pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Walking Into Places and Spaces

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Photo credit: Lili Popper

As we begin this week we enter into the end of Epiphany, the season that focuses in on the revelation of Jesus Christ. In this season we highlight who and what Jesus is. Our call, however, is to reveal Jesus Christ to the world every day of our faith journey. It is fitting that this season culminates on Transfiguration Sunday, when the Christ is filled with light, revealing him in all of his glory. In each passage this week we enter into the thin spaces of holiness, into the places where God is at work.

As 2nd Kings opens there is turmoil in the land. The king tries to consult Baal, one of the local pagan gods. Elijah, God’s prophet, condemns this action and proclaims that the king will die. It is also time for Elijah to end his earthly life and to cede the role of prophet to Elisha. After clearly demonstrating that God is with him, Elijah comes down the mountain to walk out his final steps. Three times Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, seeking to spare him. Each time they arrive at a new place, the local prophets come out and tell Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah from him. Three times Elisha asks them not to speak of it. Each time Elijah tries to leave him behind Elisha says, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. He will not abandon Elijah. He will continue to walk faithfully with him. Elisha chooses to walk into that thin space with Elijah. As he walks through that space, Elisha is transformed from protege to prophet, from student to master, from one who follows to one who leads others into God’s presence.

As believers we too will face times when the Holy Spirit invites us to walk into those thin spaces, into those holy places. We will be called to be the presence of God in the lives of others. We will be asked to walk with another on a difficult journey. We will be asked to sit or pray with another in a time of pain or loss. We will be asked to share our faith and our hope with another who is lost or broken. In these sacred moments we will be called by the Holy Spirit, asked to be the very presence of God to another. Yes, it is scary and hard to step into those places and spaces. We do not go alone. The one who invites goes with us. The Spirit is ever present, ever ready to reveal the power of God’s love, peace, hope, power… through us. As we feel ourselves called and as we stand on the doorstep to these holy and sacred moments, may we too say, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Prayer: Lord God, each time that I have stepped into that thin space, you have been right there with me. Your Spirit leads and guides, strengthens and encourages. Each experience has been holy and sacred. Yet each first step is always hard. It ever requires trust and faith. Continue to give me the courage and belief to step into those places and spaces. Walk with me day by day. Amen.


Leave a comment

His Ways

Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-5a

Verse 5a: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways”.

Our passage comes from the third section in the book of Isaiah. In the first section the people struggle to remain faithful even though God remains faithful. The prophet calls the people back to God over and over. In the second section the wandering grows, as do the consequences of their sins. The Babylonians defeat Israel and many are carried into exile. Here the prophet speaks of hope and of a return home. In the third section, the trip home begins. It is a slow trickle of people. They find new inhabitants in and around Jerusalem. These folks are not friendly to the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem. Today’s passage offers words of encouragement to those trying to rebuild amidst opposition and hardship. The words asking for God’s intervention are longings for God to make things right once again.

In the opening verse the prophet writes, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down”. The prophet looks to the days of old when God’s presence was visible in the pillars of cloud and fire and in the mighty acts of God. The powerful image of God protected the people and it reminded them (and their enemies) of God’s presence with Israel. Isaiah also recalls the “awesome things” that they did not expect – the parting of the sea, the food and water in the wilderness, the walls tumbling down, the defeat of the mighty Assyrians… Isaiah is recalling the God “who acted on behalf of those who waited for him”. This is the God they now await. This is the God they long for, hope for. These words are calling the people to remain faithful, to trust in God and his ways.

In our last verse for today, Isaiah speaks these words: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways”. Isaiah knows that the relationship has two sides. The people must remain faithful. The Israelites must keep their eyes on God and their faith in God. In his steadfast love, God will come. God will act. Like us in this time of unease and difficulty, waiting can be hard. Yet, like Israel, we must remain faithful, trusting in the Lord our God. May we ever remember his ways as we seek to walk faithfully day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, just as the Israelites’ strength waned at times, so too is our strength being tested right now. In these difficult times, remind us of your steadfast love; help us to walk in your ways. Guide us, great Jehovah. Amen.


Leave a comment

God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11: 5-13

Verse 9: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you”.

When we pray, we enter into intimate connection to God. Whether we are praying the Lord’s Prayer or coming to God at midnight with a desperate plea, connection builds the relationship. In the first story today, the man gets his bread. He did not receive the bread because he asked a friend once, but because he was persistent. He kept asking until he got the response he needed.

In verse 9 Jesus continues the persistence theme by saying, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you”. Unlike the neighbor who responds to alleviate the awkward situation, God responds simply because we ask. God responds because God loves us deeply. Because of the depth of God’s love, God responds with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the indwelling, personal presence of Jesus Christ in the life of a believer. There is no better gift in this life.

In Luke 11 we are reminded of how well an earthly father cares for and provides for his children. Whenever possible, parents want to give all they can to their children. They even want to meet their requests. Asking for bread yields bread, not a stone… Jesus then reminds us then how much more we can expect from God when we go to God in prayer.

If we connect back to yesterday’s reading, to the Lord’s Prayer, we see a God who wants to provide for our daily needs, who offers restoration to our relationships when they are harmed by sin, who desires to live in connection with persistent prayer warriors, and who longs for us to ask, seek, and knock.

When we ask the Holy Spirit – whether for guidance or direction or provision – the Holy Spirit will give. When we seek the Holy Spirit – whether for wisdom or understanding or insight – the Holy Spirit help us find. When we knock because we are feeling lost or separated or confused or… then the Holy Spirit will open doors for us. The power of the Holy Spirit is the living presence of God within us, embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

The intimate relationship we experience with God through the Holy Spirit is a great gift. The presence of the Spirit keeps us rooted in and connected to God. May we be persistent in tapping into that relationship, ever turning to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me your ways. Attune me to the presence of the Holy Spirit within, opening myself up to all it offers and brings into my life. May your power reign in me. Amen.


1 Comment

A Big, Big God

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verse 16: “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being”.

Paul’s writing today in Ephesians 3 paints a picture for us concerning the vastness of God’s love for us. It is indeed a vast, vast love. It is a love that is difficult to fully understand too. It is one of those things that once you begin to grasp the immensity of, you are more and more amazed by it.

Our reality is that God’s love needed to be that big because of who we are. At its core, God’s love is a covenant love that says to us, “I’ll love you no matter what”. When I think about my tendency to return to the same sins over and over, it really makes me wonder how God could continue to love even me. These sins are not egregious and do not cause great harm to others, but are sins nonetheless. God’s love is a love big enough to say that He still loves me after the 3,187,349th unkind thought.

Paul too lived this struggle. He was not perfect and knew that his brothers and sisters in Christ we’re not either. He knew that we needed help. Today he prays for us, saying, “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being”. In essence Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit dwell in us to give us strength in our constant battle with sin. It is a prayer I appreciate very much. It is a prayer that I need.

On some days I cannot imagine that I will make it through the day. And then I remember God’s vast love for me. At the close of today’s reading is another great reminder on those days. In verse 20 Paul writes, “to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”. Immeasurably more. More than I can ask or imagine. This is a big, big God. It is strength for the day and hope for all tommorows. Thanks be to God that He loves you and me.


1 Comment

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?


Leave a comment

Today

Reading: Matthew 23: 8-10

Summary: You have only one Master… one Father… one Teacher… The greatest among you will be your servant.

We often come to church or a time of prayer or a time of Bible reading when we are seeking comfort or care or relief from some burden.  After tragedies and large losses we often see a spike in church attendance, interest in faith…  IT is natural to seek these things from God.  Yes, at times this is just what we find at church, in prayer, in the Word.  But often we also find what the Pharisees found in today’s passage.  They want to be recognized and looked up to and respected, but what Jesus offers is a dose of reality as He knocks them down a few pegs.  He draws a sharp contrast between how they are teaching and leading and how God wants them to teach and lead.

Today many will come to church.  Almost all will be seeking to be filled up, to be encouraged, to feel their burdens lifted.  It is my prayer that if this is what they need today that this is precisely what Jesus brings them.  I hope people experience a compassionate and loving Lord.  But sometimes Jesus has other plans.  Sometimes we open the Word seeking discernment and Jesus only causes us to think deeper and to wrestle more with whatever is troubling us.  Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and we go to our knees seeking relief and Jesus only adds to our “to do” list, placing someone or something with a need on our heart.  Sometimes we walk into church looking to recharge our batteries and we walk out, convicted by the Holy Spirit to go and serve or to be the one to take the first step of reconciliation.  Sometimes Jesus asks more.

Jesus reminds us today that we have only “one Master… one Father… one Teacher”.  We are not the ones in control, not the ones with the answers.  Today we may come looking for something from God.  May we find what we seek.  But let us not be closed off to what else Jesus has for us today.  Jesus may offer more today – a word of challenge or conviction or discernment.  May we be responsive and open and willing.  May we seek to be the humble servant today.


Leave a comment

Shouldn’t You

Reading: Matthew 18: 21-35

Verse 33: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

Forgiveness.  It is something we all want when we have done wrong and want to restore the relationship.  It is something that at times we can try and manipulate.  It is something that can be hard to give sometimes.

Just after teaching about how to offer forgiveness in the midst of conflict in the church, Jesus is asked by Peter, “How many times…”?  We do not know if Peter is asking when he can stop forgiving or if he is seeking a goal far past his current practices or if he is setting Jesus up to say we need to always forgive.  In any event, the latter is the point Jesus makes.

Jesus goes on to share a story that illustrates why we must always offer forgiveness to others.  A servant owes the king an amount worth millions of dollars.  The king demands payment.  The servant cannot repay the debt and begs for mercy.  In compassion, the king forgives the debt.  In our minds the servant should be very grateful and thankful.  But as he leaves he runs into another servant who owes him a very small sum.  He harshly demands payment and his fellow servant also begs for mercy.  It is refused and the second servant ends up in jail.

I ask for mercy and forgiveness every day.  Daily I seek forgiveness from my wife and frequently from others in my life.  I often ask my King for forgiveness of my sins and my failures.  It is a practice that I walk through quite often.  Each time the Holy Spirit convicts me, I go asking one more time.  One Sunday a month I am reminded of what led to the open door to forgiveness that we find through Jesus.  Despite my vast experience with being forgiven over and over, sometimes I too struggle to give it.

The king in the story finds out the first servant withheld mercy and he calls him back in.  The king says to him, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you”?  Jesus asks me the same question.

Lord, give me the love and strength to be merciful and forgiving this day and every day.  Amen.


1 Comment

Our Great God

Reading: Psalm 86: 1-10 & 16-17

Verse 16: Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant strength to your servant.

We often cry out to God.  We often feel as if we are hard-pressed and God alone can intervene.  Then we are grateful and offer up our praises to God.  Such is the content of today’s Psalm.  David is writing intimately about the experiences we can all have with God.  For ages this Psalm had been read by Jews and then by Christians in times of trial and suffering because it connects us so well to the relationship we have with God.

The psalmist opens with a request to be heard by God.  David reminds God of his devotion to God and seeks mercy and joy from God. From time to time it is good to remind ourselves of our devotion to God – it recalls for us our part in the relationship.  David next reminds God of who He is: “forgiving and good” and “abounding in love”.  We come to God for mercy and help because of God’s nature and because of God’s great love for us.  It is good to remember this in times when we have allowed the cares and troubles to crowd out our connection to God.

David then turns to the omnipotent nature of God.  “There is none like you” establishes God as the one true God.  David envisions all nations coming to worship and bring glory to God.  God is over all.  The evidence of God’s power: marvelous deeds.  In the works of His hands we see the greatness of God.  The Psalm ends by returning to the request for help: “Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant strength to your servant”.  Be with me, give me strength, grant mercy to me.  These are familiar refrains.  They always have been and they always will be.  David closes we a great reminder for us: “for you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me”.  Our great God of love remains steadfast and true.  God is our help in all ways.  Thanks be to God.


Leave a comment

Seekers

Reading: John 14: 1-14

Verse 5a – Lord, we don’t know…

Our faith requires some honesty.  Life is much the same.  We must be honest with ourselves and with others if we are to live lives of integrity and character.  We must also be transparent enough that others can know who we are and what we are all about.  At times this requires us to be open and vulnerable.  Philip and Thomas demonstrate all of these qualities in today’s passage.

Jesus is teaching the disciples some last-minute instructions before beginning His journey to the cross.  This “farewell discourse” is full of powerful emotions, moving experiences, and great teaching.  The disciples are like sponges, soaking it all up.  And is often the case, they need a bit more explanation.  Philip and Thomas could have kept quiet and tried to figure it out later.  They could have remained silent and not disrupted the Teacher.  Thankfully they did not remain silent.  Thankfully they were willing to be honest and transparent and vulnerable.  Thankfully they were willing to stop the Teacher and ask a question.  They were probably not the only ones a bit confused.  They were the two honest enough to ask Jesus a question.  Understanding was more important than looking like they understood.

Philip and Thomas were also seekers.  They were hungry for all Jesus had to offer.  Yes, they had been with Jesus for three years, but they still hung on His every word.  Jesus spoke the Words of Life.  Oh that we would live such a faith.  Too often we get comfortable and content and complacent.  Too often we simply go through the motions and fail to experience what God has for us that day in worship or in our Bible study or in our time of prayer.  Oh that we were all like that 96 year old woman, a Christian all her life, who still comes to church and to a Bible study because she seeks to always grow closer to her Jesus.  May we too be seekers always, ever wanting to grow deeper in Christ, ever desiring to know Him more.