pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”.

Photo credit: Geda Zyvatkauskaite

Yesterday as we looked at this passage we focused on how we are to keep the covenant. We are to “walk before God and be blameless”. God set this as the goal and Jesus lived out the example, giving us a goal to aim for, a model to follow. This is “how” we are to live out the covenant. Today we turn to the “why”.

God chose Abram to be the father of not only many nations but of God’s children. This was not something Abram decided and then set out to accomplish. God is the one who offers covenant relationship to Abram and Sarai. God is the one who invites them to be a partaker in the covenant. God is the one who upholds the covenant as God rules over the earth. The question for Abram and Sarai is this: will they trust God to be the covenant keeper?

Abram falls face down before God. He recognizes that God is supreme, almighty, all-powerful. This is Abram saying “yes” to God’s invitation into covenant relationship. In response God changes his name to Abraham, which means “father of many”. Later in the story God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, reflecting her role as the mother of nations. God defines the covenant this way: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”. God will be the God of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants forever. The time frame of the covenant again reinforces who is in control and who is the covenant keeper. Like Abraham and Sarah, we are finite, limited, human, flawed. God is eternal and forever and perfect. Abraham and Sarah would seek to walk blamelessly before God, just as we try to do. They would not be perfect, just as we are not perfect. Down through the generations, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants would break the covenant over and over. Again and again, God would keep the covenant of grace, loving us forever. Over and over we end up at the table of grace, being made right again, being restored back into relationship again. This is God’s nature, it is his character. God remains our God. God will always be our God. This is his covenant promise, sealed by his love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, you are forever, you are in total control. You are steadfast and true in keeping the covenant to be our God – to be my God. You love us no matter what. Thank you, God, for loving even me. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse 9: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”.

Photo credit: Iker Urteaga

Noah is the central character in our passage but he is far from alone. Noah and family have been on the ark with every other living animal, bird, reptile, insect… for almost a whole year. Imagine being confined to a fairly small space for that long! In reality, though, the current pandemic has felt like that for many. For Noah and crew, the waters finally receed and God calls them out of the ark with the imperative to “be fruitful and increase in number”. The earth must be populated again. New life must return. As they exit the ark, God says, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”. Never again will the whole earth be destroyed by water. A rainbow will remind God and humanity of the covenant.

If the pandemic has not felt like being locked in an ark for you, we all have had other trials and experiences where we wondered if we’d make it through, where we questioned if we’d survive the storm, where we’ve longed to finally catch our breath… As I’m sure Noah and family did from time to time, we have asked why God would allow this terrible thing to happen. This is a questioning born from grief or pain. After these emotions have passed we realize again that death and disease and illness and natural disasters are all part of life. None of these things are God punishing us or the world. At times maybe you, like me, briefly wondered this about COVID. It can sometimes feel that way. At the time of this writing, 2.43 million have died worldwide, with almost half a million of those deaths in the US. This disease has reminded us that we are powerless in many ways and that we can’t totally control everything. In the midst of the loss and grief we have also been reminded again and again of the hope, joy, strength, peace, assurance… that we find in our faith and in our covenant God.

Just as it did for Noah and family, the world as we once knew it has changed forever. We are in a place we never imagined we’d be. Just as the people of Noah’s day said ‘the rain will stop soon’, so too do we think this cannot last forever. We approach a year living in a pandemic. All of us have lost someone or have been impacted by this powerful disease. Yet Noah’s truths remain for us: God is more powerful than any earthly thing and that God is our covenant God. We too need to remember that God is more powerful than anything, even death. God promises to be our God in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are all-powerful and everlasting. You are in total control and you are limitless. Yet you know my name and even the limited number of hairs on my head. You love me. You call me child. Thank you for wanting to be in a personal relationship with even me. 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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News Spread Quickly

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 28: “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Our gospel reading for today and tomorrow centers on Jesus’ authority. After arriving in Capernaum, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As Jesus begins teaching, the people are “amazed” because he was “one who had authority”. Jesus spoke and taught in a way that clearly set him apart from the local scribes and teachers of the law that usually taught in the local synagogue. Jesus had a knowledge that was inherent, not learned or taught. Jesus, therefore, possessed a God-given, divine authority.

During his time in the synagogue a man possessed by an evil spirit cries out, recognizing Jesus as “the Holy One of God”. The spirit acknowledges the divine power in Jesus – “are you going to destroy us”? In response Jesus quiets the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. With a shriek the man is freed from his demon and is made well. This action adds a layer of amazement for those in the synagogue that day. As one might expect, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Although not possessed, we each have moments when an evil spirit rises up within us, tempting us to sin. In those moments we also bump up against the Holy One – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In that moment, competing voices speak into our decision. Good and evil vie for control, for the outcome of that moment. The deceiver whispers lies, the Spirit speaks truth. In that moment, do we give Jesus authority in our lives? In the decision, do we allow the Holy One to have power over self?

These moments happen over and over on our journey of faith, many times every day. Each outcome determines how others see us and how they see our faith. As we walk out our days may we do so in a manner that causes “news about him” to spread quickly.

Prayer: Lord God, in each word and in each action, guide me to be attuned to the living presence of Jesus Christ within me. Tune my heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Bend my will to your will. Amen.


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Strong, Loving

Reading: Psalm 62: 9-12

Verse 12: “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”.

In our reading today David begins by acknowledging that all of us are “nothing”, “only a breath”. We are each but a blip on God’s timeline. Therefore, David advises us not to trust in the things of this world, saying, “Do not set your hearts on them”. These are sobering thoughts. Yet they do not need to be frightening or to make us anxious. Our passage concludes with these words concerning God: “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done”. We each have control over this reality. We are who controls and has influence over how God rewards us.

We are God’s creation, made in his image, born with the spark of the divine within us. We are also flesh and bone, drawn to the things of this world. David has experienced both sides of this, just as we have. As he writes from a place of maturity in his life and in his faith, he states, “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”. These two characteristics of God are what allow us the opportunity to receive an eternal reward that continues our relationship with the Lord. God’s strength is what guides us and empowers us to withstand the temptations of this world most of the time. God’s love is what forgives and redeems us when we fail to withstand. Thanks be to God for both his love and his strength!

Prayer: Lord God, as strong as you are, you understand my weakness. As loving as you are, you understand my selfishness. You understand both because in Jesus you walked both out in the world. So your love is always stronger than my weakness against the powers of the world. Guide me as I go out into the world; use me to help others know of your love and strength. Amen.


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God is There

Reading: Genesis 1: 1-5

Verses 2-3: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light”.

When the earth was formless and empty, God was there. The darkness swept over the “surface of the deep”. When nothing really existed, God was there. The Spirit hovered over the waters. God was there. God said, “Let there be light” and the light was created, pushing back the darkness. God was there. God saw that the light was “good”. God was there.

In the beginning God created order from the chaos. As the Spirit hovered over the waters, the decision was made to create order and to bring light into the world. As the process continued, creating order remained the focus, light continued to reign. This is still God’s way. As we cautiously edge into the new year, God remains at work, bringing order out of chaos, shining light into darkness. Our world longs for order and light just as our souls and lives long for these things. Created in the image of God, we love what God loves.

God spoke and brought order and light into the world. God was there. The Spirit continues to speak, bringing order and light into our lives. God is there. We – I at least – tend to want to be in control. I am often in God’s way. Perhaps you can relate. God spoke and created. As we consider the power and might of our God who speaks and creates, may we humbly give way to the God we seeks to bring order and light into our lives and into our world. God is there. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, just yesterday I lit the Christ candle anew, reminding myself and all in worship that Christ’s light still shines. Today I was reminded of your love for order and light. May I order my life after the example set by Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.


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Faithful Too

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

In our Isaiah 61 passage for this week God speaks hope to the people living in exile. In today’s Psalm, the people have returned home, they have experienced that joy. The psalmist recalls, “We were like men who dreamed”. They had heard the words of hope and it felt like a distant future. And then God moved and they were back home. They were filled with laughter and joy when they reflected on what the Lord has done for them. If we pause and give thought to our own journeys of faith, we too will recall times when God rescued us in an amazing or unexpected way. The God of Israel remains active in our lives.

Just as the psalmist writes “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” we too can say. Our experiences with a faithful God fill us with joy. It also builds up our faith and trust in God. Life will happen again. And again. Each time, if we turn to God, we will find that God is still faithful. The end or the result might not immediately be what we wanted or desired – that is not what the psalmist is saying. In God’s big picture, in God’s plan, God is in control, looking our for our good. Sometimes it takes years to see how that thing was good, but eventually we will if we continue to remain faithful too.

We can read into the Psalm that something has happened again. Whatever life has brought, the psalmist asks, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord”. There is sadness or perhaps hunger in the family of God. There is also hope and faith and trust in God. From past experiences with God, the psalmist knows there will once again be joy. He knows this because he knows God is faithful. If you are in the midst of trial or suffering, remember that the God of Israel remains active and alive. Turn to the Lord your God. God is faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, I lift up all who are struggling these days. Fill them with your presence, reassure them of your love and care. Bring them joy. In the power of the Holy Spirit may they know you are near. Amen.


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A Good Reminder

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

In Psalm 19 David declares the glory and power of God’s creating hand. In the first six verses he praises God for the beauty of the created world. In the next five verses David praises God for the beauty revealed through the laws of God. Creation reminds us of God’s majesty and power and control over all things. The law reminds us of how perfect and trustworthy and sure God is. As David writes, yes the law warns us, but “in keeping them there is great reward”. Even David, perhaps especially David, realizes the challenge of keeping the law. In verses twelve and thirteen David seeks forgiveness for his sins and for protection so that they don’t rule over him. He acknowledges that even though we sin, through God’s grace we are left blameless. The Psalm closes with words I speak every Sunday. These are familiar words. They are David’s plea to live rightly before God.

Psalm 19 reminds me of how life is better when lived with and in right relationship with God. Like David, none of us are perfect. And like David, we can get caught up in the things or ways of the world at times. When I have drifted a bit, I do not notice the “work of his hands” – the sunrise, the breeze gently dancing with the trees, the flowers along the journey to work… Yes, within me I still know the word of God, but I am not quite living with joy within his parameters. The usual culprit for me is busyness. At times too much on my plate robs me of the wonder and joy that life is filled with when walking closely with God. The words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart are not always pleasing to God when I am in this busy place. My relationship with others also tends to suffer as the busyness seizes priority.

On those days, Psalm 19 is a good one to turn to. It reminds me of God’s power and presence, of his love for me. If you are in a place of busyness or distraction, turn to Psalm 19 and spend some time praying through it. May God’s love and presence fill you in your time of need.

Prayer: Loving God, in your word we are reminded of the source of our joy and peace, of our strength and hope. Guide me back to your word, back into connection with you each time I wander. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Anything

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 4: “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people'”?

As the people come to be in need of water, they come to Moses and they quarrel with him about it. He is their leader. There is no water. They want Moses to do something about it. Moses realizes that he cannot do anything about it so he turns to the one who can. Even though he was frustrated, Moses turns to God and God responds by providing water from a rock in the middle of the desert.

I cannot blame Moses for being a bit frustrated. Time and time again the people have quarreled and tested both Moses and God. So much so that Moses names the place of the miracle as such! Moses does what he should do – he goes to God. Unfortunately many of us do not follow this example, myself included, especially in my past. When something was wrong or needed taken care of, I fixed it or did it. That was my nature. I was a “doer”. So much so, when I was moved to my first church as the only pastor, I had to learn a couple of hard lessons. I was warned by my district superintendent not to just do everything. He made my natural leaning seem like a bad thing. Even though I was warned not to do everything, to allow others to do, I had a learning curve that proved the wisdom of his words.

Whether it is pride or the need to be in control that drives us to be a doer or if it is fear of failure or of disappointing others that drives us to get inaction, like Moses, a quick turn towards God should be our first step. And often our second and third and…

In our passage today, God pretty much ignored Moses’ frustration. God led Moses to a rock, which he struck, and water poured out. Read that again. Yes, water came from a rock in the middle of the desert. God can do anything. Anything. If we but turn. Like Moses, may our attitude be one of surrender and may our first steps be toward God. Then we too will see and experience the amazing power of God.

Prayer: Lord God, continue to mold and shape me into who you intend me to be. I am grateful for the journey so far, and I know there is far to go. I am even thankful for the times you’ve had to squash the clay, to begin almost from scratch – painful but necessary steps in my process. Day by day, lead and guide me, shape and form me, O God. Amen.


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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.