pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Building

Reading: Haggai 2:1-9

Verse 3: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?”

In the story of God’s people, some have returned from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the remnant has rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Through the prophet Haggai word comes to begin to rebuild the temple that was also destroyed by the Babylonians.

Have you seen pictures or visited any of the grand cathedrals in Europe? Many of these ornate, beautiful, and towering feats took hundreds and hundreds of years to build. And have you ever seen or visited a Puritan or Quaker meeting house? It’s a simple structure with a pitched roof and small steeple. Basic wooden pews fill the sanctuary. When God through Haggai asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?” this is the type of contrast that God is drawing. Soaring cathedral versus simple meeting house, old temple versus the new temple.

But the deeper point in not really about the building. Like the Jews we too can get caught up in that. In verses 4 and 5 God gets to what really matters. Here God says, “Be strong all you people of the land and work. For I am with you… my Spirit remains strong among you. Do not fear.” Enemies and critics all around them, a less than temple taking shape, and God basically says, ‘Don’t worry about all that outside stuff. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The building doesn’t matter. All that noise swirling around outside doesn’t matter. Lean into me, lean into the work I have given you. Trust in me.’

This message is translated to our lives and times by Jesus. We are not tasked with building a physical thing but are tasked with building the kingdom of God. Jesus generally describes our task this way: ‘Go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples. Go and help fill all of those human houses with the glory of God.’ Yes, God is still with us. So may we go forth to build the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, may my time in your word and in the building equip and encourage me to go out into all the world, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. Amen.


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Lean In

Reading: Psalm 107:1-6

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s love endures forever.”

God is always present, always there to love and care for us. God guides us and protects us from evil. Because of our relationship with God we often expect life to be good and blessed. We are often surprised when tragedies or suffering comes our way. We feel disoriented and unsure. We can question God as we come to feel like those in the Psalm, those whose “lives ebbed away.”

In times of suffering and pain it can be a time of testing for our faith. If we see God as a God who primarily gives us what we want, then we can feel abandoned by God in hard times. We can get angry at God and maybe even distance ourselves from God. But if we see God as a God of love and care and compassion, then we choose to lean into God in times that are hard. We recall times when God was present during our trials and we lean into these memories and experiences.

We can also look to Jesus, to the one who modeled leaning into God better than anyone. The greater the trial, the harder Jesus leaned into God. Christ held onto hope and trusted that God would always be there with all he needed for that moment. He cried out to God and God walked with him. Even in the valley, Jesus declared as the psalmist did, “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s love endures forever.” May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, when we are hurting and suffering, help us to draw near to you. When life rages and we feel like joining in, pour out your peace upon our hearts. Call us to draw close, to enter into your tender and gentle love. You are all we need. Amen.


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Leaning into God

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 and 16-17

Verse 7: “There an upright man could present his case before God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas

At the end of the week we return to Job. He has experienced great loss and hardship. His friends have accused him of sinning and have condemned him for not repenting. They have told him that he deserves the punishment that has come. While his friends and the world around him see Job’s situation one way, Job sees it differently. Job knows that he is innocent, that he has not sinned or done anything wrong, that he does not deserve what has befallen him. But this is his reality. It does not make sense in his mind. Why would God curse an innocent man and his family? Job knows that all would be made right if he could have an audience with God. In verse seven he says, “There an upright man could present his case before God.” Job may not understand why all this has happened to him and he may be puzzled by God’s felt absence, but his heart still believes that God is in control and that his Redeemer will redeem him.

In the depth of the valley, when we are in the throws of despair, it can be hard to hold onto God and onto our faith. As the time drags on and we’ve searched for God as Job did – in the north and south, to the east and west – we too can feel the darkness closing in around us. We know that God is always there. Our long walk of faith has proven God’s presence. In verse twelve Job says, “I have not departed from the commands of God’s lips; I have treasured the words of God’s mouth more than my daily bread.” More than anything, Job is reminding himself of his faith and of his long walk with God. Job is making the choice to remember who and what God is even though it doesn’t feel like it in the present moment. Shortly God will come around. God will speak. God always does. May we ever lean into this reality, especially when we find ourselves in the places of trial and suffering. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are always watching, always seeing. At times we feel all alone. Even then, though, you are there. Help us to trust when we can’t see and to lean in anyway when we can’t feel your presence. Remind us that even then we are in the palm of your hand. Keep us strong in our faith. Amen.


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Trusting and Leaning into God

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 and 16-17

Verses 3-4: “If only I knew where to find God… I would state my case before God.”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

As we jump forward this week to chapter 23, much has happened in the twenty plus chapters. This section centers on the conversations between Job and his three friends. Running throughout is the understanding that Job must have sinned to cause all this hardship to befall him and his family. Job counters this common ancient line of thought with his responses. He is sure of his innocence. He is blameless. Job longs for an audience with God. He thinks that then God will really hear his case and will respond to Job as God should. At least as Job thinks God should respond to his unjust suffering. Job too is operating from this ancient mindset. He just thinks there has maybe been some mistake made in the heavenly realms.

Job knows that God is all-powerful. Job knows that God alone can give and take away. Job knows that God is loving and that God can make things ‘right’ for this faithful servant. But in the depth of his suffering, in the bottom of the valley, it seems that God is absent. Adding to this feeling are his friends. Friends are supposed to support and encourage one another. These friends end up doing the opposite in the end. God is supposed to hear the cries of the oppressed, of those experiencing injustice. Yet God seems to be nowhere to be found. Job states, “If only I knew where to find God… I would state my case before God.” Job still believes in God’s love and justice, in God’s power and might. He just longs to know God’s presence, to have a chance to speak with God.

Things aren’t lining up. They aren’t making sense for Job. What he thinks he knows about God is not matching his present reality. At times we all end up here. At times we all want to express our bitter complaints to God, sure that God will make all things right. And some of the time we end up where Job is – asking where God is. This is a tipping point of faith. Our head knows things our heart isn’t feeling. We may be tempted to walk away from God. We might even do so for a short season. We may feel as Job did: that God has “made my heart faint.” And when we’re there – as we all will be – may we remember Job’s response: “I am not silenced by the darkness.” Trusting and leaning into God, may we walk in faith, praying to our God who is faithful and true.

Prayer: Lord God, it can be hard to keep praying when the darkness persists. It can feel so hopeless and lonely in the bottom of the valley. Help us to remember the truths: you are faithful, you are true, you are steadfast, you are loving and good. Trusting in you, draw us to our knees, assured of your presence. Leaning into you, draw us into your purposes for our lives. Empower us to prayerfully walk in faith, clinging to you at all times. Amen.


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My Rock, My Salvation

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 45: “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty”.

We return today to the story of David and Goliath. Standing before Saul, David expresses his faith in God, saying, “he has defied the armies of the living God”. David knows that the battle now belongs to the Lord. With that knowledge and his faith in God, David is willing to face the giant.

Sometimes our giants work us into a place of fear. After time we want to withdraw. Goliath came day after day for forty days, defying God and the army of Israel over and over. In our recent communal history COVID was like this. Every day COVID shouted at us, defied our health care systems, made us want to withdraw. No matter what we as a nation did, it raged on day after day. As a nation and as individuals we faltered, we doubted, we feared. And many chose to lean into God, into our faith. In our quiet places we opened our Bibles. In our homes we knelt and opened our hearts to God. In faith we found hope and peace, strength and comfort.

As David meets Goliath, the giant rails against David and against God. He curses David by his gods and threatens his life. David correctly identifies that all Goliath has is a sword, spear, and javelin. These weapons are harmful and even deadly, just as COVID or any other serious illness is. Yet all these are powerless against God, our hope and our eternity. David declares, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty”. We know how this battle turned out.

As we face our giants, may we too remember that God is on our side, that we do not fight alone. Anointed by God’s Spirit, we belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Living God, give me a confident faith, a trusting faith. As the world trots out its giants, may I ever stand upon my rock and my salvation. Amen.


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Our Refuge and Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 9: 9-20

Verse 9: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”.

In today’s Psalm there is a deep sense of trust in God’s power and might. The Psalm begins with David praising God “with all my heart”, rejoicing in the downfall of the enemy, celebrating God’s righteousness and justice. As we begin today in verse nine David writes, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”. A refuge is a place of protection, a place of safety. It is a place where one finds peace and respite. One feels secure in a stronghold. One is able to regroup, to catch one’s breath, to ready oneself to reengage.

The danger of a literal refuge or stronghold is that we can want to simply stay there, to remain disconnected or distanced from the oppression or trouble. In the New Testament Jesus told us that we would face trial and abuse and oppression and hatred. A solid walk of faith comes with a cost, a price to pay at times. Amidst the persecution that David is facing he cries out to God, asking, “Have mercy and lift me up”. He turns to God, trusting in God’s power, leaning into his presence, declaring “the Lord is known by his justice”. When we are faithful, when we are walking out our faith in alignment with God’s will and ways, then we too can lean into God in times of oppression and trouble, trusting in our refuge and stronghold to lead us through. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever present, always hearing the prayers of those who trust in you. In those times of trial or trouble, remind me again and again that you are ever my strength and my shield. Your love always surrounds me. Thank you and amen!


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Eternal

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse 16: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”.

When I think about today’s passage, in my mind I see an old weathered home, just a skeleton of what once was. Scattered across the country side are farmstead homes and buildings long ago abandoned. They usually lean to one side. There are no shingles, paint, or window panes. These homes remind me of the things of this earth. They are temporary. David desires to build God a home. God does not need or want a home build of wood or stone. Yet God desires to build a home too.

The home that God builds does not consist of wood or stone or any other material found on the earth. All that is here will one day be no more. God builds a home that will outlast all the things of the earth. In verse eleven God says, “The Lord himself will establish a house for you”. Through Nathan, God said these words to David. Through faith, these words remain true for you and for me and for all who call on Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Through the lineage of David, God will build a home whose doors are open to all. In verse sixteen God explains: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”. Forever. David’s house will include Joseph of Nazareth, the earthly father of Jesus, the Son of God. Through Jesus the family will grow. Faith in the Lord will move out beyond Israel and into all the world. Through the good news that is Jesus Christ, faith will go out to the ends of the earth. All are invited to become a part of God’s family, a part of his eternal home.

As I think more about that old tattered farmhouse, I think about that elderly man or woman, perhaps eighty or ninety years old. They too have been weathered by time; maybe they lean a bit to one side. Yet the faithful live day by day with an abiding trust in their Lord. When asked, they do not want to be remembered by the fancy car they drove or by the wealth or power that they accumulated. They want their family, friends, acquaintances to remember how much they loved, how they gave much more than they took, how others were blessed simply by being in their presence. They, above all else, want others to see what a life lived for Jesus Christ looks like. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, as I become more and more mature, seasoned – weathered – I desire more and more to be more and more like your Son. Guide me each of my days to be loving, kind, humble, generous, gracious. Use me day by day to reflect your Son out into the world. Amen.


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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Walk on in Faith

Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14

Verse 8: “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering'”.

Our passage from Genesis 22 is one of those stories of faith that we read and wonder if we could do what that Biblical hero did. For me, this passage is right up there with David facing Goliath, Daniel facing the lions’ den, Esther facing the king, and Peter taking that step out onto the water. When our faith feels strong, these are actions we too could take for God.

Abraham has had a long story with God. As a young man he was asked to trust God and, as he left his father’s homeland, it began a long walk with God. After many years the promise of a son came true when Abraham was 100 years old. And now, just over 110, God asks for Isaac as a sacrifice. It is not to occur then and there. No, Abraham must make a three day journey first. This in itself would test many of us and would push us to the brink – walking for three days with nothing to pray and think about other than offering your only child. Abraham walks on in faith.

As they begin to head up the mountain, Isaac has put the pieces together – wood, fire, knife… He asks Abraham, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering”? That question might have been enough for me to turn and head back down the mountain. But in an awesome testament to his faith Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Again, Abraham walks on in faith.

Today, as we consider this story, what step of faith is God calling you to take? Reflecting on how God has been with you as you have stepped out before, how will you begin to walk forward in faith today?

Prayer: Lord God, as a new chapter opens, grant me the courage to step forward in faith and trust. Help me to lean on you in moments of fear or doubt. Guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Into Our Hearts

Reading: Romans 5: 1-5

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Chapter 5 begins by reminding us of some truths of our faith: peace through justification, access to Jesus Christ through grace, and rejoicing in the glory of God. Walking in faith certainly fills this life with peace, grace, and joy. A life of faith, however, does not shield us from the hard or difficult side of life. Because we are humans, made of flesh and bone, we will experience times of illness and even death, times of trial and pain. Paul acknowledges that as Christians we will suffer. But he also points out that we do not suffer as the worldly suffer.

Just as your relationship with your spouse or family or a friend is strengthened when you go through something hard together, so too is our relationship with God strengthened when we walk through a trial with God. When we turn to God, when we lean into God, when we rely on God – we find that God is always right there. In verse five we read about the closeness of God. Here Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. The presence and strength and comfort and peace of God is right there within us as the Holy Spirit is “as close as our next breath”.

Paul walks us through the steps or progression of the deepening relationship that we experience as we continually walk with the Lord and Spirit. We first learn to persevere; this is built through Christ’s presence in previous trials. We next learn to maintain a Christly character; this is built both by walking with Christ in our trials and by reflecting on the ways that Jesus himself endured times of suffering. Lastly, we come to have a growing hope. This comes to pervade all of life, but is especially present in the trials. And Paul also reminds us that “hope does not disappoint”. If doubt or fear or anything else begins to creep in, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit whispers, “I am here”, reminding us once again of the Lord’s presence with us and within us. Thanks be to God for the closeness of Jesus Christ in our hearts. May you ever walk in his love, grace, and hope!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant presence in my life. I am so grateful for the ways that you surround me in the trials. Thank you for the Spirit that so often reminds me that I am not alone, that you are right there with me. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God! Amen.