pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In His Presence

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 32: “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

There is a personal, individual component to our passage. As we turn a second day to John 6, let us hear Jesus speaking to us, offering you and me the gift of life. Emphasizing his connection to God, Jesus says, “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”. It is God who sent the Son to save the world. It is God who sent Jesus to save you and me.

In the time and place of Jesus, bread was an essential staple. This important part of their diet sustained them. In the same way Jesus “gives life” to all who believe in him. The life Jesus Christ offers is filled with hope and peace, love and forgiveness, mercy and grace, power and strength, comfort and joy. He sustains us on our journey of faith.

Today in many houses of worship people will drink the cup and eat the bread. We will literally celebrate that Jesus is the “bread of life”. We will rejoice that Christ hears our confession, accepts our repentance, and washes away our sin. Through communion we are redeemed and restored, made new again. Holy and perfect in his sight at least for the moment, we do not hunger and thirst for the things of this world. Holy and perfect we rest in his divine presence, assured of his love. May we rest in Christ’s presence today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking with us on this journey of faith. Thank you for sustaining us through all that life throws our way. Help me to rest in you. Amen.


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.


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Grieving Loss

Reading: 2nd Samuel 1:1 and 17-27

Verses 24 and 26: “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”.

Photo credit: Frank McKenna

Grief knocks on all of our doors. It is a part of life that we all walk through. In our passage today David expresses his grief over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. He pours out his emotions of grief in a song. These words will also allow others to grieve these hard losses.

Songs like “I Can Only Imagine” and hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “In the Garden” come to mind as I consider David’s outpouring of grief. Song has long been a means to process and express our grief. The words remind us of our faith in God as well as offering soothing to our pain and heartache.

As David begins he writes, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights”. The king and his sons died in battle. “The mighty have fallen”. It is a national loss, one to be grieved corporately. But it is also a personal loss. We can feel David’s grief as he writes, “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”. Saul was his king, Jonathan his best friend.

We too have experienced loss. We too have known grief. Saul and Jonathan were “loved and gracious” – worthy of the lament that David offers. We too have lost those who were loved and gracious. This lament of David reminds us of our time in the valley of the shadow of death. As we join David in his lament may we also pause to remember ours who have gone on to glory. As we do, may the Lord bring us comfort.

Prayer: Loving God who is as near as our next breath, wrap us in your arms as we enter lament. May your love enfold us and may your strength carry us. Thank you for your abiding presence. Amen.


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The Vine

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”.

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

Jesus begins John 15 with a familiar analogy. Vineyards were common in Israel – a good topic to use to describe the connection between disciples and the divine. In the first verse Jesus establishes himself as the vine and God as the one who tends the vine. You and I are branches.

Over the years, on my walk of faith, I have found it very important for me to stay closely connected to Jesus. Has this been true for you? When I am faithful about my personal disciplines – early morning prayer, reading and study, reflection, journaling – then my daily life is better aligned with Jesus’ mission. In those seasons when I am just going through the motions, my connection weakens and my faith begins to get dry and stale. Challenges and difficulties arise during both seasons. Working through these with Jesus is much different than going it on my own. Has this been your experience too?

A grape vine, like all living organisms, is either growing or it is dying. Seeing the leaves and then the grapes appear and mature is easy. Noticing the vine growth is not so noticeable. Left unchecked a vine will grow and grow. If left on its own, the vine growth will decrease fruit production. This reminds me of something that I must guard against. In ministry it can be easy to say ‘yes’ to many things. I’m active and am a doer, so this is my natural tendency. I want to try new things, to offer more opportunities, to just keep adding. Because of this tendency, I am thankful for the gardener. At times God prunes me. The Holy Spirit reveals a busyness that can be let go. A fellow Christian questions my latest, greatest idea or impulse. A colleague in ministry helps me to return to the focus of my calling. Each of these persons reminds me of the truth of verse five: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. To bear fruit you and I must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ, the source of our faith and love. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Loving God, day by day, draw me to you. Fill me each mourning, nourishing me for the day ahead. Guard my heart and mind, leading me to walk the path you purpose for me. Connected to your son, may we bear much fruit. Amen.


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In Our Hearts

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse 1: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

Psalm 139 speaks of the intimate and personal connection that we each have with God. The psalmist begins by telling of the heart and mind connection, perhaps because this is the most important. In the first verse David writes, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. It is both scary and comforting to really consider what this means. On the one hand, nothing is hidden from God. Our unkind or selfish or evil thoughts are all known by God. On the other hand, when we are hurting so bad that we cannot even form thoughts, God knows our pain and grief. I would not have it any other way. I can work on the condition of my heart and on the words of my mouth. I am helpless at times and then only God can help.

The tongue is difficult to tame. It is a good reminder to know that “before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely”. While it is still ruminating or festering or boiling in my heart, God knows the words I am pondering speaking. This is as unfiltered as it gets. It is God knowing me at my very core. It is where we are our most authentic selves. If we want to be right with God, we must begin by being right with God in our hearts – in the place no one else in the world truly sees or knows anything about.

It is in the secret place of our heart that we most need God’s guidance and direction, conviction and restoration. In public we tame our tongue to avoid looking bad or to not hurt others… This is good. But in the secret place we need help. The voice of the Holy Spirit is what will refine us and form us more and more into God’s image – if we but listen and hear. The Holy Spirit is God’s truth and love living inside our hearts. It is what will “hem me in – behind and before” if we allow it to. The voice, the nudge, the whisper, the shove – these will help keep us on the narrow road if we allow them to. David speaks of this in the rest of verse five, where he writes, “you have laid your hand upon me”. May we be aware of those thoughts rumbling in our hearts, feeling the hand of God upon us. And may we be aware of his truth and love welling up in us, also feeling the hand of God upon us. In all we think and say, may we be led by God.

Prayer: Loving and kind God, help to form my very thoughts. Begin them in a place of love and truth. Guide them to come forth in kindness and with compassion. May all I think and say be pleasing in your sight, bringing you the glory. Amen.


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God Still Speaks

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 6: “Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel'”!

We begin this week’s readings with the calling of Samuel. One night when Samuel lay down in the temple, as he had done for many years, God decided to speak to him. In some ways it must have been a shock but in other ways it was expected. To understand why, a little background from the previous chapter. Samuel was, after all, born to Hannah, the fruit of a desperate prayer to the Lord. This barren woman had taken her case to God and he responded. Eli was there that day in the temple as she poured our her heart and her pain. After understanding her prayer, Eli blessed her, saying, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him”. When he is born, Hannah names him ‘Samuel’ “because I asked the Lord for him”. After Samuel is weaned he is brought to the temple so that “his whole life is given over to the Lord”. Samuel is raised in the temple by Eli, learning much about God. So, it is not a shock when God calls, “Samuel”!

Samuel’s story reminds me of my story and perhaps it also reminds you of your story. Long before I began to remember things for myself, my parents brought me before the Lord and baptized me, committing my life to a faithful walk with the Lord. My birth was an answer to prayer, some comfort to hurting hearts. Although I did not live at the church, worship and Sunday school were regular parts of my childhood. Youth group eventually replaced Sunday school. I was confirmed and became a member of the Congregational church. During my high school years I made the personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Perhaps your faith journey is similar to mine and, therefore, to Samuel’s. God has long been at work in our lives. God knows us well.

It took Samuel a while to realize that God was speaking to him and he needed Eli’s help to realize it. This too I recognize in my life. I do not always recognize that it is God “speaking” to me. At times I too need others to help me recognize the whispers, the nudged, the guidance. Sometimes three calls are just the beginning of the process for me.

Just as with Samuel, God has plans for our lives. God will call and call, full of patience and love. As we live out our faith each day, may we grow in our connection to the Lord so that we too are faithful in responding, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your faithful and persistent call upon my life. I am grateful for each person that has helped me to hear the call throughout my life. Open my eyes and heart to hear you better and better each time you call. Give me a willing spirit, ever ready to respond. Amen.


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The Presence of God

Reading: Mark 1: 4-8

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

As we delve into Mark’s gospel we get right into the years of Jesus’ ministry. The first gospel written jumps right in with John the Baptist. Quoting from the Old Testament, John’s authority is established. John is the prophet spoken of long ago and is the one sent to “prepare the way” for the Lord. John was very different in his approach. In verse four we read, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He set up out in the wilderness, a place representing the condition of people’s souls at this point. He dressed and ate differently than any other religious leader. His open air, honest, straight forward style was different and was a foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus.

Many people came out into the desert to hear John. His words brought a quick conviction and a renewed dedication. Many people stepped into the river to confess their sins and to commit to a more devout life. They did so because the presence of God was evident in John’s life. The Spirit if God upon John drew others to want to know God in a more personal, more intimate way. The presence of God could not be ignored.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for others to say about you? To notice about you? I think so! As we each consider the living out of each day, may we seek to make God known through our words and actions and attitudes. May we be set apart from the world, pointing to the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God of all, so fill me with your Holy Spirit that all will see you in me and in my life. May your presence abound in all I say and do and think, bringing you the glory and praise. Amen.


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Baptized into Jesus

Reading: Acts 19: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “They were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… the Holy Spirit came on them”.

This week we have been looking at God’s creativity and power and strength and majesty found in creation. The call or response has been to praise and give glory to God. The passages from Genesis 1, Psalm 29, and Isaiah 60 were mostly corporate, focusing on God’s love for and interaction with those who believe. In today’s passage that love becomes more personal.

As we begin, we learn that Paul travels to Ephasus to preach and teach. Upon arriving he encounters some disciples of Jesus. There must have been something different about these men. Paul asks them if they have received the Holy Spirit. It is something they have never even heard of. Finding out that they received John’s baptism (a baptism of repentance), Paul points them towards being baptized in Jesus’ name. Desiring this baptism, the men are baptized in Jesus’ name. It is then that the “Holy Spirit came on them”. The result of the indwelling Spirit is that they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There was an obvious change in these twelve men. The baptism in Jesus’ name led to transformation. They were different now.

As we consider the sacrament of baptism about 2,000 years later, the same essentials remain. Whether your faith tradition baptizes mostly infants or mostly adults, whether your tradition immerses or sprinkles with water – it does not matter. It is not the pastor or the priest that changes or transforms the person in any way. God alone has the power. The clergy person is certainly a part of the sacrament but God is the change agent. To think otherwise would be akin to saying the kid who brought the new batch of baseballs to the umpire is responsible for the home run hit two pitches later.

In baptism one is inviting the power of God to be a part of that person’s life. Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior remains the catalyst for baptism. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit remains the result of baptism. Inclusion into the family of God begins the transformation process as one speaks and lives in a new and different way. The language of God’s love becomes the baptized believer’s primary language. It is a language that we become more proficient with as we continue to grow in Jesus Christ as we are led by the Spirit, being transformed day by day.

As we go forth in the world today, may we celebrate our place in the family of God, seeking to speak the language of love to the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you lead and guide me from within and without. Your presence lives in me and your word and example are also a part of my daily life. Thank you so much for calling me and claiming me as one of your own. Amen.


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To God Be the Glory

Reading: Romans 16: 25-27

Verse 25: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…”

The three verses that we read today come at the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church. These verses are the doxology or blessing given to the church. At the end of a letter we may write “best wishes” or “yours truly” or “until the next time”. Paul’s closing is more of a summary. In just a few verses Paul summarizes what he has said to the church in Rome in a long letter – fourteen typed pages of size 12 font in my Bible.

The people in the church in Rome are believers for two primary reasons. First, they gave heard Paul’s “gospel” – his good news story. For Paul it is the story of how he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and of how his life was radically changed. The “proclamation of Jesus Christ” is that he offers salvation and eternal life to all who believe in him as Lord and Savior. Paul spent much of his life preaching salvation in Jesus Christ and of the peace, hope, joy, love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, contentment… that comes to all who believe. Paul used both his story and Jesus’ story to draw others into the faith he knew and lived so that “all nations might believe and obey”. That was Paul’s mission and focus in life.

You and I have what Paul had – a personal faith story and Jesus’ Christ as our Lord and Savior. We too are called to do what Paul did: to help others to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And we are called for the same reason Paul was called: “to the only wise God be glory forever”. As we seek to witness to our faith, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others, may we bring God the glory this day and every day!

Prayer: Wise and true God, thank you for your saving grace, your tender mercies, and your inclusion of me in your family. The mystery of faith has changed my life. Help me to share my faith with others, opening the way for the Holy Spirit to change their lives too. Amen.


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Pray, Listen

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

Verse 2: “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

At this point in his story, David is at a good place. He has conquered all of his enemies. He has established Jerusalem as the capital. He has a beautiful home made of expensive wood. Life is good. David calls in his advisor, the prophet Nathan, and says to him, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”. Nathan thinks it a splendid idea to build God a big fancy home. But before David can even begin to line up all the workers and start gathering up all the materials, God reigns him in.

God begins with a question. He asks David, “Are you the one”? God reminds them that he has not had a house, well, ever. God once had a garden… But God has never once even asked for a house. A house is, after all, a human construct. God is perfectly content with a tent. It is adequate. It is simple. It is humble. In this season, it reminds me of the manger.

David does something here in today’s passage that I can do too. I can set my plans out before God’s plans. This happens one of two times and both are equally dangerous. Like with David, when things are going well, I can strike off with my own grand idea for ministry or service. On the other end of the spectrum, when things are going really bad, I can try quick fixes, much like firing darts at the dartboard while blindfolded. In both cases I fail to do what David failed to do: pray. Include God at the planning and thinking stages instead of at the point that the ship is sinking. Too often our plans can be formed and executed without God’s help and guidance. Usually these end with God reigning me back in, with me learning another hard lesson. Step one: pray.

As I read and pondered this passage this morning, at first I thought, ‘If only I had a Nathan’, one sent by God to guide me, to help me, to lead me, to walk with me. And then I realized that I do. The Holy Spirit is my personal connection to God. Thinking back on my hard lessons, I can see when I ignored the quiet whisper, when I shoved back against the gentle nudge. Step two is to listen, to hear.

To pray and to listen are two key steps on our walk of faith. Both align us and keep us in tune with God. May all we do and say and think begin with these two steps: pray and listen. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this reminder today. In my too frequent battles with pride and wanting to be in control, reminders of your ways are always needed. Thank you for the reminder today. Amen.