pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Awed

Reading: Job 38: 34-41

Verse 35: “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”?

Photo credit: Micah Tindell

I really enjoy a good storm. My wife likes it best when I observe them from afar. When the conditions are just right a big storm will form. I prefer when this happens to the north currently because there is a large picture window in the living room that faces that way. There is usually thunder that comes with the lightning. Both are powerful reminders of the energy in the natural world. The incredible force behind this power is the creator, God. From a distance the bolts of lightning spider web across the sky, reminding me of God’s power and might. A big bolt of lightning can light up the sky from east to west – as far as the eye can see.

As God continues to speak to Job in today’s passage, the questions remain unanswerable. No, Job cannot make it rain. No, Job cannot harness the lightning bolts. No, Job is not the giver of wisdom. No, Job cannot provide food for the wild animals. This line of questioning will continue for chapters 39, 40, and 41. Job will not be able to answer one of God’s questions. When Job stated in chapter nine that a mortal “could not answer God one time out of a thousand” how right he was! The same is true for us. Not one of us could intelligibly answer even one of God’s questions in these four chapters. So, what does this part of the book of Job say to our faith?

I love to watch the lightning and to hear the thunder that emerged from a lightning bolt. It is beautiful. It is awesome. Again, it reminds me of the power of God. What I really enjoy, though, is to be close to a storm. When it rolls down the valley and gets close (and if my wife isn’t home), I like to step outside. There I can feel the power in the storm. I am no closer to calling or sending the lightning, but it feels like I am more in God’s presence. Job could not answer any of God’s questions but he knew God better and more intimately because he was in God’s presence. I cannot recommend that you go stand under a tree in the next lightning storm but I can recommend drawing close to God. Today take a few minutes to read and to marinate in chapters 38-41 in Job. Like standing near a good lightning storm you will be awed by God’s power and might. I’d say reading Job 38-41 is safer, but it might not be.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into your power. Draw me into your might. Humble me in your presence. In these ways may I walk closer to you. Amen.


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Holding Onto the Promises

Reading: Job 38: 1-7

Verse 2: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”

As we continue in the book of Job, God speaks out of the whirlwind. There is not a storm brewing in Uz. The power of God’s voice creates the whirlwind. God addresses Job and possibly his ‘friends’ who have offered ‘consolation’ and ‘advice.’ All of the human characters in the story operate from this understanding of blessed and curses: please God and be blessed; sin or anger God and be cursed. The friends assume that Job’s circumstances are the result of his sin(s). Job is positively confused. He feels unjustly cursed because he knows that he did not sin.

Verses one through seven begin a long soliloquy where God asks Job a series of questions. It begins with this question in verse two: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” This warning of a question is followed with “Brace yourself.” This line of questioning will not be a walk in the park. Today’s questions from God ask Job if he was there when God laid the earth’s foundation. God asks if Job knows what the footings of the earth are. “Tell me if you understand” God says. Job cannot answer these questions. He was not there nor does he have any source of knowledge that could answer these questions. But even more so, Job is humbled by God’s line of questioning. These questions and those that continue through chapter 41 remind Job, his friends, and us that we do not possess divine power and wisdom. God’s wisdom most often stands beyond our limits. God’s plans often escape our logic. God is God. It is good to be reminded of this. Often. It keeps us seeing faith and the world from the right perspective.

We know that God’s ultimate plan is to restore all things, to make all things new. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth. When the path towards these promises becomes unclear or maybe doesn’t make sense to us, may we remember that God is God and that God loves us and wants justice and reconciliation for us. Holding onto these promises may we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to question, when I want to shout ‘Why?!’, when I begin to doubt your love and care for me – remind me of my right place in our relationship. My wisdom, my understanding, my knowledge is but a speck in the vastness of your universe. Into this reality of your power and might and wisdom I put my trust and my faith. Amen.


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Servant to All

Reading: Mark 9: 30-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Photo credit: K. Mitch Hodge

As we delve into Mark 9 today we look at one of the conflicts within all of us. On the one hand we want to be the best. We want recognition, titles, position, power. On the other hand Jesus calls us to be “servant of all.”

The disciples are not much different than we are. Walking along to road they argued about who was the greatest disciple. As kids we argued about who was the best player on the team and about who was smartest at math. As teens we argue about who is the coolest or about who has the best car, clothes… As adults we vie for promotions and titles. We try and demonstrate our success by the homes we live in, by the cars we drive… In our own ways we desire greatness, just like the disciples did.

Jesus knows what they were arguing about. He begins to counter this desire by saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The radical, counter-cultural Jesus suggests another way. This “servant of all” approach is modeled by Jesus. This call to humble service is a call to always be humble, in all circumstances and with all people. It’d be easy to be humble standing on a basketball court with Michael Jordan. It’d be much harder to do so when staring at a kid who can’t tie his shoe, much less dribble a ball. In this illustration we’d love to find something, anything, that we could do for Jordan. Humility calls us to be equally if not more willing with the awkward kid. For Jesus, all meant all.

To serve all others is not always easy. To illustrate the depth of this call, Jesus gathers a child in his arms. He challenges the disciples to welcome children as he does. Jesus takes one who is an afterthought in most places in that society and elevates them to a place of full belonging and equality. The child represents the one with great needs who cannot care for themselves. More than just children would meet this description. To care for the least and the last always requires humility wrapped in a servant’s heart. Following Jesus’ example may we too strive to serve all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and love as Jesus did. Help me to see, care for, and treat all people, regardless of who or what they are, as ones to love. Grant me both a humble heart and hands and feet willing to serve. Amen.


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Maker of All

Reading: Proverbs 22: 1-2

Verse 2: “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is maker of them all”.

Photo credit: Stephen Leonardi

As we begin in Proverbs 22 today Solomon elevates character over wealth. In the opening verse he says it is more important to have a “good name” and to be “esteemed” or well thought of than it is to be wealthy. To have good character is important both in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God. We are drawn to people who are honest, upright, genuine, sincere, humble, dependable. We ourselves strive to be this kind of person. Almost everyone wants to have a good name and to be esteemed by others.

I taught middle school for twenty years at a school in the downtown area of a small city. On occasion in my early years I would walk someplace after school and I would encounter a homeless person. Soon I was crossing the street or doing other things to avoid such people. My thoughts were never kind, always judgmental and critical. Then our church opened a day center for those struggling with issues of poverty and homelessness. Through some initial interactions and then volunteering at the center once a week, God changed my heart. As soon got to know many of the guests, I came to see that those I had judged and shunned were, in most ways, a lot like me. I came to see we were much more alike than different. Some had struggles that were different than mine, but inside each was a child of God, beloved and valued by God. Over the years I developed friendships with many guests and still enjoy reconnecting with them when the opportunity arises.

In verse two we read, “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is maker of them all”. I am very grateful that God taught me this lesson in a personal way. We could and should add to this verse too: black and white, men and women, native and immigrant… All people are creations of God. All people are beloved by God and all are deserving of our love. With all we meet this day and each day, may this be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the change that you wrought in my heart. As I still judge or am critical of others at times, continue to shape and refine me, drawing me closer to what you want me to be. Help me to love unconditionally and without limit. Amen.


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God’s Great Love

Reading: John 6: 51-58

Verse 58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven… he who feeds on this bread will live forever”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today we return to John 6. Yesterday we focused on the confusion of the Jews and on the fact that at times we still must trust and have faith in the unknown and uncertain. Today we focus on and celebrate the gifts we have in and through Jesus Christ.

First, Jesus came down from heaven for you and for me. He left the glory of heaven to come and dwell among imperfect human beings, revealing God’s love for and to us. Living on earth Jesus gave us a concrete example of what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. It is a love that places God and others far above self. Therefore it is a humble and sacrificial love.

Second, Jesus gave his life for “the life of the world”. Going to the cross, Jesus gave up his human body (the bread) and shed his blood (the wine) to defeat both the power of sin and death. Breaking the chains of these two powerful weapons of Satan, Jesus rose from the grave, leading his followers to eternal life.

Third, Jesus created a sacrament that reminds us of these gifts of life and forgiveness. In Holy Communion we partake symbolically in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In this sacrament we remember Jesus and his atoning sacrifice for us and for the whole world. As we confess and repent of our sins during communion we are made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. In this moment we have a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven, where we will live forever.

Reading today’s passage with resurrection faith, we are once again reminded of God’s great love for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords and King of Kings, you came and lived, showing us how to love God and others. You sacrificed and died, revealing what obedience to God looks like. Then you overcame the power of sin and death, leading us to life eternal. What love! Thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Open Wide

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 2: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

As our passage begins, Paul begs those in the church in Corinth not to receive God’s gift of grace in vain. To know what grace is or to understand what grace offers is very different from living into God’s grace. It is not some distant thing or something you pull out of the drawer when you really need it. As Paul explains, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We are to receive and live in God’s grace 24/7. Now is the time. Today is the day.

Paul strove to model this for his fellow believers. He sought to glorify God as he shared the good news of Jesus Christ. As a humble servant of the Lord, Paul ever tried to “commend” himself and his fellow ministers in all they did. Paul and company exhibited endurance, hard work, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, sincere love, truthful speech, and righteousness. Along the way they experienced troubles, hardships, distress, beatings, riots, imprisonment, and hunger. What strengthened and enabled them to serve so faithfully in spite of all these challenges? Grace. The grace of God empowered them and kept them on track. The grace of God also carried them through when things went off the tracks.

Paul encourages the church in Corinth to claim this same grace, to live into it fully. In verse thirteen he urges them to “open wide your hearts also” – follow our example. An open heart is filled by God’s grace. Is your heart wide open?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today as a humble servant for Jesus Christ. If I must endure, strengthen me. If it requires much, fill me with your Spirit. If it is quiet and faithful humble service, guide and lead me well. Amen.


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Fit for Service??

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”.

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today and tomorrow we read of God’s call on Isaiah’s life. In the opening chapters of the book of Isaiah the case is laid out for why the Israelites desperately need a prophet to speak God’s word to them. They are the “people of unclean lips” that Isaiah lives among.

As the story of his call opens in chapter six Isaiah finds himself face to face with God Almighty. The Lord is on the throne and “the train of his robe fills the temple”. The Lord is a very big presence in Isaiah’s vision. All around the Lord are seraphs, amazing creatures with six wings. Covering their faces and their feet in reverance to the Lord, they sing of God’s holiness and glory. Their worship is so powerful that the heavens shake and smoke fills the temple. Isaiah’s response is honest and raw. He is both humbled and afraid to be in God’s presence.

In verse five we hear Isaiah’s response: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”. If I were to come face to face with God, I don’t think my reaction would be much different. When the imperfect encounters the perfect, when the limited encounters the limitless, it is natural to want to shrink back, to want to become invisible. The contrast is just so great. And yet God chose to bring Isaiah into his presence. God saw Isaiah not as imperfect or limited or as sinful but as one worthy of service in the kingdom of God.

Like Isaiah, you and I are people of unclean lips. You and I live among a people of unclean lips, in a nation that has drifted from the Lord. God does not look at us and see failure or sin or imperfection. He looks at you and me and sees another fit for service in building the kingdom of God. Draw into his presence, how will we respond?

Prayer: Lord God, I marvel that you can use even me. Long a man of unclean lips and one that still stumbles now and then, you still chose me. You drew me into your presence, you began to work in me. Thankfully you saw more within me than I did and you’ve been drawing that out. Please continue to work in me and to use me as you will. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Filled

Reading: Acts 2: 14-21

Verse 17: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

In our passage for today Peter responds to the amazed and perplexed crowd. They are amazed by the word of God that has been placed in their hearts and are perplexed by the means of receiving this word. Amazed and perplexed is an uncomfortable place to be. Some in the crowd try and wiggle out of this place, trying to dismiss this phenomenon to “too much wine”. Peter quickly dismisses this notion and turns to scripture to explain what has just happened. Using scripture to make sense of this experience to the Jews, the people of the book, is Spirit inspired. It is perfect. Peter connects something they know well to something new that they just experienced to help them make sense of their new reality.

Joel speaks of all people – men and women, young and old, even servants – receiving the Holy Spirit. Filled, they will dream dreams, have visions, and prophesy. The same Holy Spirit fills us with all of these things. Joel also speaks of blood, fire, smoke, and darkness. These signs and wonders are symbolic of change. There is a present reality as well as a future promise to these words. The present reality is that Spirit led disciples will work for the transformation of the world. The future promise is that Jesus Christ will one day return in glorious fashion to complete this transformation, making all things new.

You and I are called to live at the intersection of Joel’s words. You, me, and all disciples are called to be Spirit led Christians seeking to transform lives and this world. Our work foremost is to love God and one another. It includes making our world a more just and equitable place. Our work calls us to be humble servants and bold proclaimers of truth. Led by the Spirit we too will be transformed as we transform those around us as we bring the kingdom of God to earth. May you and I be filled with the Holy Spirit each day, bringing love, hope, peace, justice, mercy, and salvation in the name of the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: God and Spirit in one, fill me with your powerful wind today. Rush into my heart and then lead and guide me to do your work in this time and place. Use me to draw others into your love and saving grace today. Amen.


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The Love of Christ

Reading: 1st John 4: 7-15

Verse 12: “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we begin with our 1st John 4 passage today, we quickly see that love is the focus. For John, love is God’s key attribute. God is the source of love – the highest level of connection and caring that we have with God and with one another. John defines love as the indication of knowing God: If you love others you know God; if you don’t, you don’t know God.

If love is the indicator of whether or not we know God, how do we define love? John defines it as God’s gift of his son as our atoning sacrifice. While that certainly does demonstrate God’s love for us, it is certainly not God’s literal expectation of us. That act of love has been done once, for all, by Jesus. So then, what does love look like?

For some love is time – time to do things with another, time to listen, time to invest in the relationship. For some love is sacrifice – extra hours to pay for that event, going without so that a child can have that special thing, giving up something one enjoys to be there. For some love is an act of kindness – flowers just because, a nice note, doing an unexpected chore or project.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we too practice these ways of love. But the love of Christ goes beyond these too. We give time to our church as we serve; we make sacrifices to support and equip our church for ministry; we do random acts of kindness for our church and in the name of Christ. And we are called to even more. We are called to love those others do not. With Jesus Christ we love the least and the lost, the marginalized and the oppressed… This differentiates Christian love from worldly love. The love of Christ is selfless, sacrificial, humble, complete. May this be the love of God that is in you and in me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love not just as the world loves, but to love as you love. May I see you in all I meet and love all as you love them. Amen.


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Our Salvation

Reading: Acts 4: 11-12

Verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Peter makes a bold proclamation – salvation is through Christ alone. He is remembering the words Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This bold claim asserts that faith in Christ is the only way to eternal life. All other paths end in condemnation. For all of its love and mercy and grace and forgiveness… this is Christianity’s hinge point. “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential to gaining eternal life, but the offer of a relationship and of belief is not exclusive. Jesus made it clear in how he lived his life and in his teachings that all who are willing to profess faith in him will be received into his kingdom. Jesus ministered to all, regardless of who or what they were. Prostitutes, adulterers, rebels, thieves on crosses – all were within his love. Jews, men, women, rich, poor, young, old, Samaritan – all were within his love. Did all accept his love? No. Did all enter into a saving relationship? No. Did he call out to all he met? Yes. Does Jesus call out to all people today, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, occupation…? Yes. Do some still reject Jesus as Lord and Savior? Absolutely.

As ones assured of our salvation, how should we respond to the answers to these questions? We should respond as the good shepherd would. Love should lead and guide all we say and think and do. Grace and mercy should abound in our lives. All should see and experience our humble and sacrificial servant’s heart. Everyone should see the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ active within us. May Jesus, our salvation, use each of us to bring others to the gate of the sheep fold.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today as a conduit of your love and grace. In and through me may others see your son, the giver of salvation. Amen.