pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Known by Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

The new covenant that God is speaking of in today’s passage is different than the old covenants established through Noah, Abraham, and Moses. These older covenants were with the Israelites. They were God’s chosen people, set apart for God. The new covenant will come into being through Jesus’ final sacrifice – the one we read about yesterday. The new covenant is like the old in these ways: it is centered on God’s unconditional love and we cannot reciprocate it. Unlike the old covenants, the new one is not limited to the Israelites. The new covenant extends to all people.

God declares, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and “all will know me”. The new covenant extends to rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, saint and sinner. All are invited to the table of grace and to a place in God’s family. Jesus invited all people into the covenant of love. Called to model Jesus to the world, the charge is to love all people. Instead of holding onto our anger or judging others, we are called to be a people of forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of categorizing and stereotyping, we’re to be people of hospitality and grace. Instead of competition and accumulation, we are to be people of generosity and community.

Each day may we be people of the new covenant, loving all people with all that we are. May all we meet know the love of God that is in us. May it flow out into all the world.

Prayer: Great God of love, your love is both unconditional and unlimited. Help me to love more like you. Give me eyes that see all as worthy of your love and of my love. Bind my heart to the least and the lost. Fill me with your love today as I go into the world. Amen.


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You Chose Love

Reading: John 3: 14-18

Verse 17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”.

Our passage today begins with Jesus referencing an Old Testament story. When the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses, God sent poisonous snakes. In response to their cries for help, God had Moses fashion a serpent and place it high on a pole. By looking up to this symbol, the people who had been bitten were saved. Jesus parallels this story with belief in him. If one looks to the “lifted up” or risen Christ, we too are saved.

Verse sixteen details the depth of God’s love: “he gave his one and only Son” so that we could be saved. God incarnate loved us enough to take upon himself the sin of the world and to die on a cross. His loving sacrifice saves us from the consequences of our sins and from the finality of death. Sin and death no longer reign. The cross speaks the final words: you are loved. The Old Testament God who quickly judged the people’s sin and sent snakes as the consequence instead chose to send his Son. The God who judged and condemned the Israelites turns to love.

In verse seventeen we read, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”. God chose to love us as we are and as we always will be on this earth. God chose to save us because of his great love for us. God chose to enter our broken and hurting and messy world in order to save us. Instead of tossing in the towel and giving up on us, Jesus wrapped himself in a towel and knelt at the disciples’ dirty feet. Washing their feet was a symbol not only of humble service but also of the way his death on the cross would wash away our sin.

In many ways Jesus said, ‘You are loved’. As we continue to walk deeper into Lent and to draw closer to the cross may we seek to reveal to one and all that they are loved. May Jesus’ love be our love as we strive to draw the kingdom of God near.

Prayer: God of grace and power and love, you sent Jesus to save. Thank you for the depth of your love. You gave a willing sacrifice. You chose to love when condemning would have been so much easier. Thank you for choosing love. Amen.


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. 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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Serve with All Faithfulness

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3 and 14-25

Verse 14: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”.

As we enter the story at the end of the book of Joshua, the Israelites have entered and taken full possession of the Promised Land. God has led them to victory after victory under Joshua and now there is peace in the land. In chapter 23 Joshua says goodbye to the leaders of Israel. As a final act, in today’s and tomorrow’s readings, Joshua calls the people together to renew their covenant with the Lord our God.

Faithfulness to God has always been a challenge. In the wilderness, the Israelites whined and grumbled, they questioned Moses and God, they even fashioned and worshiped an idol. On the brink of entering the Promised Land, they doubted and feared that what lay ahead was too big even for God. Now that peace reigns, will the people lose focus on the God who has led them so far? Yes! We do too. I pray really well when in the midst of a struggle or time of suffering. I am dialed in. But when life is good, when all is well in my world, the bright and shiny of the world begins to look better. Joshua knows the people’s history and perhaps he knows about our tendency to drift. So his final action as the leader of God’s people is to gather them all together to tell them: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”. This is Joshua’s version of “love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. Focus on God, throw away all those idols you have stashed at the bottom of the moving box… Idols are always there, however. The peoples living around the Israelites will always have idols to worship. Marriages and other interactions will bring these idols before their eyes and hearts over and over. The temptation will always be present. And so it is with us. The world and the people living around us promote and worship all sorts of idols – money, possessions, popularity, titles… Our modern culture ever calls us towards more, better, bigger, newer… We too need to hear the call to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness”. As we hear this call again today, may we, like Joshua, choose to declare: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. May the Lord our God bless each of us today as seek to live out this statement of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a lovely statement, a lofty goal. Make it more than sentiment, more than an ideal. This day – this very day – may I serve you only. Tomorrow will be another day. I’ll have to ask again tomorrow. Today, Lord, today may I serve you only. Amen.


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Aware and Attuned

Reading: Psalm 90: 13-17

Verse 16: “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”.

The Israelites have always been good historians. But unlike our study of history, which includes kings and wars, victories and achievements… the history of the Israelites centers on God and how God’s hand has been at work in their past. Seeing one’s history as the unfolding hand of God at work in our lives and in our world frames our understanding in a very different perspective. It shifts us from the great things that we or humankind has done (while avoiding or skipping past the failures and ugly things), to looking at the great things that God has done. In the Bible, the history contains the failures and defeats as well as the successes and victories.

Verse thirteen opens with a cry of “Relent, O Lord”! The psalmist next wonders how long it will be. How long will we suffer for our sins? That is really the question being asked. The psalmist begs for God’s compassion and the dawning of a new day when God’s unfolding love will fall upon them. This is a reality that we experience in our own relationship with God. When we sin we cause separation. In that time we are distant from God. The Holy Spirit’s conviction makes us aware of our failure and through repentance God restores our relationship. Once again we feel God’s mercy and love. Like the psalmist and like the Israelites, we long to sing for joy and to know gladness all of our days.

In verse sixteen we read, “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”. To know and hear about the deeds of God over and over is to be reminded of God’s best qualities and of our role in bringing those to our own awareness. The more we seek to be aware of and in tune with God, the more we come to be aware of and in tune with God. When we are intentional about seeking God’s “deeds” we become aware of God in the smallest of ways – in a descant added to a song of worship, in the heart of a youth reaching out with love and compassion, in the kindness and generosity shared in a card. Each day may we seek the Lord. In doing so, “may the favor of the Lord rest upon us”.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in so many ways. I am an imperfect and sinful creature. Thank you for the whispers of conviction and the nudges back into the path of faith. Thank you for the small ways you reveal yourself, always reminding me of your constant presence in my life and in our world. Amen.


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Abundant

Reading: Exodus 16: 9-15

Verse 12: “…Then you will know that I am the Lord your God”.

As our passage opens, Aaron calls the community of faith together, acknowledging that God has heard their grumbling. As they gather to come before the Lord, God’s glory is revealed in the cloud. In verse eleven we again hear God acknowledge to Moses that he has heard their grumbling. In response, Moses passes along that the people will have meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The announcement closes with the pronouncement: “…Then you will know that I am the Lord your God”.

In the provision, the Israelites certainly know that it was God who provided. In the evening, the quail come and cover the camp. Cover the camp – there is an overabundance implied here. The same is true with the manna. A covering of dew surrounds the camp. It was not here and there – it surrounded the camp. After the dew is gone, God’s care is again made evident as bread appears and covers the desert floor. Again, a feeling of overabundance. Each and every person is able to gather as much as they need.

Is there something to be learned about God because the quail and manna come in such abundance? Can we learn something about God and our relationship with God through this passage? I tend to think that God sounds annoyed by the grumbling. That is because I know I would feel annoyed. In the same way, at first I see the overabundance as God saying, “Do you have enough? How about now? Now?” as the quail and manna almost pile up. But these thoughts do no align well with my overall understanding of God. God hears the grumbling through the unconditional love that defines all God does and says and is. The abundance is a reflection of that endless, unconditional love. That is the lens through which God sees their relationship too. Yes, the people grumble; they complain. Maybe even a few whine. I’m guilty of all three at times. When I digress into these attitudes and when my prayers reflect this, it is because I lack trust, because I think God is taking too long to answer, … We grumble… not because we think God unloving or uncaring. We grumble because we are not loving God enough, not trusting enough, not secure enough…

God loves us. In abundance. God will care for us. In abundance. May our growing faith step more fully into God’s abundant love and care.

Prayer: Loving God, in my heart I know you love me fully, dearly, completely, abundantly. It is a love I can only begin to fathom, a love I can just scratch the surface of emulating. In your abundant love, guide me to love you and others better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today… Amen.


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The God Who Saves and Guides

Reading: Exodus 14: 23-31

Verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”.

In one short night the Israelites experience a wide range of emotions. They felt fear and worry as the Egyptian army closed in. They felt doubt and anxiety about their situation. They felt protected as God formed a barrier to keep them safe and they felt loved as God provided a way forward. They felt awe and wonder as they walked on dry ground. They felt a mix of relief and exultation and some sorrow when the waters closed in over the pursuing army. It all culminates in verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”. Because of the great power they saw and were a part of that night, the people’s faith in God is solidified.

This experience of passing through the waters is one common to us all. In our nation’s past and in our family’s past, people passed through the waters and came to a new land. Some came bound in chains, fear and bewilderment stirring inside them. Others came in cramped quarters, carrying all they had in a suitcase or trunk, excitement and hope stirring in them. These two stories are part of our collective and communal story. They are part of shaping and forming who we are as people and as a nation. These two stories continue to shape and form us. Daily both slaves and immigrants make their way into our nation.

As the Israelites took their next steps on the other side of the waters, they realized there was no going back. Their direction was sealed. With God in their hearts they walked on into their future. Today almost all of those who end up in our land find themselves in a similar place. They have no means or ability to return, having come without anything, against their will, or selling all they had just to make the journey. Many feel lost and fearful. Many of these are without faith or true hope. They do not know the Lord. They cannot have faith or trust in God.

As God cared for and protected, loved and guided the Israelites, they grew in their faith. As believers we are tasked with caring for and protecting, loving and guiding those who are lost and afraid, those who are among the vulnerable and marginalized. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to notice those in bondage and those who are seeking to make a new way. Through our acts of love and kindness, may they come to know the God who frees and the God who guides. May we see those who are without faith and may we help them to know the God who loves one and all.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to see the stranger and the captive among us. Lead me to be love in the world, helping others to know your mighty power and great love. May I be light in the darkness and share hope for the future. Amen.


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Perfect Love

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-22

Verses 21-22: “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”.

The Passover had been the final miracle before the Israelites packed in haste and fled Egypt. Amidst Egyptian cries of grief and heartbreak the people of God left behind slavery and oppression. Their mighty and powerful God has intervened and freedom lay ahead. After 430 years in Egypt about two million Israelites began a journey to their new home. After just a short time, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and his army heads out to bring the Israelites back. Camped up against the sea, they are filled with fear as Pharaoh’s army approaches.

As we pick up the story today, God acts quickly to protect his people as the pillars of cloud and fire both move between the Israelites and the Egyptians, creating a barrier neither will cross. Moses stretches out his hand and God drives back the waters of the sea. In verses 21 and 22 we read, “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”. As the people of God walked through on dry ground, a wall of water stood on either side. Talk about seeing God’s power up close and personal!

This image brings up two things for me. The first is the song “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music. In the bridge they sing, “You split the sea so I could walk right through it, my fears were drowned in perfect love”. It is such a beautiful lyric. The second thing I am reminded of are the many ways that God has acted in powerful and mighty ways in my life and in the lives of people I know. God has a habit of doing what he did that day in the desert – of entering our fear and doubt and worry, of walking with us to a place of safety, and of protecting us as we journey. God’s perfect love does indeed surround us and assured us of his presence. As you consider how and when our powerful God has intervened in your life, please take a moment or two to recall when God has led you through. Rejoice and thank God for his perfect love.

Prayer: Lord God, your power is amazing. Thank you for the times when you have provided a way when I could not see one. Thank you for the times when you led me, even though I did not think I could step forward. Thank you for your abiding and perfect love. Amen.


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Even Water from a Rock

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 5: “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”.

Out in the desert the people raise up a cry for water. It is human nature at times to complain and grumble and argue. As it is not the first time, Moses struggles to hear their concern. We too have experienced times when our relationships have been strained. In those moments we can be like the Israelites or like Moses. When I notice and am upset by silly little things like a dish left in the sink or by an overfull trash can being piled on top of, I know that there is a deeper issue that needs addressed. In a similar way, when a fellow employee or colleague keeps up a steady line of complaints about small things, there is always a deeper, more personal hurt or fear just behind the surface level stuff. In both of these examples, the issue or the hurt or fear may be in another part of life. Home or work just feels like the safest place to manifest these emotions.

The Israelites are experiencing freedom for the first time. All they needed had been provided by the Egyptians. They were even told how, when, and what to do. Now they find themselves out in the desert, wandering from place to place. They latch onto the first issue and focus on the lack of water. Moses gets frustrated immediately. The pressure of leading and meeting needs is starting to mount. In their own ways, both are questioning or beginning to doubt God. In their minds they ask questions like: Is God still leading us? Does God still love us? Does Moses/God know where he is going? All of these questions nobody wants to ask are manifest in the cry for water. It boils down to fear and needing some reassurance.

God calls a timeout. He tells Moses, “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”. Get a little perspective. Step away for a second. Take a few leaders so that they can see first-hand and then be voices to reassure the people. And take the staff – the one that split the sea. Remember that? It represented God’s presence once and will do so again – both for the people and for Moses. Without naming the fear, God addresses it by reassuring Moses and the people that God can even bring water from a rock if that’s what needs done. God is saying, “You can trust me”.

Reading these stories remind us too of God’s love and care for his children. With God, anything is possible. May we trust in God’s plans, allowing his love and care to sustain us on our journey, no matter what may come. If God can bring water from a rock, God has us covered. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me not to complain, not to grumble. Help me instead to trust fully in your love. Remind me of that love in my moments of doubt and worry. Lift me and sustain me, O God. Amen.