pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Word on the Word

Reading: Psalm 119:97-104

Verse 101: “I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word.”

In this week’s reading from the Psalms, the author is overflowing with joy in the Lord and with confidence in his or her faith. These words are a celebration of God’s word and a declaration that the word of God is better than any human teaching. These words, or at least the ideas driving them, are worthy of emulation. Oh to meditate on God’s word all day long! Oh to gain understanding from the word of God!

The psalmist is, naturally, writing in the first person. These verses are about his or her relationship with God. Yet there are lots of “I” statements in there. It feels like it’s a lot about the psalmist’s efforts and achievements. While we cannot assume anything about the author, we can acknowledge that at times we can get a little too high and mighty with our faith. We can assert that this is really what God is saying in this passage, implying that our interpretation is the only possible correct one. We can pick and choose from scripture to “prove” our point in a discussion or argument. We can too easily forget that the word of God is alive and active and has many applications and interpretations.

Often I have read a verse or passage that I’ve read many times before and thought, ‘How did I miss that last time?’ Other times I’ve re-read something and found different meaning or application. Passages I’ve read and took lightly have hit me like a ton of bricks the next reading. My understanding of God’s word has grown and even changed as I better grasp the scope and overall messages of the Bible. The Bible gives guidance for how to live out our faith (and how not to!) We all have an individual and unique relationship with the Lord. So may we read God’s word with this in mind as we apply these words to our lives and as we share this good news with others.

Prayer: Lord God, may I ever learn and study and grow in you. Yet as my ‘knowledge’ grows, may my love for you and for others far exceed this growth. Day by day mold me more and more into the image of your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Relationships

Reading: 2nd Timothy 1:1-7

Verse 5: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Today and tomorrow’s passage from 2nd Timothy 1 is a great example of one of the things I love about the Bible: it is real. It’s not just a story of God’s love and nice miracles that Jesus performed. Yes, it is partly this but there is real life in there too. There is adultery and betrayal and murder. There is sin and falling away. There is denial and dishonesty too. And today we begin a passage that speaks of the hard realities of faith and of the means that God provides to continue walking faithfully through the trials. We’ll delve into the trials tomorrow. Today we’ll look at the means that God provides to get us through the hard things of life.

Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the relationships in his life. He encourages Timothy by telling him that he prays for him. Paul then recalls the closeness of their relationship and the tears that bore evidence of this at their parting. He next lifts Timothy up by saying, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.” His grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice have both poured into Timothy and have helped him to grow in his faith. Paul encourages Timothy to “fan into flame” his faith, this “gift of God.” His mentor Paul and his family have planted and nurtured this gift in Timothy. Who comes to mind for you as we consider these relationships and how they guided Timothy? Who mentored and nurtured your faith?

Paul backs this relationships up with another vital relationship. In verse 7 he reminds Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity.” No, the Holy Spirit is not timid. Quite the opposite. The Spirit is a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ living in us, fills us with all we need to walk faithfully in and through the times of trial and suffering. The constant presence of Christ walks with us always. Reflect upon this too. When has the Holy Spirit given you power or love or self-discipline or whatever it was that you needed to get through a difficult thing?

Prayer: Lord God, you fill my life with vital relationships for my walk of faith. Thank you for the people in my life that teach and encourage and support me. Thank you for those who hold me accountable. And thank you for the Holy Spirit, my constant friend and guide. Amen.


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Reflecting God?

Reading: Psalm 79:1-9

Verse 8: “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Psalm 79 begins with the plight of Israel. The temple has been defiled and the walls of Jerusalem torn down. Dead bodies decay in the streets. Israel is the object of scorn and ridicule – from the pagan nations around them. It is from this reality that the psalmist asks God, “How long?!” He wants to know how long Israel will suffer for the sins of the people.

In response to all that has befallen them, in verse 6, the psalmist invites God to pour out wrath upon these pagan nations – the ones that God has used to punish Israel for their unrepentant sins. From this perspective that would make no sense. That’d be like badmouthing and tearing down those across the aisle that you’re supposed to be serving with. It’d be like posting an inspiring Bible verse on Facebook and then a second later ripping into someone because they don’t see an issue the exact same way you do. Like the psalmist, we can turn in an instant, not connecting one dot to the next because it doesn’t suit our agenda or our purposes.

In verse 8 the psalmist pleads with God, saying, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” Can these words come on the heels of wishing destruction upon others? Can we beg mercy for ourselves and something else, something bad, for one not like us? When we do so we are not reflecting the image of God in us. God loves all of creation passionately and completely. To pray for devastation on another or to heap destruction upon others is to pour it out upon God. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, tame our tongues and rein in our overly impassioned emotions. Fill out spirit with your love and grace. Let these be the things that flow from our mouths and keyboard strokes. May we first see in all people the image of you. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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Deeper and Deeper

Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31

Verses 30-31: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of God’s works… I was appointed from eternity.”

Drawing from the opening verses of Genesis 1, Solomon writes in today’s passage of wisdom, of God’s Spirit. In verse 22 he writes that wisdom was “the first of God’s works.” This parallels the Genesis account of the time when the world was yet “formless and empty” – it was then that the Spirit came to “hover over the waters.” Solomon notes that wisdom was “appointed from eternity.” Since the very beginning, the Spirit has had a role to play.

Verses 24-29 are a great reminder of the time when God created the world: oceans, mountains, fields, clouds, seas. Wisdom was present for all of this work, for all of this creativity. Then, in verses 30-31, wisdom becomes involved. Here we read, “Then I was the craftsman at God’s side.” At this point in the Genesis story, in verse 26 of Genesis 1, God says, “Let us make mankind in our image.” Wisdom or the Spirit is a co-creator with God. This makes perfect sense since the Holy Spirit is what comes to all believers, taking up residence in our hearts.

As we mature in our faith we grow in spiritual wisdom. The more we read the Bible, the deeper our wisdom grows. The better we become at hearing and following the Holy Spirit, the deeper our wisdom grows. As our faith grows and deepens, we become part of the Spirit’s rejoicing and delighting in mankind. We are becoming more and more of what we were created to be. What great love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, continue to be present to me, drawing me deeper and deeper into you. Pour out your wisdom as I read and meditate on your word. Attune my ears, mind, and heart more and more to the lead of the Holy Spirit. Day by Day make me more fully yours. Amen.


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Roots

Reading: Jeremiah 17:7-10

Verses 7-8: “Blessed is the man [or woman] who trusts in the Lord… [They] will be like a tree planted by the water.”

Today in our Old Testament lesson we shift gears to consider following God’s ways (instead of the ways of the world). In our first two verses for today we read, “Blessed is the man [or woman] who trusts in the Lord… [They] will be like a tree planted by the water.” Trusting in God is essential in our walk of faith. Life is not always rosy; trust is needed most in times of trial or suffering. Trust reminds us that God is with us in all times – the good, the bad, and everything in between. This truth about God does not change. The degree to which we live into it is what fluctuates.

In the rest of verse 8 the Lord parallels trust to the roots of a tree. A tree’s roots grow underground, working their way towards the water, towards the source of nourishment. Because the tree is connected to the water, heat and drought do not impact the tree significantly. The leaves remain green and the tree still bears fruit.

Like the roots of a tree, our faith develops over time. It takes intentional and consistent effort for our faith to develop deep roots. The source of our faith nourishment is found in God. As we dedicate time to read and study and meditate on the word of God, our roots of faith and trust grow deeper. As we give time to prayer, bringing both our joys and our concerns, we strengthen our roots of faith, building our trust day by day. As we spend time in worship, we are exercising our faith and trust in God, establishing a firmer foundation of faith.

In verse 10 we read, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind.” When the Lord looks within each of us, may a heart turned to God, a mind filled with the things of God, and a soul deeply rooted in faith and trust be found. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day, lead me in ways that sink my roots of faith deeper and deeper into you. Nourish me with your word and with your Holy Spirit presence. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Practices of Grace

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the Law…”

Today we tackle the first half of this week’s passage from Mark 12. In these verses Jesus critiques the behaviors or practices of the religious leaders. The religious leaders are “showy” – long robes, important seats and greetings, lengthy prayers. And, oh yes, they “devour widow’s houses.” Some used their positions of authority to secure large donations from vulnerable widows, leaving them poor.

When we read this passage I think we tend to think of ourselves as Jesus or at least in that role. We like to think that we’re not all that concerned about how others see us, respect us, interact with us. We like to think we’d sit or talk with anyone anytime. We like to think that we never get windy or boastful. Just last Sunday many of us checked a second or third time in the mirror to make sure we looked good for church. Many of us probably sat in the same seat again this week; a few might have been a little miffed if someone else was in your seat. You felt a little better and almost glad that they were in church to see a grandson receive his first Bible. Then, during coffee and cookie time, as someone else was sharing a story, you at least thought about sharing your own story, which was clearly better.

The religious leaders were great about practicing the trappings of religion and they knew the letters of the Law inside out. But that’s as far as it went. God wants us to practice the means of grace and to meditate on the word of God. God is pleased when we worship from the heart, when we serve out of love, when we spend time each day in prayer and in our Bibles. These practices of grace draw us closer to God and to neighbor, falling deeper in love with both. This is how we grow as we walk in faith. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m tempted to go through the motions, when I’m motivated by self, remind me of how these things look to you. By the power of the Holy Spirit draw me away from being religious. Pull me deeper into faith. Amen.


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After God’s Heart

Reading: 2nd Samuel 5: 1-5 and 9-10

Verse 2: “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler”.

Today’s passage begins with leaders from the tribes of Israel coming to David, asking him to be their king. David has already been made king over Judah and Simeon, the two southern regions of what was once a united nation. After Saul’s death David took up residence in Hebron, a major city in this region. A civil war had torn the nation apart. The ten northern tribes retained the name “Israel” and were under the control of Saul’s army and family. During the war David’s position grew stronger and Saul’s forces grew weaker and weaker. As the ugly civil war ends, representatives of the northern tribes come to David and ask for him to rule them too. They quote from the time when the prophet Samuel anointed a young shepherd boy, saying, “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler”.

God’s words come to fruition as David moves his capitol to Jerusalem and builds up the city and the fortifications. God continues to bless David as he grows “more and more powerful”. The one who anointed him and led him all these years continues to guide David.

David is one of my favorite Bible characters. While God was always with David, as he is with us, David was not perfect. The civil war and the establishment of Jerusalem as the capitol are filled with stories that turn the stomach. David’s affair with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, and his poor parenting techniques reveal plenty of flaws in David. Yet just as grace and forgiveness are not about us, so too was the case with David. Grace and forgiveness come from God, a free gift to us. Over and over David experiences God’s grace and forgiveness not because he was perfect but because he had a repentant heart. David remained a man after God’s own heart. May it be so for us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the example of David, one who was truly a man after your own heart. Even though he stumbled and failed at times, he always came back to you, the source of his hope and strength. When I stumble and fail, draw me back to you over and over. Thank you for your great love. Amen.


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My Rock, My Salvation

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 45: “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty”.

We return today to the story of David and Goliath. Standing before Saul, David expresses his faith in God, saying, “he has defied the armies of the living God”. David knows that the battle now belongs to the Lord. With that knowledge and his faith in God, David is willing to face the giant.

Sometimes our giants work us into a place of fear. After time we want to withdraw. Goliath came day after day for forty days, defying God and the army of Israel over and over. In our recent communal history COVID was like this. Every day COVID shouted at us, defied our health care systems, made us want to withdraw. No matter what we as a nation did, it raged on day after day. As a nation and as individuals we faltered, we doubted, we feared. And many chose to lean into God, into our faith. In our quiet places we opened our Bibles. In our homes we knelt and opened our hearts to God. In faith we found hope and peace, strength and comfort.

As David meets Goliath, the giant rails against David and against God. He curses David by his gods and threatens his life. David correctly identifies that all Goliath has is a sword, spear, and javelin. These weapons are harmful and even deadly, just as COVID or any other serious illness is. Yet all these are powerless against God, our hope and our eternity. David declares, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty”. We know how this battle turned out.

As we face our giants, may we too remember that God is on our side, that we do not fight alone. Anointed by God’s Spirit, we belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Living God, give me a confident faith, a trusting faith. As the world trots out its giants, may I ever stand upon my rock and my salvation. Amen.


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Faith Over Fear

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 40: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”?

Our passage today comes after many days of healing, teaching, and traveling. Jesus decides to cross the lake. In a boat with several others, they set out. Being tired, Jesus rests. It is natural for the fishermen among them to navigate the waters. A “furious squall” comes up and soon Jesus’ companions are fearing for their lives. They wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Their faith and trust is gone. Fear has set in. They question if Jesus even cares.

Back in my teaching days and even as a pastor, I would come home upset or bothered by something at work. At home, where I was comfortable, I would let out the emotion, usually not in a healthy or good way. The fear or anger or whatever other emotion I was struggling with would cloud my heart; it would affect how I treated my wife or kids. I would not take it to the Lord in prayer. I would not read my Bible for divine wisdom. I would unload on someone who had nothing to do with the situation.

The disciples turn to Jesus and say, don’t you care?! Turning to him and blaming him, they allow fear to speak. Jesus quickly addresses the source of their fear and then turns to the root of the problem, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”? I have been here. I’ve allowed fear and other negative emotions to seize the day, even though I knew Jesus was right there. I’ve let it build up until I’m at the point of crying out. When I could not go any longer and finally cried out to God, I too heard these questions. Later, after some time, like the disciples I too realized that I should have turned to my faith long before my fear won out. It is a moment of growth, a reminder to pray sooner, to delve into my Bible quicker, to lean into the one who is always present, right there in my little boat. May this be the choice made each time: faith over fear. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when fear or worry or stress or anger or… begin to arise in me, remind me of the depth of your love, of the wideness of your grace. Remind me that you are always right there – close as a whispered prayer, nearby in the words of life that I can read. Turn me ever to you. Amen.