pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Practicality and Eternity

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Verse 1: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

The words of Ecclesiastes 3 are familiar. They speak of life – the good and bad, the work of our hands, the eternity of God. Our passage begins with these words: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” God’s stamp is upon everything. God is present in it all. If one has lived very long, each of the pairs that we find in verses 2-8 becomes a reality. We begin some things and see others come to an end. We experience birth and death. We have times when we fix things and times when we tear things apart. We laugh and we weep. We experience times of war and of peace – both personally and societally. Yes, there is a time for everything.

The writer also addresses a key component of life: our work. For the Israelites, work was one of God’s gifts to us. Yes, at times it is toil. And yet “God made everything beautiful in its time.” This even includes our toil. God desires that we “find satisfaction in all our toil.” To do a job or task well, to look at a finished product, to see how one is making a positive difference – here is where our work is a blessing to our lives.

There is also an eternal aspect to all the practicality of today’s verses. We’re reminded that God has “set eternity in the hearts” of humankind. While we cannot fully comprehend eternity, we long for it and we look forward to it. Our text closes by reminding us of God’s eternal nature: “Everything God does will endure forever.” Yes, God is infinite and all-powerful. We are very finite and greatly limited. It is a good reminder. This is why we revere the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you’ve created, organized, and structured our world. You’ve guided, taught, and shown us life. There is much to all of “this” and you are fully present in all of it. I am awed that you take a personal interest in me. May all I do and say and think be pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Grace and Hope

Reading: Titus 2:11-14

Verse 11: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”

Photo credit: Jazmin de Guzman

This short book that we read from today is from Paul to Titus, a man that Paul trained while on one of his missionary trips. Titus was the leader of the church on the island of Crete. It is a great little letter and well worth the read. Today we look at four verses from the middle of the letter.

In verses 11 Paul references what we will be celebrating in three more days – the gift of Christ to the world. This gift brings both salvation and new life. In these verses, Paul shares that it is grace that guides our lives. Grace teaches us right from wrong, helping us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.” Grace helps us avoid worldly passions and other evils of the world. As grace works in our lives we mature in our faith as we learn what is pleasing to God. The love poured out through grace is what fuels this growth.

Walking with the Lord, our desire to experience Christ’s glory also grows. We come to long to see Christ – whether in his “glorious appearing” or in our ascension to glory. Hope is what fuels this longing. Knowing that glory will be just incredible, we hope for it as we long to see Christ.

The love and hope that we find in Christ leads us what Paul writes about in verses 14. As followers of Jesus Christ we are “a people that are his own, eager to do what is good.” Acts of kindness and compassion, measures of love and hope, bring good to the world. May we do good today.

Prayer: Lord God, in this Advent season use me to help others to experience the love and grace, the hope and mercy found in Christ. Use me as you will so that those without Jesus may encounter him this Advent season. Amen.


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Cry Out, Trust, Act

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4

Verse 3: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?”

Photo credit: Mukund Nair

We begin the week with the prophet Habakkuk. He wrote in about 600 BC, in the years just after the Babylonians destroyed Israel and took many away into exile. The leaders of Israel had wandered from God, taking the people with them. Living in sin and ignoring God’s laws had a devastating impact. It led to a time of great suffering – both for those led away and for the remnant left behind. Most of the people were adrift and disconnected from God. It is into this situation that Habakkuk asks God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” How long God must I ask for help turning these lost souls back to you? This is a great question we too ask when we look at our world today.

In verse 3 the prophet laments, asking, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” This is an extension of the ‘how long?’ question. Habakkuk asks God how long must they suffer. How long must we pay the price for our sin? These are questions that reveal deep faith in God. They are in the situation they are in because God is just. The prophet questions and cries out as a witness to his faith. Habakkuk seeks God because he believes that only God can move the people from faithless to faithful. The prophet knows that God alone has the power to save them.

As we look at our world today we can identify areas of injustice and of suffering. We too can cry out to God, asking ‘how long?’ As we cry out to God, may we, like Habakkuk, do so trusting that God is mighty and powerful and just. In faith may we trust in God’s good purposes. And, like the prophet, may we too come to see that God has a role for us to play in bringing healing and wholeness to the pain and brokenness of our world.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see the places in need of your love and healing. Fill my heart with compassion and empathy. And then move me to action, to a part to play in helping others to experience your power to save and to restore and to redeem. Amen.


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Reflecting God?

Reading: Psalm 79:1-9

Verse 8: “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Psalm 79 begins with the plight of Israel. The temple has been defiled and the walls of Jerusalem torn down. Dead bodies decay in the streets. Israel is the object of scorn and ridicule – from the pagan nations around them. It is from this reality that the psalmist asks God, “How long?!” He wants to know how long Israel will suffer for the sins of the people.

In response to all that has befallen them, in verse 6, the psalmist invites God to pour out wrath upon these pagan nations – the ones that God has used to punish Israel for their unrepentant sins. From this perspective that would make no sense. That’d be like badmouthing and tearing down those across the aisle that you’re supposed to be serving with. It’d be like posting an inspiring Bible verse on Facebook and then a second later ripping into someone because they don’t see an issue the exact same way you do. Like the psalmist, we can turn in an instant, not connecting one dot to the next because it doesn’t suit our agenda or our purposes.

In verse 8 the psalmist pleads with God, saying, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” Can these words come on the heels of wishing destruction upon others? Can we beg mercy for ourselves and something else, something bad, for one not like us? When we do so we are not reflecting the image of God in us. God loves all of creation passionately and completely. To pray for devastation on another or to heap destruction upon others is to pour it out upon God. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, tame our tongues and rein in our overly impassioned emotions. Fill out spirit with your love and grace. Let these be the things that flow from our mouths and keyboard strokes. May we first see in all people the image of you. Amen.


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Abundantly Poured Out

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verses 13-14: “Even though I once was… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.”

In the Epistle reading for this week Paul describes the change that God has worked in him. He wants young Timothy to understand how God can work in his life too. Many people looked at the change worked by God in Paul’s life and thought it a radical change. It was only radical in one way. Paul was as zealous as ever. He was committed to the cause as passionately as ever. Paul still spoke with great skill and power. His faith and trust were now in Jesus Christ instead of in the Law. That is what changed. This simple change in focus changed Paul’s life.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young man who has shown some gifts and graces. He has accompanied others on their evangelical and missional trips. He has been poured into by these men as well as by his faithful family. It is now time for him to begin to lead. God has been slowly and steadily shaping Timothy’s life to be a leader in the early church. God is at work changing Timothy’s life too.

God continues to be at work in these ways and more. God is ever at work, guiding us, leading us, refining us. Sometimes it manifests itself as it did in Paul. We use the gifts and talents that God has given us – just not for God’s glory. Then in a moment our focus changes and we become focused on Christ and others, being filled with God’s love and grace. Sometimes it is the long walk of faith that guides us, God patiently yet surely working in and through us to reveal God’s glory in increasing measure.

In order for God to work in our lives we too must be touched by God’s abundant grace. This is a touch that reaches out to all people. May it be abundantly poured out in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I invite your touch. Shape me and form me, lead me and direct me, refine and purify me. Day by day may you use me in increasing measure, reflecting your grace, love, and mercy to the world. Amen.


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Rise Up, O God

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth.”

Psalm 82 calls God’s attention to the wicked and to those practicing oppression. The writer of the Psalm, Asaph, calls for God to “rise up” and to “judge the earth.” As he looks at the state of affairs in the world, Asaph’s heart is broken for the “cause of the weak and fatherless” and for the “rights of the poor and oppressed.” He calls on God to rescue and deliver these from the “hand of the wicked.” These concerns that touch Asaph’s heart also touch God’s heart. So Asaph asks God, “How long?”

Asaph wants God to judge those who “walk about in darkness” as they practice evil and live self-centered lives. If honest, I must admit that there are times when I see or encounter people being greedy or selfish or mean and I hope that God intervenes and gives them their due. I too think or ask, “How long?”

As I write these words I look forward to today and to upcoming event that are planned, I’d love to live many more years on this earth. For Asaph there was a reality that when he asked God to “rise up” and bring judgment that he too would be included in that time of judgment. The same is true for me. And for you. Although far from perfect, I am covered by the blood of Jesus and hope to one day attain my eternal inheritance. Day by day I seek to resist the pull to be greedy and selfish. Day by day I seek to bring light and love into the darkness and pain of this world. A great day of judgment is coming. May we be found worthy of standing in the great cloud of witness.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me day by day so that all I do and say and think may be pleasing in your sight. Turn me from evil when temptation arises. Guard my heart against pride and selfishness. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Grounding Moments

Reading: Psalm 42

Verse 5: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Psalm 42 is written by the Sons of Korah. Korah was a Levite priest who led a rebellion against Moses, upset over Aaron being appointed to the role of high priest. Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth after losing a showdown before God. The Sons of Korah express their sorrow through songs of hope such as the one we read today.

The Psalm begins by expressing a longing to draw near to God and to meet with God. Tears have wet their faces day and night. Those around them ask, “Where is your God?” In verse 4 the emotions take a positive turn as they recall leading the procession to worship in the house of God. They recall the joy and offer thanksgiving for being a part of worship. Almost in response they ask and answer a rhetorical question: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.” Even though they feel isolated and alone, the Sons of Korah know that God is faithful. They know that they will again worship God with joy.

We all have experiences in life when we long for God or when God feels distant or when we feel alone and isolated. Maybe you’ve not led a joyful procession into worship, but when have you felt joy from your faith or when have you enjoyed time in God’s divine presence? These are your grounding moments – the moments that you can reflect upon and find assurance and hope. Take a little time now to reflect on these experiences and then to praise God for these experiences.

Prayer: Lord God, those times when you have been tangibly present to me – these are like anchors for my soul. In the valley and other trials, they are like lights shining in the darkness, guiding me back to you. Thank you for your faithfulness and steadfast love. Amen.


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The Holy Seed

Reading: Isaiah 6:9-13

Verse 13: “The holy seed will be a stump in the land.”

In today’s section of our Isaiah passage the Lord gives the prophet a message to bring to the people. In verses 9 and 10, is the Lord calling the people to not understand, to not perceive, to have calloused hearts? This would be a gloomy and hard message to hear from God’s prophet. It is as if this road of sin that leads to destruction is inevitable. It is if the people continue on as they are, living with hard hearts and a mind closed to the word of God.

Recognizing the uphill battle, Isaiah asks, “For how long, O Lord?” How long do I have to preach this message? How long will the people choose to be far from the Lord? This message cannot be popular. It will not be well received. Rarely does a person living in sin or one making poor choices like to be called out, especially after making this choice for a long time.

God’s response to Isaiah’s question matches the tone set in the opening verses. “Until the cities are ruined… the land utterly forsaken.” The consequences of the people’s choices will not be pretty. These are hard words to hear too. But at some level we all know that our poor choices will cost us, that we will face some consequences. Yet that doesn’t mean we always listen.

One of the difficult parts of the pandemic for me personally has been those who have drifted from the church. Letters, notes, texts, phone calls have been made. Words of invitation, of welcome, of encouragement have been given. Yet separation remains. If I’m honest I too have wondered, how long? I’ve felt like surrendering. But the prayers continue to be lifted to God. The end of this passage brings hope, both to me and to Isaiah in his day. “The holy seed will be a stump in the land.” The roots are there. One day God will cause growth to occur. The seed will not be snuffed out. The remnant will not be extinguished. God is good. By God’s grace faith will grow again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your vision is longer and greater than ours. When our hearts begin to harden and when our ears and eyes want to shut, flood us with your love and hope and grace, reviving the soul, bringing life anew. Amen.


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Walking Faithfully

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verse 2: “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Right after receiving Jesus’ teaching on the trust in God exhibited by the widow who “put in everything” Jesus and the disciples leave the temple. As they are heading to the Mount of Olives one of the disciples draws attention to the grandeur and magnificence of the temple buildings. Straight out of a teaching about relying on God and not on money (or any other earthly thing), a disciple marvels at these earthly structures. At times we too can be drawn away from what really matters. We can marvel at the new house being built by our new neighbor. We can be jealous of the new car our coworker just bought. We can long for the security of a big retirement fund. We can invest a lot of time and energy into finally having “enough.”

Jesus redirects their focus, saying, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another.” All of this – the grand buildings, the wealth of the rich, all we chase after here – all of this will crumble and fade and rust. Arriving at the Mount of Olives, Jesus continues. Jesus answers the disciples’ “When?” question with how and what. What? “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The world and even some in ministry will offer all kinds of answers to what we need, to what ails us, to what ‘success’ looks like. The disciples have come to know the way, the truth, and the life. So have we. Do not be deceived.

How will we know the end is here, Jesus? He gives them some signs that will indicate it is drawing near: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines. These signs that have been happening for almost 2,000 years are “the beginning of birth pains.” It has been a long labor. Even though the groans of birth pains persist and grow louder we still await the day of the Lord’s second coming. With a hope placed squarely on Christ alone and with an enduring faith in God’s plans, may we continue walking each day hand in hand with the one who was and is and is yet to come.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes the world swirls around us and it is hard to focus on faith and trust in you. When the waters rise, part the sea and pull us back in. When the fires rage, walk through them with us. When the doubts and lies of the evil one creep in, wrap your love around us. Day by day, guide us. Day by day, use us to walk as witnesses to your love. Amen.


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Pure and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

We return to Psalm 51 today. The Psalm comes from the messiness that has just occurred in David’s life. This is something we all experience. We cannot totally avoid sin – we are human.

Sometimes I think I could be less sinful if I lived an isolated life. If I were a monk or hermit maybe I’d sin less. But then I realize that my humanity would creep in. I’d get jealous of that monk who was recognized. I’d be angry that this other monk didn’t do his fair share in the garden. I’d long to be the one asked to lead this or that. Even in that monastic lifestyle I’d still struggle with sin. There too I’d have times when I failed to act, when I chose not to offer kindness, when I’d keep my gifts and talents to myself. I’d not escape these sins either.

David’s prayer for God to “create in me a pure heart… a steadfast spirit within me” needs to be my prayer too. Being pure and steadfast are always things I struggle with. Our section of Psalm 51 closes with these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”. This verse follows David’s plea to not be “cast” away. Yes, our sin is ever before us. But so is God. Out of our repentance God will ever be right there to redeem and restore us. Yes, Lord, give us a willing spirit; sustain us all in this journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, so often I fail and yet your mercy remains. So often I harm our relationship or my relationships with others, yet your grace always abounds. Your love is so great. Thank you for loving me beyond myself. Amen.