pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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Witness and Bring Near

Reading: Psalm 65

Verse 4: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts.”

Psalm 65 is written by David and is a celebration of God’s presence, provision, and blessing to the Israelites. These words are written within the context of the Israelites being God’s “chosen people.” They saw themselves as a people set apart from the world. Many of the laws in the Torah were meant to keep them to themselves lest they become tainted by the pagans around them. When David writes, “Blessed are those you choose,” he is speaking into this context. As the Bible, the story of God’s love for humanity, continues to evolve and grow, we see a widening of the circle. As Christians we believe that God’s love is unending. That means that God chooses everyone. God wants all people to be a part of the family of God. This is perhaps best illustrated in Jesus’ final command: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

The blessings and provision and presence of God that David reflects upon in the Psalm are available to all who worship God. God hears our prayers, forgives our transgressions, performs awesome deeds, gives hope, and enriches the earth abundantly. In these ways and more God seeks to “bring near to live in your courts” all of humanity. This is true for you and for me and for all people. This day, as we live with the Lord, may we too “shout for joy and sing,” bearing witness to our God so that all people may hear the invitation to know the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use my words and actions today to reveal your love to those who do not know you. Lead and guide me to reflect your love and care to all people, drawing them towards a relationship with you. Amen.


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Heart of God

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?”

a handful of many…

As we read and reflected on this passage yesterday we considered if we take the time to stop and thank God for our blessings and for the ways that Jesus touches our lives. Today we focus on why this is so important for our faith and for our lives.

Many years ago the church that I was a part of gave out little 3″ by 5″ spiral notebooks with a cute “Season of Thanks” sticker on the front cover. The challenge given that Thanksgiving was to write 3-5 things that you were thankful for in the notebook every day. After writing these out, we were asked to thank God in prayer for each thing we wrote down. Dutifully, I began the process. At first, on some days it took a while to come up with 5 things to write down. But in a short time this task became a valuable part of my time with God each morning.

In the parable of “ten healed of leprosy” one leper returned to Jesus to praise and worship God as he thanked Jesus for his healing. Jesus asks, “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?” Jesus questions where the other 9 are. Now, Jesus did not need to receive thanks. It wasn’t essential for his self-esteem or for anything else concerning Jesus. Being thankful was what the lepers needed. It is what we all need. To pause and thank God, it takes the focus off of us and off of all that we can do. To thank God also recognizes the fact that God loves us, cares for us, provides for us… The focus turns to what God can do and to what God does. It changes our heart when we are grateful. Being intentional about thanking God helps us better understand the heart of God. The better we understand God’s heart, the more our heart grows to be like God’s heart. We, in turn, become more loving, more caring, more generous, more other-focused. May we be thankful today, developing within the heart of God.

Prayer: Lord, keep me ever aware of the many, many ways you touch my life every day. Draw me daily to a place of reflection and thanksgiving, leading my heart to grow to be more like your heart. Amen.


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Buy Land? Yes!

Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-3a and 6-7

Verse 7: “Buy my field at Anathoth, because as my nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.”

As Jeremiah 32 opens, the prophet finds himself under arrest. What he has been speaking of has come true. Mighty Babylon is encircling Jerusalem and it is only a matter of time. The writing is clearly on the wall. The city, their way of life, the freedoms they’ve enjoyed, many friends and family members – they will all be destroyed. So the king locks up this thorn in his side. He’s done hearing about his sin and the peoples’ sins…

Into this bleak situation, God speaks to Jeremiah. In verse 7 God tells him that a nephew is coming to sell Jeremiah some land. As all is falling apart, as all is about to be laid waste, Jeremiah hears, “Buy my field at Anathoth, because as my nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.” One might initially think that God has gone off the deep end. It feels crazy to invest in land when all is so grim. Exile is coming. Foreign occupation is a sure thing. Buy land?

Perhaps you are at a place where something is ending. Or maybe you sense God inviting you to step forward in trust. That’s what God was asking Jeremiah to do. It is a hard thing to do. Not only are there great unknowns, there is also a cost. Yet like the prophet, we are called to trust when God speaks.

Yesterday at church we held a bike rodeo. It is an event where kids learn bike safety and bike skills. Going in we knew it would take a lot of work and we weren’t sure if we’d have 3 or 30 kids. It was a new event for us. We sensed that God was calling us to trust, to buy and plan and build, to move forward in faith. It was a wonderful day where we got to love on almost 30 children and their families. God is faithful. Where might God be inviting you or your church to try something new or to step forward in faith?

Prayer: Lord God, you promise to lead and guide us, to walk with us when we trust in you. Thank you for the blessing yesterday. Continue to lead and guide me and the church to step forward in faith, being light and love in the community. Amen.


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A Grateful Heart

Reading: Psalm 50:1-8 and 22-23

Verse 23: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50 begins with God getting ready to judge Israel. God prepares to testify against them, saying, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak.” And God does speak! In verse 8 it appears that the people are offering sacrifices to the Lord. But God wants more. God wants heart change. It’d look like this today: showing up for an hour on Sunday morning and then never thinking of or praying to or connecting to God in the other 167 hours of the week. And believing that we’d done enough.

In verses 9-21, which are not in our lectionary reading, the psalmist details the problem. First God tells the people that God has no need for the blood or flesh being offered. God instead asks for thank offerings – expressions of gratitude for what the Lord has done in their lives. At the core of these offerings was a humble recognition that all one has comes from God. Everything. An “attitude of gratitude” does more than keeping us humble. It recognizes that God is good and kind and caring. Being grateful also creates a more generous and compassionate heart within us. A regular habit of thanking God for all of our blessings really changes our relationship with God and positively affects how we see and interact with the world.

There is another benefit to giving God thanks regularly. In verse 23 we read, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Being grateful prepares our heart for walking in God’s ways. And it readies us to see God’s salvation. Both of these can be experienced daily. A grateful heart opens us up to seeing and bring a part of God’s saving grace at work each day – both for ourselves and others. This day, may we rejoice in the blessings of the Lord as we seek to bless others too.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be grateful in all things, not just in the obvious ways that you touch my life. In trust and faith may I be grateful in hard times too, recognizing your presence and love there too. Amen.


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Made Known

Reading: Psalm 67

Verses 1 and 2: “May God be gracious to us and bless us… that your ways be made known… your salvation among the nations.”

Today’s Psalm is one that begins to see beyond Israel. It is one that calls the people of God to be a light to the world – a light so that others too may come to know God. One could argue that this Psalm and these words are very relevant to the church today and to our lives as ones tasked with “making disciples of all nations for the transformation of the world.”

The psalmist begins by inviting God’s grace, blessings, and presence into the lives of the faithful. But the purpose is not selfish. Others will notice, will see and be drawn towards God. Like a moth to a flame, others will be drawn to God and will come to know the joy of salvation. This spirit continues in verse 4 as we read, “May the nations be glad and sing for joy.” There is a desire for God to touch others, to draw others into the grace, blessing, and presence. This remains the heart of the Christian faith and the purpose for our living.

As we consider the day and week ahead, how will we live as light to the world? How will the words that we speak and the actions that we take draw others toward Jesus Christ, the light and hope of the world? As we consider these questions, may the Holy Spirit fill us with the love of Christ, equipping us to share the good news of Jesus Christ this day and week.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with a spirit of love and generosity, readying me to shed abroad your light and love and hope this day and this week. Through me may others be drawn to your salvation. Amen.


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With the Measure We Use…

Reading: Luke 6:27-38

Verse 38: “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

Our passage today begins with a tough imperative. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to be good and a blessing to those who hate and curse us. And! And pray for such as these. Jesus then continues, telling us to go above and beyond when such as these ask us for something – or even when they demand something from us. Maybe because Jesus knows we will struggle with this request for generous love towards our enemies, he simplifies it in verse 31. Here Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Before we can really hear this and begin to think about loopholes, Jesus launches back in, putting a new spin on what he said and meant in verses 27-30. Jesus says “even sinners” do these basic things for one another. Then he says, but you, you who claim to follow me: “But love your enemies…” It is right there again, in verse 35. And treat them well, be generous to them. Jesus does mention a great reward in heaven if we do so. Sadly, sometimes I think I’d rather skip the extra reward than be nice to those who hate and persecute and take from me. And you?

Then we turn to verses 36-38. Here Jesus is talking about both our relationships with one another and about our relationship with God. Jesus uses terms like mercy, judgment, and forgiveness. He says, in verse 38, “Give and it will be given to you.” We’ve heard it twice. Yes, even with our enemies. Even with such as these be merciful and forgiving. Even with these, do not judge. When we live as Jesus asks us to, then he says blessing will be “poured over” us and it will be “poured into our lap”. In a final word, Jesus returns to the essence of verse 31, saying in verse 38, “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.” May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love all people, especially my “enemies.” With all those that are hard to love, raise up your love in me so that I can better love all people. As I walk in your love, fill me up and pour me out as a blessing to others. Amen.


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We Too Need to Pray

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 8: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

David begins Psalm 19 by reminding us how creation reveals the glory of God. From the skies filled with stars to the sun “running its course” like a bridegroom, the movements of creation speak of God’s power and might. In their own ways, all of creation worships God. The natural world reminds us of our right relationship with God.

In verses 7-9 David extols the value of God’s laws. In these verses David describes God’s laws as “perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure.” The outcomes of following God’s laws are “reviving the soul… making wise the simple… giving joy to the heart… giving light to the eyes… enduring forever.” In verse 11 David adds, “By keeping them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” How true. Following God’s ways is good and right. This path benefits our life greatly. But it is not always easy to walk in right relationship with God.

David had his struggles with sin, just as we do. In verses 12-13 he asks for forgiveness for his “hidden faults” and for protection from “willful sins.” The hidden faults would be unintentional sins – like when I hit my finger with a hammer – and sins that are only visible in our hearts – unkind thoughts, jealousy, anger, pride, lust… The willful sins are those sins that come to life: anger that leads to lashing out, jealousy that leads to unkind words. Willful sins are also those that we consider, know we should resist, and give in to anyway: joining the gossip circle, cheating on our taxes. Yes, we too need to pray for forgiveness and for God to be a shield about us. May these be our prayers today.

Prayer: Lord God, I know there is no better way than your way. There is such joy and blessing when I walk in your way. When I slip, when I begin to stray, draw me back onto your path. When I stumble and fall, be quick with your love and mercy and forgiveness. Guide my path, protect my heart and mind. Amen.


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Perseverance in Prayer

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”

Today we begin the story of Samuel. The story, of course, begins with his mother Hannah. As the story begins we learn that Hannah cannot have any children because “the Lord had closed her womb.” Children were a sign of God’s blessing. The other wife, Peninnah, had many sons and daughters. Because of Hannah’s barrenness, the husband Elkanah would give her a double portion. This attempt to show her love did nothing to alleviate Hannah’s grief and suffering. It did intensify the rivalry between Hannah and Peninnah. In verses six and seven we read that Peninnah provoked and irritated Hannah year after year.

Have you ever prayed for something year after year after year? Have you ever endured long suffering? If so, you understand Hannah’s hardship. Year after year she prayed. Year after year. At times she must have wondered if God was listening. At times she must have wondered why her suffering and barrenness must go on and on. We’ve all prayed and prayed for relief, for healing, for a change… and have had these questions, these doubts.

One year Elkanah and the family travel to Shiloh to worship at the temple. Alone in her thoughts we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” Hannah prays from deep within her heart, from deep within her place of pain. The priest Eli questions her sobriety. Explaining that she was praying “out of my great grief and anguish”, Eli offers her a blessing from the Lord.

Hannah does indeed find favor with God as she becomes pregnant and has a son. Hannah’s steadfast faith and perseverance in prayer bears fruit. The thing she most desired was given as a blessing from God. May we, like Hannah, persevere in our prayers, trusting in the God who hears us and who loves us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in the waiting, keep me focused on you. As time lengthens out remind me to trust into your plans. I know your timing is not always my timing. Guide me to walk faithfully day by day, knowing you are good. Amen.


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Bond of Love

Reading: Ruth 4: 13-17

Verse 14: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman redeemer.”

As we conclude our time in Ruth we see that Naomi and Ruth have found security and well-being. In the remainder of chapter three and the start of chapter four Boaz redeems Naomi and Ruth. The next of kin is unwilling to buy Naomi’s land because it comes with the responsibility to redeem the family name and to care for her. Boaz, who is next in line in the family, buys the land, becomes Naomi’s kinsman redeemer, and declares his intent to marry Ruth to maintain that family name.

In our passage today we learn that Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son. The women of the village gather around Naomi and her grandson. They praise the Lord and rejoice over her kinsman redeemer. They also celebrate how Obed will “renew your strength and sustain you in old age.” Naomi and Ruth have escaped the insecurity that comes with living day to day. Boaz’s care and generosity welcome them to a much better place. The child insures that this security and well-being will extend into the future.

The women of the village also note and celebrate another important fact: Ruth loves Naomi deeply and is “better than seven sons” for her. In a culture where male offspring are critical and highly valued, this is quite the statement. It recognizes the fact that without each other, neither would find themselves in this place of blessing and security. The deep bond of love and the steadfast loyalty are examples we should all seek to model in our relationships. Naomi and Ruth walked together through grief upon grief, through times of insecurity and fear, and through the hardship of living as widows. Through it all they clung to each other and to God. May we do so in our relationships and on our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, build up my connections with love and commitment. Strengthen the bonds of relationship and found them on a common faith. Amen.