pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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In All of Life

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verse 5: “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters'”.

Photo credit: Gian D.

After Peter has a few moments to collect himself and to become aware of the significance of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus he says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters”. Realizing how special this time is, Peter’s first reaction is to try and preserve the moment. He wants to make it last so he proposes building a place for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to stay. And then, “suddenly”, a voice from heaven speaks and Moses and Elijah are gone. It is just Peter, James, and John that descend the mountain with Jesus.

Peter, James, and John must have felt much like we feel when our “mountaintop” experience ends and we return to our ordinary lives. There are times or even short seasons when we find ourselves in the very presence of God. Often I am like Peter, not wanting it to end, doing what I can think of to prolong it. But that special time in worship, that mission trip, that sacred moment in the hospital room… – their time comes to a close. The blessing will be given, the bus will bring us home, the circumstance in the room will be resolved – and we return to our regular life. Yet we do not return the same. Peter, James, and John will never see Jesus or their faith in him the same again. They have been changed by their experience.

Coming down the mountain, we too know God better, our faith has grown. Will we allow that to influence or affect how we live in the ordinary? God is present everywhere, not just on the mountaintop (or in the valley). God is ever present in all places and in all circumstances. In the regular of life it takes a little more effort to see God all the time. But if we get accustomed to looking for God, if that becomes our habit, then we will be amazed at how God is present in all of life. May that blessing be yours today and every day.

Prayer: Living God, be present to me today – in the big and in the small. Reveal yourself in worship in mighty and powerful ways; be the still, small voice in all the other moments too, continuing to reveal yourself in all of my moments. Amen.


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Eyewitnesses

Reading: 2 Peter 1: 16-21

Verse 16: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty”.

Peter writes of his experience seeing Jesus Christ transfigured before his eyes that day atop the mountain. Just as Moses had stepped into God’s presence on Mount Sinai long ago, Peter, James, and John are present in the Holy One’s presence. Peter writes, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty”. They saw with their own eyes. The divinity or majesty of Christ was revealed to their very eyes. And not only that – God also spoke from the cloud, affirming Jesus as his Son, the Beloved. Peter saw and heard that Jesus is the Messiah.

As we have journeyed with Christ, we too have experiences where we have seen and heard the Lord. Jesus Christ continues to be active and present in the world and in our lives. The Holy Spirit continues to whisper into our hearts and to nudge our hands and feet into action. God continues to send people into our lives that make known the love and mercy of God. Peter had an experience that would have been impossible to ignore. Unfortunately, we can be pretty adept at ignoring or avoiding or procrastinating away the continuing efforts of the Lord in our lives and in the world around us. Too often we either limit what we think God can do or we refuse to see the possibilities before us.

We are creatures of habit and we love certainty. We rarely venture into the unknown. These tendencies lead us to just see what we expect to see, to just do what we normally do. Yet God is all around us. God is present in so many moments of each day. If we would just see with eyes of faith, if we would just let our eyes be in our heart instead of in our minds, then we would see God in so many ways. Then we would see God in the beauty of the sunrise or in the eyes of the elderly couple. Then we would recognize the love of Christ in the unexpected words of kindness from a stranger. Then we would maybe be brave and courageous enough to be the light of Jesus to someone who is broken or hurting.

This is the reason we experience God’s presence and work in our lives: so that we can share it with others. These experiences of faith are vehicles to use to tell the story of how Jesus works in our lives. We too can be “men and women carried along by the Holy Spirit”. May it be so!

Prayer: Loving Lord, you are present in so many ways in our world and in my life. Thank you for each moment that you touch my life. Help me to always have eyes to see you and a heart to feel you. Fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit so that all may see and experience you in me. Amen.


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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-14

Verse 12: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”.

King Ahaz is an ungodly king who has tried to solve the issues facing him with his own power and intelligence. Ahaz thought himself capable of protecting himself and Judah against the coming tide of Assyria. In spite of his arrogance and disobedience, God still reaches out to him. Out of the depths of his love for this lost soul and for Judah, the remnant of his chosen people, God offers himself to Ahaz. The Lord encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, indicating that God is still ready to act.

Just as it was with Ahaz, sin separates us from God and from one another. Even when our sin is relatively “short term” we can stay away from or can be reluctant to go to God. Our guilt or shame makes us feel unworthy. When our sin has become a habit or has slid into a season in life, then our alienation grows stronger, the separation deeper. Ahaz has walked disobediently for a while. In his mind maybe he thinks he does not deserve to ask God a question. Or maybe he fears God’s answer. Maybe, just maybe, he does not want to ask because he believes he can still figure it all out.

These possible scenarios might sound familiar. It was not hard for me to imagine why Ahaz might have responded as he did, saying, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”. We have all been there. Yet in spite of the long disobedience, in spite of refusing to humble himself in God’s presence, in spite of it all, God still reaches out. What a loving God. What an amazing God.

The sign God gives is a sign of hope and promise. In spite of all that Ahaz and Judah have done (and not done), God promises a son, born of a virgin, to be Immanuel – God with us. This sign, this hope, this promise will be much more than God simply reaching out through a prophet. The sign, hope, and promise came and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is often hard to really understand. Whether it is a little stumble or something more major, your love and grace and mercy are always there, ready to be poured out upon me. It is a love that is hard to comprehend. Even so, it is a love you offer, time and again. Thank you so much for loving a sinner like me. Amen.


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Connection

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 to 62:3

Verse Three: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah has both personal and corporate aspects of righteousness.  It begins on the personal level with Isaiah praising God for his “garments of salvation” and his “robe of righteousness”.  God has blessed Isaiah with these things because Isaiah has been faithful to God’s word and because he has been true in his calling to be the voice of God for the nation of Israel.  Isaiah also sees signs that God is at work in the lives of the people.  In verse eleven Isaiah speaks of God preparing the people Israel, like a farmer prepares the soil for a new crop, so that “righteousness and praise will spring up” leading Israel to be restored or to be born anew.

In our passage, the transition from chapter 61 to 62 is where the melding of personal and corporate righteousness begins to take place.  Isaiah writes of Zion – the people of God.  He also writes of Jerusalem – the city of God.  The people are in exile.  As a people of God they seem to have lost some of their connection to God, to being God’s chosen people.  Being in exile can make one question who you are.  After these many years in exile, they long to return to their home land and to Jerusalem, the center of their nation.  Isaiah is speaking of a restoration of both Zion and Jerusalem as he writes, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.  What words of hope!

In our lives and in our churches today we can experience times like Zion and the nation of Israel are feeling.  There can be times or even seasons when we seem to have lost our way or feel like we are in exile.  God desires to speak into these times or seasons as well.  God still desires to see His people clothed in salvation and righteousness.  If we delve into the scriptures, we will find a connection between living a holy life and being invested in the disciplines of our faith – reading and meditating on the Word, spending regular time in prayer and worship, serving those in need.  It is when we participate in these habits of the faith that we are preparing our soil for righteousness and praise to sprout up.  It is through these disciplines that we come to lead a holy life.  Then God will indeed clothe us in a robe of righteousness that will lead to salvation.

When we get away from being who and what God calls us to be – whether personally or as a community of faith – we lose our connection to God.  Just as He did with Zion and Jerusalem, God remains faithful and continues to call us back to faith and back into relationship with Him.  God promises to be near to us when we draw near to Him.  May we always seek to be faithful to our call to live as God desires, investing our time and hearts in the things of God.  Through the faithful practice of our faith habits, our connection to God will remain strong.  May it be so for you and for me!


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Love Lived Out

For many who return to work today, it signals the end of the Christmas season.  For most it is a return to the normal routine and it is a good thing.  We are creatures of habit.  For the students, vacation lasts a little longer.  But soon enough, even for them, it is nice to return to the routine of school, to seeing friends on a regular basis, and to having a schedule.

For some, Christmas has given them a taste of what a connection to God is like.  Much like the Israelites in today’s reading, they now have a memory of what life could be like.  The people of God recalled life before exile and they long to return to their homeland and to experience life under God’s loving care.  Through Christmas, many people experience what life could be like.  For many, Christmas this year was filled with God’s love and on Christmas Eve they experienced God’s presence as a tangible feeling.  Perhaps this is you or someone you know.  There is a deep call within each of us to connect to God and to experience life as He intended it to be.

In the high of Christmas we see what life should be like.  We realize life has been less than it could be.  But it does not have to be this way.  Through Jesus Christ, God invites us all to order our lives as they should be, focusing on others instead of self, just as Jesus did.  In this loving, giving, self-sacrificing model, we begin to experience life as it should be.  Life lived to the full is a life of love for God that grows and overflows to become love for neighbor.  May our love for God and neighbor be a light shining in the darkness this day, drawing others to the light and love of God, to love lived out.

Scripure reference: Jeremiah 31: 7-9


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Maybe It’ll Grow

Today I read about Benedictine monks.  Each day and week and year is filled with the same pattern – they work and pray and work and pray and work and pray and so on.  Each day is filled with this pattern.  They sleep at night and start the pattern over day after day.  Each prayer time is followed by a period of work.To praythey first center themselves and then they chant Psalms back and forth.  In a month, they pray through the book of Psalms.  Then they start over.

Paul writes often about the same integration of prayer and work.  The idea of regularly stopping our work to pray is found in others.  Daniel, for example, prayed three times a day at his appointed times.  Jesus even went so far as to suggest His disciples pray without ceasing.  But I think Jesus was suggesting we be attuned to praying here and there, whenever we felt led to pray for someone or something.  For the monks, Paul, and Daniel it was spontaneous prayer and also about engaging in formal times of prayer regularly each day.

What would that look like in our lives?  Could we set aside a time to pray upon arriving at work, during morning break, at lunch, during afternoon break, and before departing for the day?  Each prayer time could be specific and focused.  Perhaps this is a great experiment to try for a few days.  Maybe it’ll grow into weeks, months, years…

Scripture reference: 1 Thessalonians 2: 9-13