pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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“I am with You.”

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

These past two years have been filled with fear, unknowns, angst, grief, anger, conflict, sorrow. Perhaps we’ve had others seasons filled with these things, but outside of the great world wars we have not experienced a prolonged difficult season like this. Isaiah speaks to a people who felt all of these emotions and maybe more. The Babylonians swept in like COVID, bring much sorrow and pain and… As their years in captivity drug on, the Israelites surely asked questions like, “How long?” and “When can we return to what was normal?” These are very much the questions of our day as well.

Into the anger and sorrow and unknown and everything else, God spoke these words through Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” Into these powerful and very real emotions, God reminds the people: “I am with you. You are mine.” Yes, this is an unprecedented time, but God is with the Israelites. Yes, it’s starting to feel like forever, but it is not. Going on in verse two we read, “I will be with you.” Those waters and rivers that feel like they’ll sweep over you? “No, I am with you.” Those fires that feel like they will consume you? “No, I am with you. You are mine.” These words of reassurance and hope kept the people going in exile. It sustained them until this season passed.

As we near the two-year mark for this current pandemic, we too need the hear these words: “I am with you. You are mine.” We too need to claim these words, to cling to them, to write them on our hearts. May our trust and hope in the Lord drive away the fear. May God’s presence carry and sustain us as we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you have been faithful always – forever. You have calmed fears and brought peace. Your love has strengthened and encouraged. Be with us on this journey, walking with us day by day. Amen.


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Walking in Lament

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-16

Verses 14-16: “You are my God… My times are in your hands… Save me in your unfailing love”.

Psalm 31 is one of many Psalms of Lament. These Psalms balance lament and grief and sorrow with God’s love and mercy and presence. To walk with God through trial and suffering and affliction is such a blessing. The journey is much harder for those without faith. Verses ten through twelve sum up well what it feels like to be alone in our sorrow and anguish, alone as people utter contempt and conspire against us. At times we have all felt like David does in these verses. At times we all feel like “broken pottery”.

Psalm 31 shifts in verse fourteen. Here David’s faith begins to take over his emotions. In trust David says, “You are my God”. He is claiming his place within God’s unfailing love. In humility David continues, saying, “My times are in your hands”. Here David is acknowledging that God alone is in control. This humility undergirds his prayers for help and deliverance. David knows that all things work according to God’s purposes. It is freeing to turn it over to God. Inviting God to shine upon him, David asks God to “save me in your unfailing love”. There is an assurance that God’s presence brings salvation. With God, David will walk confidently into all that lies ahead. Even though there is great lament in the Psalm, David’s words also reveal the trust, humility, and assurance that are ours when we walk with God.

Reflecting on this Psalm my mind is drawn a week ahead, to the Garden of Gethsemane. In a time of deep sorrow and lament Jesus will wrestle with what lies ahead as he considers his journey to the cross. He is challenged by the thought of drinking the cup of wrath yet he too trusts in God, submits his will to God’s will, and moved forward, confident of God’s presence with him.

As we face times or seasons of lament, as our faith calls us to walk a difficult road, may we too live within God’s love and care, humbly trusting in the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving and guiding God, when tides rise, when clouds roll in, may I cling to you. Draw me into your presence, surround me with your love, assure me of the plans that you have for me. You are my God. In you I trust. Amen.


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Life to the Full

Reading: John 10: 1-10

Verse 10: “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full”.

Jesus claims to have come so that we who follow him can have “life to the full”. Other translations use the phrase “abundant life”. The ideal of living abundantly or fully is what Jesus was all about. Many pursue this today. But in today’s world, living abundantly brings to mind big homes with swimming pools, private jets, six figure cars, and lots of frills and bling – all surrounded by beautiful people. Some see these things as the goal or as something to dream about. Most of us just want a newer car or the latest model of our cell phone. None of this is what Jesus had in mind when he promised life to the full. Now, most of us have probably pursued our share of things or other forms of earthly success. And we have all found them lacking or wanting in the end.

To truly find life to the full, we have to step into Jesus’ upside-down world. I have experienced this most often when serving others. It has been a consistent experience on the dozen or so short-term mission trips that I have been on. At the start we collectively think we are about to change peoples’ lives. Yes, the new roof or repaired walls are nice. But the ones truly blessed, the ones really changed, are those doing the serving, not those being served. When you give yourself away solely to help another, you find that God changes you for the better. You become more caring, more loving, more empathetic, more inclined to give to others. It makes perfect sense in Jesus’ eyes.

Jesus came to be a humble servant, to empty himself for others. Jesus exemplified this idea in both his words and in his actions. How do you become truly great? How do you experience life to the full? You give yourself away; you become the servant to all. You kneel and wash the disciples’ stinky feet. It seems paradoxical. But when you loosen your grip on the things of this world – money and things and popularity and such – they seem to matter less and less. This allows space – space to be filled with love and friendship and joy and peace and contentment and Jesus. Here we find abundant and full life. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father of light and love, fill me with these today. Lead me to places to serve and to be emptied for others. Whether in person or in some other form of connection, use me to fill others this day. Amen.


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Personal

Reading: Acts 2: 14a and 36

Verse 36: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”.

Just prior to our reading today the Holy Spirit has come upon the believers and they have spoken in tongues, sharing the story of Jesus Christ in the languages of those gathered from afar. Peter stands to address the bewildered crowd that has gathered around the believers. We pick up Peter’s sermon in verse 36 today, where Peter says, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”. In the original context the “you” was the Jews. Following their leader’s guidance, the Jews were the voice that drove Pilate to give the orders for crucifixion.

This morning, as I read that verse, it struck me as a first-person “you” – as in “whom you crucified John”. It is as if Jesus was crucified for me and for me alone. My sin is the driving force that placed Jesus on the cross. It is a penetrating thought. Of course, anyone’s name could go in the place of mine. Even your name could. Try reading verse 36 a few times, inserting your name after “crucified”, just as I did. As you read it over and over, allow yourself to feel the weight of it. You crucified Jesus. I crucified Jesus. We all had a hand that held a nail or swung the hammer. The one that came as God in the flesh, the one we identify as Lord and Christ, was crucified for each of us. Not “all of us” but each of us. We need to own this part of the crucifixion.

It is important to do so because then we can own our own part of the resurrection too. In dying for each of us, Jesus opened the way for each of us to live with him now and to one day claim our place in the heavenly realms. Just as these first disciples were each empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of faith, so too are we each empowered. The Holy Spirit lives in each of us. We do not share it. The Spirit is the personal, indwelling presence of Jesus inside each of us. Tomorrow’s reading will unpack what that means for us.

Remembering that the risen Christ is personal, may we each live today as children of the resurrection, seeking to share our Lord and Savior with a broken and fallen world. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Father God, considering the crucifixion from such a personal space causes me to look within. I wonder what I still hold onto that crucifies your son yet again today. Guide me to search out the roots and to die to that part of myself, making me more fully yours. Amen.


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Lift High Your Voice

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 14-24

Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. It is a great Psalm for the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It begins with this powerful verse: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Yes, he is so good. Today we celebrate the Lord’s victory over both sin and death and we rejoice as we walk the path to eternal life that these victories open for all who declare Jesus the Lord of their lives.

The psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and love was to sing praises to God. Today in many churches the classic Easter songs will be played. Almost all of the singing will be done in individual homes (or maybe in cars at some places) as we celebrate Easter and worship “together” as we safely social distance. While I believe this practice is good and right and godly as it loves the most vulnerable among us, I must admit that I miss seeing my church family. It feels accentuated on a day like Easter. Yet I would trade a thousand days feeling like this to spare just one person from this illness. It is so because as my heart turns to the deeper reality of Easter, it is drawn to my personal relationship with Jesus. Easter, as is our relationship with Jesus, is a deeply personal and intimate connection. The simple fact is that Jesus would have died for just one sinner. He would have died for just you or me if we were the only sinner around. That is the depth of his love for you and for me and for the whole world. It is personal.

Verse fourteen spoke to me today as I read it. This verse reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”. As we worship the Lord our God on this holy Easter day, may we each claim the strength we find in God and may we lift our voices to praise the one who gives us our salvation and our hope. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of resurrection that you shared on that first Easter morning and that you continue to share with all who call on Jesus as Lord. Draw more in today, O God. Strengthen the throng. Amen.


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Model JC

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 7 and 8: “Made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death”.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to have an attitude that is “the same as that of Jesus Christ”. As mere humans, this is not an easy charge that we receive from Paul. Because he was incarnate (God in the flesh), Jesus’ very nature was different than ours and was far superior to ours. Paul addresses how Jesus chose to handle this fact. He didn’t. Instead of claiming his equality with God, instead of using and exploiting the power within him because he was divine, he didn’t. Jesus did not “grasp” what he could have grasped. If he did, we could never strive to be like him. Jesus chose to walk as one of us so that we can try and live like him. What an example is he!

The two qualities that Paul recognizes in Jesus and calls his followers to emulate are just counter-cultural. The role that Paul encourages us to take on is just as counter-cultural. In verses seven and eight we hear all three. Here Paul describes how Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death”. Humility and obedience do not come to us naturally. Just the opposite does. From early on in our schooling we learn to look around to see who got the gold star on their coloring sheet. Early on we are taught to excel and to be on top – to earn two hold stars if others earned one. Humility runs counter to these learnings. Along the way we learn to be independent and to achieve our desires and to enjoy our pleasures. Obedience to God runs counter to these learnings.

Serving others also flies in the face of our general culture. The root of a servant’s heart is found in placing our own needs after the other’s needs. It is giving of self and one’s goods so that another can experience a better reality. This idea runs counter to the stepping on and climbing over attitude prevalent in today’s world. In a small way we see the worldly attitude revealed in the volume buying of some. In hording volumes of goods there is a feeling of security and power. Jesus instead advises us to care for the day and to let tomorrow’s worries remain in tomorrow.

We model Jesus Christ to the world when we become humble and obedient servants. In doing so, we exalt the name of Jesus. In doing so we bow our knee to the king of heaven and earth. Each day may we model well the Savior of the world.

Prayer: O great prince of peace, help me to model your love, your obedience, your humility today. May all I do and say and think bring you glory. Amen.


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You Are gods

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 6: “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”.

Our Psalm opens with the God of the universe questioning the ‘gods’. God asks them how long will they defend the unjust and show favor to the wicked? This idea ran through yesterday’s reading. It is why God sent Amos to speak against the actions of the king. In our lives, do we ever defend the unjust? In our lives, do we ever favor the wicked?

The psalmist goes on to define God’s preferred behavior for the ‘gods’. First, they must “defend the case of the weak and fatherless”. Speak against injustice and poor treatment. Second, “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed”. Stand beside those who cannot stand up for themselves. Third, “rescue the weak and needy”. When the unfortunate have fallen victim or are suffering, step in to rescue and redeem them. And lastly, “deliver them from the hand of the wicked”. Place yourself between the unjust and wicked and deliver the marginalized out from their abuse and I’ll treatment. Place yourself in the line of fire.

These behaviors or actions that we hear the psalmist calling for in verses 3 and 4 sound a lot like Jesus to me. He was certainly on the side of the marginalized and the poor. Jesus definitely spoke out against the people and institutions that created or allowed for the lesser treatment of people. Much of Jesus’ ministry focused on loving and caring for and restoring the other. It should be no surprise that in speaking God’s word the psalmist directs the ‘gods’ to do the same things that Jesus did.

In verse 6 the psalmist writes, “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”. We Christians, we who have claimed our eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High, we who have claimed our birthright as brothers and sisters with Christ, we are the ‘gods’ that the psalmist addresses today. Accordingly, may we choose to side with the poor and needy. May we speak up for the abused and oppressed. May we stand against people and institutions that take advantage of the weak. In short, may we walk as Jesus Christ walked.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs in my community. Fill me heart with compassion and with courage to walk with the marginalized and the weak. Help me to live as Jesus lived each day. Amen.


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Laying Claim

Reading: Luke 4: 14-21

Verse 21: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

Jesus returns home. He goes to the synagogue to teach. The scroll of Isaiah is brought to Him. He opens to and reads the section about good news, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor. These things will become most of the core of Jesus’ ministry. For a people living under the powerful rule of the Romans, these words would sound pretty good. But then, with these thoughts, they would be looking for a different kind of a Messiah or king.

Jesus sits down and then says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. It is truth, but the people in Nazareth do not see it. Jesus has a reputation starting to grow for being a good preacher, but to them this claim seems a bit much. Yes, Jesus was a really good kid growing up here, but to lay claim to what Isaiah is talking about?

The inability to see persists. People today will acknowledge that Jesus was a good moral teacher and maybe even did a miracle or two. But change my life? Influence the way I live? Don’t think so. Lots of people today do not see Jesus as someone who can change their lives, as someone who can free them from the powers of this world.

I think sometimes we sell Jesus short too. As a Christian we have a personal relationship with Jesus, but sometimes we think Him too small or ourselves too unworthy. We think that our problems are too small to bother Him about, so we guard our prayers or our expectations. Or we feel like Jesus must have better things or bigger concerns to worry about. But the passage from Isaiah that Jesus claimed – it was for one and for all. It is a vision that continues to unfold for all people. The words Jesus spoke He speaks to you and me too, in the present tense: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. Claim it. Today and every day, claim it.

Prayer: Lord, be my all in all. Today and every day, be my all in all. Amen.


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God Claims Us

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 & 21-22

Verses 21-22: “Jesus was baptized too… the Holy Spirit descended… a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son'”.

Jesus comes to John the Baptist to be baptized. It is what John does. John calls people to repent of their sins to prepare their lives for the coming of the Messiah. In our text today we have Jesus, the only one to live a life without sin, coming to be baptized. His baptism is also a preparation. Earlier in our text today John indicated that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. You have to have what you want to give away. After His baptism, the Spirit descends upon Jesus and God pronounces, “You are my Son”.

These are important words for Jesus to hear. From the Jordan River Jesus will go out into the wilderness for forty days. Jesus will need these words and the presence of the Holy Spirit as He is tested over and over by the devil. The echoes of “You are my Son” we’re important reminders for Jesus during these forty days. Over and over Satan will ask, “If you are the Son of God…”. Satan tested Jesus to see if He really was ready to be the Son of God.

In Jesus’ baptism and in our baptism, there is a closeness to God that we begin to experience. We too receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we enter into the family of God at our baptism. In baptism, we are marked as a son or daughter of God. Based on that, it should come as no surprise that we too are tempted and tested with our own times in the wilderness. We face trial and temptation in our lives. It is Satan’s way of asking us the same question:. If you are a son of God… If you are a daughter of God… When we hear the voice of the great deceiver, may we too quickly the voice of God, claiming us as a daughter or as a son. God loves us. Over and over God says, “You are my daughter”, “You are my son”. May we claim this always. Draw near to God. Satan will flee.

Prayer: Precious God, thank you for claiming me as your child at my baptism. Daily remind me of my personal connection through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 19-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered”.

The book of Zephaniah is a prophetic book that deals largely with the people’s sin and the consequences thereof. In the last dozen verses or so the prophet begins to paint the picture of restoration. In the final two verses, our passage for today, Zephaniah closes his book with words of hope and promise. Just as God never leaves us dead in our sin, so too will He redeem Israel.

In verse 19 Zephaniah writes, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered”. God will one day gather all His people. He will rescue the lame and all others who are suffering. God will give them praise and honor. To those who are faithful, God says, “I will bring you home”. Home is where God is. Home is eventually in heaven. God will bring restoration. Wholeness. Relief from all that ails and entangles. Restoration.

These words that God spoke to the people of Zephaniah’s time echo down through the ages. They fall upon our ears today. These words of hope and promise apply in so many situations. These words are realized when one first claims Jesus Christ as Lord. They are realized each time one turns to Jesus Christ as Savior, each time we confess and experience redemption. These words can be claimed each time God rescues us from a difficult trial. They can be claimed when we lay a faithful follower to rest and they have been completely restored by the Lord.

Our God is a God of hope and promise, of redemption and restoration. Claim the message of Zephaniah 3:19-20 today. Declare it to yourself and proclaim it to the world. In doing so, you will be blessed as you bless others with the message of hope and promise.

Prayer: Lord, I rejoice in knowing you. It brings contentment and peace in my daily life and it brings hope and assurance for my future. In the trial, I know you will rescue me, bringing redemption and restoration. Gather me each day into your abiding presence so that I may be your witness all of my days. Thank you Lord. Amen.