pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Why We Came

Reading: Mark 1: 29-39

Verses 32 and 34: “…the people brought to Jesus all their sick and demon- possessedJesus healed many”.

Photo credit: Ben White

In today’s reading we don’t get any fancy healings or deeply profound teachings. Today’s passage is simply about Jesus’ love for the people. Arriving at Simon and Andrew’s home, Jesus hears of and goes to Simon’s mother-in-law and heals her. Then we read that later that evening “…the people brought to Jesus all their sick and demon- possessedJesus healed many”. Folks from all over bring their loved ones to Jesus and he makes them well. Can you picture this scene? I imagine Jesus standing out in the front yard, at the end of the path that leads to the house, there where the path meets the road. I envision a long line of people there along the road. For a long time the line doesn’t seem to get any shorter. One by one, person by person, the next stands before Jesus. With a soft touch or with a few gentle words he makes that person whole. Their lives are forever changed. Jesus is simply loving others as they meet there on the side of the road.

I like to think of this Jesus now and then. This Jesus reminds me of the many worker bees who selflessly serve. For some it is on Sunday morning, for others it is at VBS or youth group. For some it is leading a small group, for others it is feeding the hungry or giving aid to the needy. For some this is comforting the grieving, for others this is visiting the lonely. This group of humble servants makes me smile and feel all warm inside. I see them loving others just as Jesus loved others.

Later in the passage, after Jesus slipped away to pray, the disciples find him and tell him everyone is looking for him. They are drawn to Jesus and to his love. He goes on to preach and heal because “that is why I came”. Jesus came to love others. As we enter the world today, tomorrow, and on and on, may we too offer others Jesus and his love. This is our purpose. This too is why we came into the world: to love others more than self. May it be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the reminder that the small and faithful things matter so much. Small acts of love can change lives and can change the world. Guide me to help do both. Amen.


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The Only Forever

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-26

Verse 26: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”?

The section that we will focus on today and tomorrow is titled “Comfort for God’s People” in my Bible. The Israelites have experienced defeat and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Many have been taken into exile. Life feels chaotic and out of control. Many of the Israelites feel abandoned by God and they are questioning their faith. People today feel many of these things. Even though we cannot compare these events that happened 2,700 years ago to today, we can learn from them, we can grow in our faith because of our learning.

Our passage today begins with some questions: “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Isaiah reminds us right away that since the beginning of time God has sat enthroned over the earth. The one who stretched out the heavens “brings princes to naught” and reducers leaders to “nothing”. The Babylonians, this four or eight year cycle – this too will pass. In the big picture, this ever remains the pattern. In God’s timeline rulers change “no sooner than they were planted”. Today our cycle are even short relative to our average lifespan. The forty or so years in exile was a long time to endure. One can understand why they were struggling with their faith, with their trust in God.

Encouraging the Israelites and us to see the bigger truth, in verse 26 Isaiah guides: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”? In four, eight, or even forty years, the stars will still be shining. The one who created each and knows them all by name will still be enthroned over all the earth. God is the only forever. May we trust in our God.

Prayer: Eternal one, thank you for the reminder today. All this earthly stuff, really small potatoes. The bigger bumps in the road – much less noticable when walking closely with you. You who holds the whole world in the palm of your hand – you hold me too. Thank you. Amen.


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Light Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse 3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”.

Today’s words from Isaiah burst with hope and the promise of new life. It is easy to relate these words to the time in which we now find ourselves. Just as the Israelites felt powerless and hopeless against the Babylonians and the exile, so too do we feel against the coronavirus and social isolating. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people so needed a light in the darkness. Today, this remains our need as well.

Our passage begins with God empowering Isaiah to bring good news and healing, freedom and release. Neither you or I need to think very long to come up with a lengthy list of folks who desire these things today. We yearn for the “year of the Lord’s favor” in the way the Israelites did. Most of 2020 does not feel like there was very much favor. If not us ourselves, we are surrounded by folks who need comfort in their grief. Each of these needs the blessings of verse three: beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Today, as in Isaiah’s day, almost all long for these – beauty, gladness, and praise. Yes, we are much like Isaiah’s original audience.

In verse four the empowerment extends to God’s people. It is not just God or Isaiah that have roles to play. Today we fall into this call as well. Isaiah prophesies that the people will help rebuild the ruins and restore the places that were devastated. The people will help renew that which was ruined. The people will not sit idle. Once they are released from their current circumstances, once the light again shines, they will be a part of the year of the Lord’s favor.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and we are called by the Lord to be active participants in the sharing of the good news, in caring for the brokenhearted, in bringing freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. We are not to sit idly by in this time of exile and social isolation. We, as people of faith, must bring beauty and gladness and praise to our neighbors and to our communities. The light is coming. May we help prepare those in ashes, mourning, despair, and darkness to receive the light. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, use me as part of your healing work. Guide me to those needing good news, to those needing healing of body, mind, or spirit. May each find freedom through your light and love. Amen.


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Our Shepherd

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 11: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his chest”.

Chapter 40 falls in the second section of the book of Isaiah. The end of the exile and the return to the Promised Land is on the horizon. In our passage today, God gives a word to Isaiah. The prophet casts a vision of what will be. These words speak of their current time, of our present time, and of a time yet to come. For Israel, they would hear “Comfort, comfort my people” as a word of hope for their near future. They would hear that the penalty for their sin has been paid, looking forward to the future with a renewed hope. Right now, in the corporate sense at a very minimum, we feel like we are living in exile. We long for true words concerning an end to the pandemic.

In the middle section of our passage, Isaiah first speaks words of hope, prophesying a day when “the glory of the Lord will be revealed”. Next, in verses six through eight, there is a reality check. There will be years between when the glory is revealed and the present time for Isaiah’s audience. Generations of mankind, which is like grass, will perish. Here the prophet is acknowledging that God’s time is not our time. They await the Messiah; we await the second coming of the Lord. Lastly for today, Isaiah speaks of the Lord who “will come in power”. He calls for a voice to bring “good tidings”, for a voice to speak words that “make straight paths for the Lord”. About 800 years after Isaiah’s time and about 2,000 years before our time John the Baptist will be that voice in the wilderness, preparing the way.

John will be the fulfillment of these words from the prophet Isaiah. He would herald the coming of the Lord, the one Isaiah writes about in verse eleven. Here he writes, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his chest”. Jesus himself will claim the role of the Good Shepherd. He will lead and guide the flock from the beginning to the end of this age. In this way Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s proclamation that “the word of our God stands forever”. Jesus was and is and is to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, King of Kings, ruler of all creation, thank you for counting me as one of your flock. Thank you for carrying me close to your heart. In this season, I ask you to level out this rugged ground, to make this rugged place we all find ourselves into a plain – a time of peace and joy and hope and love. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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Try It

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 18: “The man with one talent went off, dug a whole in the ground, and hid his master’s money”.

In the parable that we will read today and tomorrow, there are three servants. One is not like the other two. One is afraid. He is afraid of failing, of losing his master’s money, of stepping outside of his comfort zone. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus are like this servant. We are given a talent or gift or skill or dream by God and we stuff it down, we hide it away, we try and pretend it doesn’t exist. Our fear of the “what if” and the “what then” are greater than our trust in God.

Sometimes I wish our faith were more like Thomas Edison’s efforts with the light bulb. It is said that he failed a thousand times before arriving at what we know as the first light bulb. Imagine if we “failed” at being Christ’s light and love a thousand times before someone was moved to accept Christ in that moment. For Edison, each failure was a step closer to his goal. Imagine the impact on others that we would make along the way and consider the change that would be wrought in your faith. Actually, we are each just seed planters, scattering faith here and there, trusting that one day it will sprout and grow. It does not matter if we were the first to plant a seed of faith or if we were the 427th or even the thousandth.

Oh, the power of fear. What if that person rejects me or if they ridicule me? What if I lose that person as a friend? What if the pastor or the church rejects my idea for a good pantry? What if… And there are the “what then”s. The pastor and the church said “yes” and the food pantry has taken off – what then? The step into helping with youth has ignited a passion for serving God and the church – what then?

We want a safe faith, an easy faith. We like a faith without challenge, without risk. I would dare to say that when this is our faith, we have a shallow faith, a hollow faith, a faith without much life or energy. When we step out and step up, when we accept the challenge or calling and risk for our faith, then it comes alive. Don’t believe me? Then try it. Follow the nudge you’ve been feeling, share that ministry idea that God has planted in your heart, say ‘yes’ to that role that you are feeling called to. Try it. Give of yourself and see where God takes you. Go ahead. Try it.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the ways and times when you have led me beyond myself and into your plans. As I continue to journey, may I risk for you, for the kingdom of God. Open my eyes and ears and heart to where you are leading. Encourage me to step up and step out in faith. Show me the way. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Leaders and Mentors

Reading: Judges 4: 4-5

Verse 4: “Deborah, a prophetess… was leading Israel at that time”.

Deborah was a woman who led the nation of Israel for a period of time. Under her leadership and guidance, the people were freed from the rule of foreign kings and enjoyed peace for forty years. Deborah was the leader or judge because of her connection to God. As a prophet Deborah heard the word of God and used God’s direction to lead the people, to settle disputes, to guide military leaders. She relied on God to show her how to lead and to have the words to speak. The people looked up to Deborah and saw her as their leader because God’s connection to her was clearly evident.

As I think back over my life of faith, I can identify people who were Deborahs to me. In times of uncertainty their words guided me and helped me through. In times of suffering or trial, their words brought me comfort and strength. In times of difficult decisions, their words helped discern the correct path. I sought these men and women out because I saw God’s presence in their lives and because they had walked the path I was walking. As I have turned to more mature Christians, God has used their willingness to help me along on my spiritual journey. Like Deborah, they have freely given of themselves, patiently leading and mentoring me in the ways of God. I am grateful for their love and care, for their investment in me as a fellow believer.

As we each continue on our journeys of faith, we too may be called upon to be a Deborah. It might be for our church, for our community, for a family member, for a friend… As we grow in our relationship with God, his presence becomes more and more evident in our lives. When we are called upon as leaders and/or mentors, may we step forward as humble servants, leading and guiding as the Lord our God directs us.

Prayer: Lord God, on my journey of faith, help me to discern when to lead and what to seek the guidance and direction of others. Speak to me by the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to you. Keep me humble, turning to wiser and more mature Christians when other voices are needed. Continue to lead and guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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Our Dwelling Place

Reading: Psalm 90: 1-6

Verse 1: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”.

Growing up I lived in a few different places – two in South Dakota, two in Virginia, one in Florida, and two in Connecticut. Each place brought new friends and new experiences. From third grade through graduate school Connecticut was home for me. Almost thirty years ago my wife and I moved to South Dakota. We have lived in seven homes in four different communities. Each town has been unique but all have been in South Dakota and this place is now our home. Add in time at college and seminary and I have many more places that have been at least temporary homes. I have found that for me, home is much more than a physical place. It is that, but it is more about those that are there that make it home.

Psalm 90 opens with this great line: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”. Since Adam drew his first breath, humankind has been invited to be in a personal relationship with God. As our “dwelling place”, no matter where we are physically, we can experience God’s presence. Places like the sanctuary at church may feel like the place we most naturally encounter God, but our places to dwell with God are certainly not limited to our churches. Just as God is “everlasting”, God is also everywhere present. We can turn to God anywhere we are to draw upon his love, strength, care, guidance, comfort…

The last few verses of today’s passage remind us that, as humans, we are temporary. At some point we will all “return to dust”. Compared to God, our own sense of time is so limited. We think 80 or 90 years is a long time. But as the psalmist reminds us, “a thousand years… are like a day” to God. Our earthly lives are so short compared to God’s eternity. Yet, in this we also know that when our physical bodies return to dust, our spirits go on to dwell with God in his eternal presence. Heaven will one day be our forever home. It too will be all about who we are with. There the Lord and his light and love will be our dwelling place. What a glorious day that will be! Until then, may we be his light and love here on earth, bringing a bit of his kingdom to bear on this world.

Prayer: Lord God, you will ever be my God. Eternity is the goal that I press on towards. Here, keep me on the path. Along the way, help me to always be an example of your light and love. Amen.


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The Image of…

Reading: Matthew 22: 19-21

Verse 21: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.

Today’s short passage reminds me of the saying, ‘In the world but not of the world’. As Christians we know that this place is not our home. Yet we also clearly see in Jesus’ example and teaching that our task as disciples is to engage the world – especially the spaces and places where God’s love can bring healing and wholeness and community. Jesus sought to bring people into the circle of God’s love. As he departed this world he gave us instructions to do the same as we seek to make disciples of all people.

In the first half of today’s key verse, Jesus calls us to respect our earthly authorities. It does not matter if they are oppressive and insure that peace is kept via the threat of violence. It does not matter that they worship different gods. It doesn’t even matter that it will be Romans who whip him and drive nails through his hands and feet. The Romans are in authority. God has allowed them that role for a season. Therefore, “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. This same concept applies today. None of us totally agrees with our bosses or teachers or leaders, but we are called upon to respect them, to pray for them, to honor them – whether or not they totally align with our values and beliefs.

Hard as this may be at times, the second half of this verse is even more challenging to truly live out. [“Give unto] God what is God’s”. Well, it all belongs to God. Without God we would not draw breath or inhabit these bodies. Without God we would not know true peace, joy, hope, love, comfort, contentment, grace, mercy… All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. This is what Jesus Christ is calling us to give – our all. Yes, this is a struggle. I fail every day in many ways. Sometimes it is withholding something small that I hope God doesn’t notice, sometimes my rebellion is more out in the open. What then? What then? The Holy Spirit intercedes. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with more conviction than I think I can bear at the time. The Holy Spirit reminds me of who I am and of whose I am. Yes, I am created in the image of God, just as you are. But the mirror works both ways. God sees in us the image of his son. God sees in us one of his children. In endless love, God calls us back into right relationship, back into our place in the family. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, it is good to be reminded that I am a beloved child of yours. It is a blessing to be a part of your family, where love reigns over all, covers over all, sustains all. Help me to reflect and share that love each day as I seek to make you known. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.