pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Glory Revealed

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly… proclaim that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”.

Isaiah writes to a nation that experienced defeat, death, and exile because they continued living in sin. These things were the consequences for refusing to listen to the prophets, for refusing to repent, for refusing to turn away from evil and back to God. At times we too will choose to live in our sin. In these seasons we will ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the pleas of loved ones and friends, and even our own awareness of doing wrong. Sin can be powerful. The choice to live in our sin can have consequences for us, just as they did for the Israelites. We may lose a dear friend or even a marriage. We may find ourselves looking for a new job or place to live. We may find ourselves imprisoned or in another form of exile. Just as the nation of Israel did, we will usually come to understand how and why we ended up where we ended up.

When Israel was defeated, many died, many were taken away into exile. Not all of these were living in sin. Innocents were caught up in the “hard service” for the nation’s sins. In our current time I believe many see the world this way. This pandemic has settled in and brought unwanted consequences. While God does not cause evil or death – God is good and holy and just and loving – these things are a part of our world. People feel imprisoned by the pandemic. People are suffering illness and loss. People are feeling the emotional weight of isolation, depression, loneliness, grief…

Just as the word of God brought hope to the exiles, knowing that the time to return to normal was just ahead, so too can the word of God bring hope to those in our neighborhoods and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a great opportunity to minister to those in need. Through our words, through our presence, or through our actions we can bring hope to people’s lives. As we share these gifts with others they will come to know the one who cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for the flock. As they do come to know Jesus, they will find that he walks with them, easing their burdens, taking their pains and griefs, giving them hope. In and through us his glory can be revealed. May it be so.

Prayer: Good shepherd, may I labor with and for you today. Lead and guide me to be light and love in your name. May these things shine brightly in and through me. Amen.


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New

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 5: “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”.

The book of Deuteronomy closes with the death of Moses. Moses climbs Mount Nebo and God shows him the land that has been their aim for forty years. Moses has led the Israelites for a long time. He has guided and taught them, prayed for and interceded for them. In verse four God reminds Moses that this is the land promised to Abraham… This promise was first made about 700 years ago. This is God’s way of reminding Moses that the story is not Moses’ story, it is God’s story. Even so, death is hard, especially after a forty year relationship.

In verse five we read, “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”. There is a certain factual feel to this verse. I suppose it reflects the reality that death is a fact for us all. Even though we do know this, loss is never an easy thing to experience. Whether our loss is connected to someone’s passing or if it is due to the loss of a job or home or phase in life or of a relationship, grief and pain and mourning come with the loss. In our passage, the people mourn for thirty days and then prepare to move on under a new leader. Thirty days feels like such an arbitrary number. Yes, there is a reason it is thirty days, but the reality is that grief does not always end after thirty days. For some, for those loosely connected to the loss, the grief may not last that long. For spouses and children and close friends, the grief never ends. Time does bring a measure of healing. At some point, if life for the living is to go on, then one must return to the ordinary of life. One returns to work or to caring for the children or to whatever tasks life contained before the loss. A new way must be made. So it is with the Israelites. Under Joshua, the people move forward, on towards the promise. A new era begins.

New. Our faith journey, like life, is filled with new eras, things, relationships, experiences. Grief is but one thing that affects our faith journey. We experience other hard things in life that lead to growth in our faith. Some experiences that lead to growth are good: new insights, new understandings, new depths in our relationship with Jesus Christ and with others. These new experiences, even those that involve loss, remind us that God is ever with us, that God loves us and cares for us, always. In trust we learn to step forward in faith. In those moments or seasons of loss, may we too cling to God’s promises and presence, knowing that we are never alone.

Prayer: Lord God, you are always with me. Even in each painful new thing that has come, I can look back and see your hand guiding, your love comforting. Each experience deepens my relationship with you. In the good and in the bad, you are ever my God. Thank you. Amen.


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Joyful Response

Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18

Verses 10 and 14: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord… or… your heart heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord”.

As the people are nearing the end of their time and training in the wilderness, Moses speaks these words of wisdom. Today we are fast forwarding from last week’s story of the golden calf to the point where they are ready to enter the Promised Land. In this passage I hear a Moses who is emotional and compassionate as he prepares to say goodbye to these people. In today’s passage, Moses reminds first of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac,… The Israelites are about to enter the land “flowing with milk and honey”. Just as God has provided for almost forty years, God will lead them into a land that will provide for all their needs.

Starting in verse ten, Moses implores the people not to forget all that God has done or to neglect to recognize what God will continue to do. In these verses we read, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord”. First we note the assurance that Moses has that God will continue to be with the people. God will be their God. Then he begs them not to forget the many, many ways that God has blessed and will bless them. Moses encourages them to always be thankful lest “your heart heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord”. It is so easy to assume responsibility for our success, for our accomplishments,… Moses warns against this tendency which we too are prone to. Taking time each and every day to be thankful for our families, our jobs, our friends, our homes, our communities of faith… is the best antidote to pride and arrogance. So, this day, may we each pause before going on to thank the Lord our God for his presence and blessings in our lives. Happy praying!

Prayer: Lord God, you are so good to me. I am so grateful for those you surround me with – family and friends, mentors and teachers. I am thankful for this time and place in a wonderful community of faith set in the beauty of your creation. Thank you, God. May all of my life be a joyful response. Amen.


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God’s Way

Reading: Exodus 1: 8-22

Verse 17: “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do”.

As followers of the most high God, we must place the reign of God above or ahead of the reign of man. At times there may be a cost for this choice. We may lose a friend or a job. It may even cost us a bit more – a family member or significant other. In our lives, though, the cost does not usually rise to the cost faced by Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives.

As the years have passed since the arrival of Joseph’s family, the Hebrews grew in great numbers. Their large population was seen as a threat by the new Pharaoh, so he enslaved them. In spite of harsh treatment and hard labor the number of Hebrews continued to grow. God was blessing his people. In another attempt to slow population growth, Pharaoh ordered Shiphrah and Puah to kill all the male babies born to Hebrew women. In verse seventeen we read, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do”. They could not kill the boy babies – they were God’s children. When summoned before Pharaoh to explain, God provides the words that guide them away from death. Shiphrah and Puah are also blessed for their faithfulness with their own families.

Early on in life I was faced with a dilemma. The person I worked with wanted to make a little extra money on the side on many jobs. It was dishonest to the customers and was displeasing to God. After a short time I objected to this practice. I enjoyed the job and we were making good money. This person was a good friend. It was a risk to say something. God led my choice of words and I believe he worked in my friend’s heart. We began to run an ethical business. God blessed it for many years.

For many people, it is a daily struggle to choose the ways of God over the ways of the world. For some, the struggle is less often. Maturity of faith has a lot to do with where we fall along this spectrum. For all, though, there is only one right way. It is God’s way. Shiphrah and Puah made the right choice. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to discern when I am being pulled in a way that is less than your way. Fill me with Holy Spirit wisdom and guidance and courage to always choose your will and way over all else. Amen.


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With Us

Reading: Matthew 14: 28-33

Verse 31: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”.

The disciples have just been a part of feeding 5,000+ with two fish and five loaves. As they headed out in the boat, life probably couldn’t get any better. Then a storm arises. That is usually how they come – out of nowhere. Life is moving along really well and then we hear the word “cancer” or the words “your position has been eliminated” or some other difficult news. All of a sudden we feel as if we are right there in that boat with the disciples. Fear, doubt, worry all rise up.

The disciples are in a storm. They are in need of Jesus’ presence and strength. He comes to them. Despite the words of encouragement from the teacher, Peter still doubts. He does not trust that Jesus is there in the storm. Peter demands proof. He demands a miracle. In our times of most desperate prayer we too can go here. We have all prayed the “God if you’re real…” prayers, demanding that the cancer go away or that God will ‘fix’ whatever else has fallen apart. These prayers belie our lack of faith just as Peter sinking revealed his failure of faith.

Jesus is there for Peter. When Peter sinks we read, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”. Right away. No delay. When our faith is teetering and we’re about to sink, Jesus does the same for us. He reaches out, he is fully present, he extends compassion and understanding. Jesus is there with us. Even if the cancer ‘wins’ or if the difficulty does not end as we had hoped, Jesus remains there with us, giving support and encouragement, peace and strength. Our faith cannot prevent some storms from running their course. But our faith promises a companion in the boat. Jesus promises to be with us. His grace is sufficient in all things. May we trust in Jesus.

Prayer: Loving Lord, your promise to be with us never fails. At times we fail to keep the faith, to really trust in you. When the storm causes me to begin to falter, whisper your love into my ear. Thank you, God. Amen.


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The End?

Reading: John 11: 1-27

Verse 17: “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days”.

Each time I read this passage from John 11, I have the same initial reactions. Why didn’t Jesus heal Lazarus from afar? This is clearly within his options as Jesus has done this before for another who was ill (John 4). Adding depth to the question is the relationship that Jesus enjoyed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – they were good friends. If he were to heal anyone from afar, wouldn’t it be a good friend? Jesus does “heal” Lazarus after all. But that is for tomorrow’s part of the story.

Today’s passage largely centers around the idea of time. Here we see Jesus operating in one aspect of time while the disciples, Mary and Martha, and all those mourning operate in another aspect of time. Once in a while we step into Jesus’ time, but most often we live like the rest of the people in the passage. Mary and Martha send out the call for their good friend, Jesus, to come heal their brother Lazarus. They want Jesus to come now. They think Jesus needs to come now. The disciples probably think Jesus should leave now. Jesus stays two more days before beginning the journey to Bethany.

We often want things now too. We, as a general rule, do not like to wait. We all want COVID-19 to be over last week, right? We have all wanted the new job, the wedding or due date, the first day of college… to be here now. If we are ill or suffering, we want God to intervene now. We are also familiar with being on the other of the spectrum. If Lazarus were our brother, we would want death to come never. Yet it does come. In Martha’s words we hear words we have spoken or at least thought: “Lord, if you had been here…”

When Jesus arrives we learn that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The time for healing has surely passed. At least in Mary and Martha’s minds, in the disciples’ minds, in all the mourner’s minds, even in our minds – unless you know the end of the story. Jesus does. He knows the end of our story too. He reveals it in verses 25 and 26: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. Jesus is not just talking of our earthly time. He is also speaking of unbounded time – of God’s time. Believing in Jesus brings true life to this side of time. But he is also saying that our last breath here is only the end of our earthly time and life. The moment of death is just the beginning of our eternal life with God. This is the resurrection that all who believe cling to. It shatters our limited understanding of time. Thanks be to God for this “ending” to our story.

Prayer: Father of all, thank you for your eternal claim on me and upon all who call your Son our Lord and Savior. It brings hope in today and on the hardest of days. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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A Psalm for Today

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

For many of us, just hearing the first verse of Psalm 23 triggers the same response as hearing these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. The words of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. This week’s “Disciplines” devotional writer, Don Salier, describes Psalm 23 this way: “We find deep life and faith compressed into these few verses”. We do indeed!

This Psalm of David speaks of the love and care that he enjoyed in his relationship with God. These words are beloved because we too can experience and relate them to our own relationship with God. The opening verse speaks of God’s care and provision, of the guidance and protection we receive. The ideas of green pastures and quiet waters ooze with love and care, with rest and renewal. Keeping us on the “paths of righteousness” requires a LOT of guidance and patience on God’s part. The fact that God does this for all of our lives shouts volumes about the depth of God’s love for you and me. And then verse four! In the worst times of life, God is right there. The valley may literally be death. Or it might be addiction. It might be divorce or the unexpected loss of a job. In these valleys the words of David always ring true: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. God is our ever present help in times of need.

Turning to verse five we remember the table prepared for us in two ways. One is the great feast that awaits us in heaven. The second is the great feast that greets us at the communion table. In both settings our cup will and does overflow with God’s mercy and love. Lastly comes the closer, verse six. Yes, yes, yes! Within our relationship with the Lord, goodness and love are ours. In this life’s days and in all of our days in the life to come, we who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will dwell in the house of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, oh how these words of David fill my heart with joy. Thank you for placing these words upon his heart so that they fill my heart. Thank you for your love. It is amazing and so life-giving. All praise and honor are yours, my God. Amen.


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Open to Others

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.

On its most basic level the parable of the rich man is about greed and the negative decisions it can lead to. In the parable a bumper crop triggered the man’s “mine” instincts. He decided he had to build bigger barns to store his new crop. He coveted his grain because in it he saw not only financial security but also a chance to take some time to enjoy life. He was very focused on self.

Possessions and wealth are not the only things we can feel greed over and can seek to covet. This morning I read about a small neighborhood church in a changing community that decided to take a chance and reach out. Instead of holding onto their church, they opened their doors and invited their new immigrant neighbors inside. They invited them in and began praying with them – to find homes and jobs and for comfort to their loneliness. The praying led to relationships and that small church grew as their new friends became brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some churches could see new faces as threats to what they have and know. In many cases immigrants are cast in an “us” and “them” scenario. And immigrants are not the only people groups that can be seen in an “us” and “them” framework. When we create perceived differences between ourselves and another group of people, we are denying that they too were created in the image of God. When we allow greed to put up a barrier between us and our neighbors, we are holding tightly to what we have always known or had and are not allowing God’s love to work in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world, or in our own heart.

The rich man was focused only on self. He could not see all he had to offer his neighbors. His greed prevented him from seeing beyond himself and from experiencing God’s love at work. In the end, what good did all that grain do him? Storing up and holding things for ourselves – goods, money, time, compassion, prayers, empathy, a place at the table – does not make us rich towards God either. May we all learn a little from the rich man and from the church that opened its doors to those outside. May we practice what we learn.

Prayer: Lord God, who is out there today for me to engage? Lead me to share your love with another today. Soften my heart and open my eyes, hands, and feet. Amen.


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The One Thing

Reading: Luke 10: 41-42

Verse 42a: “Only one thing is needed”.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are all called to be more like Mary. We are called to not only be more like Mary than Martha but also to be more like Mary than we currently are. If we truly want to have a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, then it must be the priority in our lives.

When one considers the things that keep us from being more dedicated to Christ, the list can be long and it can vary greatly from person to person. For me, busyness can be my greatest challenge. My morning quiet time is pretty set and established. It has been a constant for many years. Where I struggle is once my regular day begins. I have a routine for my “job” and I can struggle when too many other things are added to my standard to-do list. One or two is okay, but I can reach the point where I feel stress. Then I can become much like Martha. My routine can become a barrier. I know I miss some opportunities to minister or the chance to encounter God once in a while because I allow my job to become my priority.

Others struggle with work too. For others, the struggle is with the kids. They want to keep the kids busy and active and they over schedule. Life becomes about getting the kids to the next event or practice, to the next tournament, to the next… For others, technology is the consuming focus in their lives. Scrolling through Facebook or keeping the streak alive or making sure that all they do is pushed to the social media world is what occupies every non-working moment. And for others, the challenge comes from other things – a hobby, an addiction, a loved one in need of constant care… There are many things, often good in degrees, that can become our priority.

Jesus says, “Only one thing is needed”. We try and fill our lives with many things. But only one thing is needed. We try and occupy our with many things. But only one thing brings peace. We try and not look deep within but only one thing brings true joy. Yes, only one thing is needed. May we choose Jesus first every day, the only thing we truly need in our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, much of the time Jesus is my one thing. But not always. Help me to keep my eyes and heart connected to Jesus, each day making him more and more of my life. Amen.


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Trust in God

Reading: Ruth 1: 1-18

Verse 11: “Return home my daughters. Why would you come with me”?

Naomi had arrived in Moab with a husband and two sons. In time, the two sons married two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. They were married ten years. During this time in Moab, Naomi became a widow and had to rely on her sons and daughter-in-laws for care and provision. This would have developed a strong relationship with Orpah and Ruth. After ten years, both sons die, leaving one older widow and two younger widows. Soon thereafter the famine ends and Naomi decides to return home to Judah to live amongst her own people. Initially Orpah and Ruth prepare to leave Moab, their homeland, to go with Naomi.

Naomi realizes this and tells them to stay in Moab. Naomi says, “Return home my daughters. Why would you come with me”? She encourages them to remarry, to find a new husband in their native lands. In the event that they do not remarry or if it takes time, at least Orpah and Ruth can return to their parents’ homes for food, shelter, … Orpah sees the logic in this this and kisses Naomi goodbye. I think I would have been tempted to stay if I was in this situation. The familiar is comfortable, it is more secure. Being married and having a family was of utmost importance. Orpah made a sensible and good choice.

When have I faced a similar decision? When have I had to choose between staying with the known versus stepping out in faith? When have you faced such a decision? For some it is going off to college, for some it is getting married, for some it is transferring to a new job in a new place. For some it is ending a relationship or saying goodbye to a loved one. Each involves risk or doubt or grief or all of these and more. Each requires a trust in God. For me, it was leaving a long teaching career and entering full-time ministry. God has been with me as I have gone to foreign lands and experience new challenges. God has gone with me and I trust that He will continue to do so. May it be so for you as well.

Lord God, thank you for always being present, always bringing me courage and trust. May I ever cling to you as life continues to happen. Amen.