pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Model God’s Heart

Reading: Acts 16:16-23

Verse 19: “They dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities.”

Photo credit: Gary Butterfield

In today’s passage Paul and Silas continue to minister in Philippi. They encounter a slave girl who can predict the future. After days of her following them around, shouting, “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Paul finally has enough and he casts the spirit out, freeing the girl to be herself. This kind act comes with a cost. The girl’s owners can no longer profit from her divination skills. In response, “they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities.” There is a price to pay for cutting into their profits. Paul and Silas are stripped naked, beaten, and thrown into jail.

As we consider the time and place in which we live, who do you know that is captive to an unjust system or to unacceptable conditions? Or, who do you know that benefits from a system that lessens or oppresses others? These are two sides of the same coin, as we saw in today’s text. Is there someone in a bad relationship that just needs a little help to get out in their own? Is there someone living in poor housing that you can raise awareness of, leading to an improved situation for them? Is there someone stuck in grief or dealing with illness – mental or physical – that you can come alongside, offering relief or help to?

At times we are called to be the voice for those without. And at times we must stand up for and with those without power. In these ways we model the heart of God. May God open our eyes and hearts to the needs all around us.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the world around me. Reveal to me the places and people who need your help or intervention or rescue. Show me the way to help however I can. Amen.


Leave a comment

3 Lessons

Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Verse 39: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today’s passage from Acts 9 is a miraculous story. And it also contains guidance for you and me.

As the passage begins Tabitha becomes ill and dies. Luke shares that she “was always doing good and helping the poor.” She was a model of the faith, a generous and humble servant. Tabitha was deeply loved by her community of faith and by those in need. Grief came upon those who loved her.

Hearing that Peter was nearby, the believers sent for him, urging him to “Please come at once!” In verse 39 we see his response: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.” We do not know about Peter’s connection to Joppa or to this church or to Tabitha. What we do know is that he went at once to his brothers and sisters in need. This is lesson 1 for us.

When he arrives, Peter gives attention to those present, to those who are mourning. They want to show him their connection to Tabitha, to demonstrate the love that they shared. Peter allowed them to express their grief. Lesson 2 for us.

Lastly, Peter responded. He became present to the one that was so beloved. And he prayed. While the outcome was miraculous, the lesson remains: Peter prayed for the situation. In those times when we find ourselves unsure of what to do, may we also turn to the one who knows all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be a loving and comforting presence in times of need or loss. Give me the courage to enter those difficult places and spaces; help me to trust in you alone. There, make my words your words, my hands your hands, my heart your heart. Amen.


Leave a comment

The In Between

Reading: Matthew 27:57-66

Verse 65: “‘Take a guard,’ Pilate said. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how'”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day in between. We too spend much time “in between” in our lives. Some we are aware of: in between engagement and marriage, in between separation and divorce. In between pregnancy and birth, in between illness and death. In between our old job and our new job, in between a first date and courtship. Some we are not aware of as they are happening. Change is afoot but we do not perceive it. And then it is suddenly here. And some of the time we sense that things are changing but we cannot quite discern the details. In most of these things there is a lot of emotion. In some cases there is excitement, anticipation, joy. In others there is uncertainty, insecurity, fear, angst.

As we read today’s passage, we tend to read it knowing that Sunday is coming. But today – at least for a few minutes – read it from the point of view of the religious leaders, of Pilate. Read it from the upper room or wherever the terrified disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered. Uncertain, insecure, and fearfully the religious authorities ask for a guard to be placed at the tomb. Pilate says, “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how”. As secure as you know how. That’s how we like life too, isn’t it?

Sit with these emotions for a moment – caught in between all that Jesus Christ said and did and the moment he was laid in the tomb. In between the clear signs of God with him and the words about rising in three days. Venture into the room with Jesus’ people. Find space there in between the sorrow and grief of death and the fear of hearing a knock at the door, in between comforting one another and the thought of a crowd showing up for you too. God’s blessings as you sit some with Holy Saturday.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into the depth of this day. Draw me into this in between moment in the great arc of faith’s story, to these moments of waiting and feeling. Amen.


Leave a comment

Darkness

Readings: John 18:25-28 and Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Verse 5: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”

In the story line of Holy Week, by Friday morning Jesus has been arrested in the garden, has been found guilty by the religious leaders, and is brought to Pilate in the early morning. During the late night hours Jesus remained at Caiaphas’ house. Tradition has it that these hours were spent in a dungeon. It was a time alone, spent in a dark place. Perhaps this is what we read of in Isaiah 53:3 – “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” During this time, Peter will deny even knowing Jesus. Three times.

In spite of the rejection, the denial, the persecution, Jesus still chooses the cross. Isaiah 53:4 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” The weight of the cross itself isn’t the only thing Jesus carried to Golgatha. As the early morning progresses, Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion. His body will be nailed to the cross in the third hour – about 9 am. In Isaiah 53:5 we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” The nails pierced his skin, the weight of the sin of the world lay heavy upon the innocent one. Verse 10 reminds us, “the Lord makes his life a guilt offering.” Verse 12: “he bore the sins of many.”

At noon darkness falls over the land. As our iniquities sit upon Jesus, all of creation mourns. Pouring out his life for us, Jesus breathes his last at about 3 pm. The body will hastily be placed in Joseph’s tomb – the Sabbath begins at sunset. All feels lost. All is wrapped in sorrow and grief. The incarnate one is dead.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for walking this difficult path for me and for all of humanity. You are familiar with our iniquities and suffering. Yet you chose love. Thank you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Living Beyond

Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”

The Israelites journey out of Egypt began at the sea, where God parted the water for the people of God and then swallowed up the source of their fear (Pharaoh’s army). Just before today’s passage the Israelites once again crossed over on dry land as God parted the Jordan River. Once across, the adult males are circumcised. This physical act is a sign of belonging, of belonging to God and to one another.

In our opening verse God says, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Forty years removed from slavery in Egypt… forty years of being led by, provided for, cared for in the wilderness… and the shame and disgrace of slavery still remains? Yes it does. The same can be true for us. The grief of a difficult loss never totally goes away. The sting of rejection or the pain of other tragic events is always just below the surface. In some cases, these things can come to define us. For the Israelites, they could only enter into the joy and blessing of the Promised Land if they put the reproach of Egypt behind them. The same is true for us.

What allowed the Israelites to do so? What enabled them to begin living into God’s blessings and promises instead of in their past? The people of God celebrated the Passover – the defining act of God’s love for them. Celebrating God’s love and grace in their promised land allowed the people to begin living in that place. What allows us to begin living beyond our grief or pain or loss or…? It begins as we remember when we passed through the waters of our baptism, when we were marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit, our symbol of belonging. It continues as we are fed, cared for, loved on, redeemed by God. Each act, however small, builds our trust in God. Through faith we are each empowered to step forth into the world, assured of God’s presence, power, and grace. Doing so we can live as beloved children of God, equipped to include others into this amazing family of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when I get drawn back to that thing – whether it was something I did or if it was something done to me – remind me that I belong to you. Flood my soul with thoughts of how you’ve lived me, cared for me, comforter me… again and again and again. Fill me so that I can step back out into the world, seeking to share your light and love with a world in need. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

“Home” to God

Reading: Ruth 1: 1-6

Verse 6: “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Today we get the back story of what we studied yesterday – Ruth claiming Naomi, her people, and her God. We learn that it was a famine in Judah that led Naomi, her husband, and two sons to move to Moab. They settled there and made a life for themselves. The father dies and the two sons marry Moabite women, becoming further connected to this foreign land. Even though now a widow, Naomi is still surrounded by her sons and new daughters-in-law. After ten years both sons die. In verse six we again read, “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

When we move someplace new we settle in, make new friends, find a church home. We become connected and form relationships. For many of us, though, there is a sense that “home” is still back there somewhere. Maybe that place is where we were born and grew up. Maybe that place is where we raised our children. I think this is what Naomi felt about Bethlehem in Judah. They had moved to find food. We move to find employment, to live where our new spouse lives, to go to college…

After these three losses Naomi hears that God has provided once again for Judah. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law prepare to move to Judah. It is a reset for Naomi. She can leave behind this place associated with grief and death. We too can want to leave these places of hurt to return home, to where we feel loved and cared for and connected. Judah is also the place that God dwells – for Naomi and the people of this time. To return to Judah is also to connect with God. We too do this in our times of suffering and loss. We connect to God and to God’s people, finding comfort and care in the family of God. We too come “home” to God.

Prayer: God, your door is always open. Your love always calls out to us. Home is a place we find shelter from the storms of life. Thank you for friends and family that also love on us in our times of need. Thank you for your open arms that always embrace us. Amen.


Leave a comment

Invite God In

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”

This week’s Psalm of lament covers the spectrum of emotions and prayers that we experience in times of tragedy or suffering. David begins with feeling forsaken by God. Often when we experience the pain or grief pressing in on us we feel all alone. It does not feel like God is anywhere close by. This can deepen our grief or pain. Our response is usually like David’s – we cry out to God. We cry out because we do not think God is doing what God has promised to do. Our loving, compassionate, caring God does not seem very loving or compassionate or caring. Yet we can recall how God has acted in the stories in the Bible and in our experiences of faith in the trial. So we cry out for God to intervene on our behalf. We cry out but still feel alone in the darkness. These periods can tempt us to question our faith, to doubt God, to disconnect from our brothers and sisters in the family of God, to become angry that God is not being God.

After a prolonged period in the valley, one begins to feel as David feels in verses fifteen and sixteen. Our strength is dried up. One lays in “the dust of death.” One feels totally wrung out. This place leads us to honest, heartfelt, even desperate prayer. Like David we can earnestly pray, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” At the bottom of the valley we totally surrender to God. Divine intervention is our only option and we cry out to the Lord our God. Doing so we invite God into our suffering and pain – not necessarily to end it but to be present to us in it. We invite God to see our pain, our hurting, to sit with us in and through it. Opening ourselves to God’s abiding presence, God joins us in our darkness. It is not a pleasant or comfortable place to be. But when God is invited in we are not alone anymore. Thanks be to God for hearing our prayers and for simply being present to us in our lives and in our trials.

Prayer: Lord God, we know your truths in our minds. We’ve read the stories, we’ve walked in faith. We have experienced your saving grace and your generous love. In these teetering moments lead us to surrender to you, inviting your abiding presence into our time of need. Amen.


Leave a comment

Faithful One

Reading: Job 2:1-10

Verse 5: “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Photo credit: Stormseeker

In today’s passage from Job the angels again gather before God. God inquires again of the accuser concerning Job. Even through massive losses and the associated grief, Job “still maintains his integrity.” Job still holds onto his faith in the God who gives and takes away. He has gotten through the first test. Satan notes that “a man will give all he has for his own life.” The accuser is pushing harder against God and Job’s faith, saying, “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

God allows Satan to afflict Job’s body. A mourning and destitute Job is soon covered in painful sores head to toe. Instead of cursing God, though, he turns to the ash pile. Here he can pour out his grief for the deaths of his children. Yes, losing one’s livelihood is difficult, but losing one’s child is deeply personal and painful. For Job it is times ten. They were his “flesh and bone.” In verse nine Job’s wife enters the picture. She too has been piled upon by grief. She too has been deeply pained. Echoing God’s words in verse three she asks if he is still maintaining his integrity. Is he still upright and blameless? Or is he just putting up a good front? This additional affliction to Job is more than she can take. She just wants it all to be over with, telling her husband to “curse God and die.” The wife is at a place many of us come to. One more grief that has been added to a pile of grief feels like more than we can take. We begin to crumble. Our faith begins to quake. Although she is probably not ready to hear it at this moment, Job speaks truth to her.

In response, Job calls attention to her faltering faith and then asks, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” This mirrors his understanding of a God who both gives and takes away. It reflects his faith that God is in control. Job has been holding onto his faith and invites his wife to do the same. In the midst of trials it is good to remember the ways that God has been steadfast and true in the past. We remind ourselves of God’s love to buoy our faith up so that we can lean into our faith. When we too find ourselves afflicted or grieved or hard pressed, may we too remember God’s faithfulness and love. Doing so, our faith will be strengthened as we once again trust into God. In the trial, may it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today to lean into you, the faithful one, when life becomes hard. Through my past experiences when you have walked by my side, whisper your love into my heart again and again. All praise and glory to you, faithful one! Amen.


Leave a comment

The Gift of Life

Reading: 2nd Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we continue in 2nd Samuel 18 David awaits news of Absalom and the battle. The first report has come from Ahimaz in the proceeding verses. He shares that David’s forces were victorious. But he shares no news of Absalom. In our passage the Cushite arrives and answers David’s inquiry about Absalom with these words: “May the enemies of my lord and king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man”. The Cushite is excited and joyous over the victory that has been won. David’s response is different.

In verse 33 we read, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”. David, the father, is heartbroken. David, the king, cannot celebrate the victory that has ended the civil war. David, the lord, cannot welcome home those who have fought hard for this day. The grief is too great. Grief can be consuming. It can paralyze us. Grief can isolate us. It can leave us feeling empty inside. David can do nothing but immediately withdraw and weep for his son. He expresses the desire to trade places with Absalom – to give his own life for the one he loves. David is not alone in this feeling.

Many years later one from David’s line will give his life to save others from the chains of sin and death. God’s son Jesus will die in the place of you and me. Death will still come. Grief will still walk among us. Yet hope and faith assure us of life beyond this earth. Thanks be to God for the gift of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the hope that sustains us in the midst of loss. Wrap us in your arms in those times that we grieve. Remind us of the victory already won. Amen.