore it we try and tell ourselves that we’re too busy, too old, too young, too inexperienced, too whatever. To the excuses of Jeremiah, God said “nonsense.” God says the same thing to our excuses. God formed us, set us apart, and appointed us for service in the kingdom of God.

Our world is a difficult place right now, one full of sorrow and suffering, one in deep need of God. As God calls us, may we follow, trusting in God’s leading and guidance.

Prayer: Lord God, the needs are many, the pain deep. Help me to see where you are pointing me, to go to those you want to send me to. Guide me to step out in trust. Use me as you will. Amen.


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In the World

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verses 16-17: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”.

Our passage today is a prayer that Jesus prays over his disciples. As one reads the prayer, Jesus’ love for his disciples pours out of his words. There is also a clear sense of the connection to God and of a disconnect from the world. Jesus understands that the disciples are set apart from the world and that this status will cause hardship and persecution.

Jesus has taught the disciples the words that came to him from God and they have accepted these words. They believe Jesus is the Savior and have anchored their relationship in God’s love lived out. They have been transformed. They are now not of the world but are of God – “they are yours”. Jesus prays for this connection and the unity that it brings to continue. In verse eleven he prays, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. The transformation from being “of God” instead of “of the world” is made clearer in verse fourteen: “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world”. The disciples citizenship is with God eternal.

Yet the disciples remain in the world. Jesus knows the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead so he prays for God to protect the disciples from the “evil one” – the prince of darkness, the ruler of the world’s passions and desires. Jesus asks God to “sanctify” the disciples – to make them holy, to fill them with his light and love. The darkness cannot overcome the light; hatred will never triumph over love. Standing on God’s truths and in his love, all the powers of evil will not prevail against the faithful. Jesus knows these truths, these promises. These remain today. As you and I are sent out into the world, this prayer and these truths cover us. Living in but not of the world, we too belong to God. May we step forth boldly in these promises today!

Prayer: Lord God, you hem me in, you go before me, you are my rear guard. Your abiding presence gives me peace and your unending love builds up my courage. Send me out, use me today. Amen.


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In Solitude and Prayer

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse 7: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Our passage today reminds us of how Jesus was like us and calls us to be like him. In the first verse we are reminded that Jesus did not come as a high priest. Jesus could have been born into the tribe of Levi and could have assumed the role of priest after finishing all his formal training. He would have then served in the temple or maybe in a local synagogue to start out. In this role Jesus would never have gone out to engage the world. He would not have crossed paths with Gentiles and lepers and prostitutes and the many others that he did heal and bring back into community. Most Jews saw themselves as a people set apart from the world and the priests were a group within this people who were even more set apart and isolated.

Jesus was born into the family of a common laborer – a carpenter. After the miraculous birth and exile in Egypt, Jesus was raised as an ordinary kid in a small town. Jesus learned the family business and spent years in the profession. His parents were good Jews and family was where he first found love and belonging. When Jesus began his ministry at about 30 years of age, he had experienced the good and bad, the hard and joyous of life. Once Jesus stepped into the role of Messiah he did not hunker down in the temple, waiting for folks to come hear his great wisdom. His ministry was radical for the time. It remains radical for today. Jesus traveled the country, teaching, healing, preaching, feeding, reconciling… In all he did, Jesus exhibited a love for and devotion to God. If anyone deserved to be the high priest, it was Jesus. Instead, he lived as one of us.

A regular practice of Jesus’ life was solitude and prayer with God. In verse seven we read, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”. In times of need, Jesus turned to God for comfort, strength, peace. This too should be our practice: to turn to God in our times of need. In our moments of need, we too want to know that we are beloved children of God. We too want to know that God cares for us. We too want to rest in his presence, in our place in the family of God. As we seek to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, may we be like Jesus, ever seeking the loving presence of our life-giving God.

Prayer: Lord God, hear our cries, alleviate our pain and suffering. Draw us near when we seek you; assure us of our place of belonging. Lead us to bring all things to you in prayer, guide us to rest in your presence. Walk with us all of our days. Amen.


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News Spread Quickly

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 28: “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Our gospel reading for today and tomorrow centers on Jesus’ authority. After arriving in Capernaum, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As Jesus begins teaching, the people are “amazed” because he was “one who had authority”. Jesus spoke and taught in a way that clearly set him apart from the local scribes and teachers of the law that usually taught in the local synagogue. Jesus had a knowledge that was inherent, not learned or taught. Jesus, therefore, possessed a God-given, divine authority.

During his time in the synagogue a man possessed by an evil spirit cries out, recognizing Jesus as “the Holy One of God”. The spirit acknowledges the divine power in Jesus – “are you going to destroy us”? In response Jesus quiets the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. With a shriek the man is freed from his demon and is made well. This action adds a layer of amazement for those in the synagogue that day. As one might expect, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Although not possessed, we each have moments when an evil spirit rises up within us, tempting us to sin. In those moments we also bump up against the Holy One – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In that moment, competing voices speak into our decision. Good and evil vie for control, for the outcome of that moment. The deceiver whispers lies, the Spirit speaks truth. In that moment, do we give Jesus authority in our lives? In the decision, do we allow the Holy One to have power over self?

These moments happen over and over on our journey of faith, many times every day. Each outcome determines how others see us and how they see our faith. As we walk out our days may we do so in a manner that causes “news about him” to spread quickly.

Prayer: Lord God, in each word and in each action, guide me to be attuned to the living presence of Jesus Christ within me. Tune my heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Bend my will to your will. Amen.


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You Are Loved

Reading: Psalm 8:1

Verse 1: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice”?

God is wisdom. God calls out to us in many ways. God is understanding. God raises her voice to help us to have understanding too. God calls out with a raised voice to get our attention, to help us hear the message: you are loved.

In our world there is plenty of negativity. On social media we find lots and lots of negativity. News outlets of all kinds overflow with negative stories. In our personal lives we too often deal with critics and others who are negative towards us or our efforts. Add to all of this the normal trials and hardships of life. Taken together, this can be difficult to deal with and it can quickly feel defeating.

In the selection from Proverbs 8 that we read yesterday, we saw how God delights in us and rejoices over us. God calls out to us over and over in scripture to let us know how much we are loved and valued. In Genesis 1:27 we read that we were “created in his own image”. In Psalm 139 we are reminded that we were knit together in the womb by God’s own hand. In Jeremiah 1:5 we read that “before you were born you were set apart”. We are reminded in Matthew 6 that we are loved and cared for by God – and are much more beautiful than the lilies! In John 14:18 we are told that we will never be orphaned – Jesus will always be with us. These are but a handful of the many passages that tell us how dearly we are loved. In so many ways, God shouts out: you are loved.

We are loved indeed. Today, may we go forth to share that love with others, helping all to know God’s love today.

Prayer: God of love, so fill me with your love so that it overflows into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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Worship God… with all our heart

Reading: Psalm 138: 1-3

Verse 1: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”.

Today’s three verses from Psalm 138 are about worshipping God because of and through our personal relationship with God. Like all relationships, this relationship resides in our heart. It is a relationship build upon love and faithfulness. God’s love and faithfulness is, of course, much more pure and constant than our fickle nature allows. But God does not let our nature deter His. God’s love and faithfulness are “no matter what” – God loves us and remains faithful to us regardless of what we do or do not do.

Our proper response is what David begins the Psalm with: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”. The competing interests of self and world make it pretty hard to love God with all of our heart. In our day to day living the voices to succeed and attain and to earn and to gather more and more are loud. To have a chance at loving God with all of our heart, this relationship requires what all relationships require: time. If we really want to love God fully, then our daily disciplines should reflect that. Our day should include both structured and spontaneous times of prayer. Our day should include some time set aside to read the Word and to meditate upon what God is saying to us through the Bible that day. If we give time and attention to prayer and the Word, then our relationship with God will grow and deepen. Yet there is one more thing.

If we are to really love God with all of our hearts, then we must also worship God daily. This type of worship in not necessarily or even often done in a church. Yes, a time of corporate worship done at least weekly is essential in our relationship with God. But intimate, close, personal heart worship is the key to loving God with all of our heart. Taking time each day to reflect on God’s blessings and presence in our lives each day is essential to building our love of and faithfulness to God. This can be done anywhere and at anytime, but, again, making this practice a part of our daily disciplines will help our love of God and our faithfulness to God to grow.

Whether now or at some other point in the day, take some set aside time to worship God with your thanksgiving and praise. Thank God for being present in this situation or for guidance in that project or relationship. Worship God for the ways you saw God in your child or spouse or co-worker. Take some set aside time and grow more in love with God. Be faithful to God today. And then… do it again tomorrow and the day after that and…

Prayer: Lord of Lords, I marvel at how your love and faithfulness are always present, both revealed in so many ways. I praise you for the small and the big ways that you are present to me in and throughout each day. You are the creator and the God of the entire universe, yet you are also my God. All praise to you, O God. Amen.


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Hope

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verses 29 and 31: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”.

Our section today opens with the people complaining that God is disregarding their cause. The people feel hidden from God. At times, we find ourselves here, don’t we? We too can feel apart from God or as if God does not care about what is happening in our life. We think that if God loved and cared for us, that He would do something – right?

To us and to the Israelites, Isaiah says, “Have you not heard? Have you not seen”? Isaiah is saying, with all of your experience with God and with all you’ve read and heard about God, how can you say this about God? How can you question? This line of thought, this logic, makes sense to us in the good times of life. Yes, God has been there for us over and over. But when we have been in the trial for a while, the illogical rises up. We begin to doubt, we begin to feel abandoned, we begin to question. It is then that we must remember the words of Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God”. Our God is a forever God, a God that never grows tired or weary.

Isaiah then adds some wonderful reminders about how God loves and cares for each of us. Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”. When we are weary, God wants to give us strength. When we are weak, God wants to give us power. But we also have a part. When our hope rests fully on God, we will be renewed. Sometimes it is hard to hold onto and to live into this hope. Sometimes life brings a lot at us. No matter what, though, when we turn to God in hope, He will lift us up. May we ever cling to our hope, to the Lord our God.


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Distinguished

Reading: Exodus 33:16

Verse 16: What else will distinguish me and your people from all other people on the face of the Earth?

Moses asks a great question today.  If not for God’s presence in their lives, what else distinguishes them?  You and I could ask the same question.  Like everyone else, we woke up this morning and got ready for work or school or whatever else lay ahead.  Like everyone else we will eat and drink today, will smile and say hello to many people, will return home and be ready to repeat it all tomorrow.

Moses is seeking to define the people’s identity and he wants to do that through their relationship with God.  Our personal relationship with God is what sets us apart from many other people as well.  As Christians, we are in the minority.  Moses’ question makes me think of another great question to ponder: if you were arrested today for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Our relationship with God manifests itself mostly in two ways.  Who we are at our core should distinguish us from most of the world.  Our relationship with God brings us a peace and joy and contentment about life.  Our faith leads us to times of personal connection to God as we pray and spend time in the Word.  It is a relationship built on love.  This love of God and from God is what wells up in us and flows out into the lives of all we cross paths with each day.  The way we treat others and the way we go through life should distinguish us from others.  Our lives should lead others to want some of whatever we have.

“What else will distinguish me and your people from all other people on the face of the Earth”?  It is through our relationship with God that we are set apart.  May our love of God and neighbor be that fragrant offering to the world that draws others into God’s love.