pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

The Baton of Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:7-15

Verse 13: “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.”

Continuing to walk with Elijah and Elisha, we come to the Jordan River. 50 prophets stand at a distance as we hear Elijah and Elisha’s final conversation. Elijah parts the Jordan with his cloak and the two cross over on dry land, just as Joshua and the Israelites had done many years before. Elijah, the mentor, asks, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Seemingly without hesitation, Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit” from Elijah. Likely smiling inside, Elijah gives him the conditions of receiving this request.

As they continue to walk and talk Elijah is taken up into heaven. Elisha cries out in sorrow and tears his clothes as an expression of grief. Then we read, “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.” This is a passing of the baton. Testing out how it feels in his own hand, Elisha inquires of God’s presence and touches the water with the cloak. Once again it parts. Clearly Elijah’s spirit is upon Elisha.

How have people in your life passed along the baton of faith? In my life I had parents who served the church. Their willingness to volunteer instilled that same spirit in me. Older pastors and congregation members that I’ve worked under and with have modeled leadership and faith, teaching me about maturity in these areas. In turn God has blessed me with opportunities to pour into youth and elders alike, building up their faith as we’ve walked and talked together.

I’m grateful for the ways that I have and will continue to both give and receive in the family of God. Join me today as we pause and give thanks for the people and the ways that God has and will work in our lives, both passing and receiving the baton of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the great cloud of witness in which I walk day by day, for so much freely and generously given and received. Continue to surround me with a great big community of faith. Amen.


Leave a comment

With the Measure We Use…

Reading: Luke 6:27-38

Verse 38: “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

Our passage today begins with a tough imperative. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to be good and a blessing to those who hate and curse us. And! And pray for such as these. Jesus then continues, telling us to go above and beyond when such as these ask us for something – or even when they demand something from us. Maybe because Jesus knows we will struggle with this request for generous love towards our enemies, he simplifies it in verse 31. Here Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Before we can really hear this and begin to think about loopholes, Jesus launches back in, putting a new spin on what he said and meant in verses 27-30. Jesus says “even sinners” do these basic things for one another. Then he says, but you, you who claim to follow me: “But love your enemies…” It is right there again, in verse 35. And treat them well, be generous to them. Jesus does mention a great reward in heaven if we do so. Sadly, sometimes I think I’d rather skip the extra reward than be nice to those who hate and persecute and take from me. And you?

Then we turn to verses 36-38. Here Jesus is talking about both our relationships with one another and about our relationship with God. Jesus uses terms like mercy, judgment, and forgiveness. He says, in verse 38, “Give and it will be given to you.” We’ve heard it twice. Yes, even with our enemies. Even with such as these be merciful and forgiving. Even with these, do not judge. When we live as Jesus asks us to, then he says blessing will be “poured over” us and it will be “poured into our lap”. In a final word, Jesus returns to the essence of verse 31, saying in verse 38, “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.” May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love all people, especially my “enemies.” With all those that are hard to love, raise up your love in me so that I can better love all people. As I walk in your love, fill me up and pour me out as a blessing to others. Amen.


Leave a comment

Poured Out Prayers

Reading: Psalm 26

Verses 1-2: “Vindicate me, O Lord … I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

Today’s Psalm is one of lament, one of anguish, one of crying out to the Lord. We do not know the exact trial or time of suffering that David is going through, but we can feel his emotions and feelings. There is a sense of injustice or unfairness to these words. They are the sincere and honest words of a prayer poured out from the heart.

Reflecting on our readings from the past two days, these are certainly words that Job could have prayed. He was an “upright and blameless” man that endured tragedies that tested his faith. These are words that we have prayed (or will pray) too. Whenever we feel unjustly treated we too have prayed for vindication. Our sense of fairness is offended and we want God to fix it. We too have (or will) remind God of our unwavering faithfulness. It just doesn’t seem right for that thing to be happening to someone so faithful. And as a way to plead our case, to prove that we are worthy and deserving of God intervening on our behalf, we invite (or will invite) God to examine our heart, our mind, our faith. Surely the examination will reveal our worthiness to receive God’s action on our behalf.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were truly upright and blameless, if our hearts could really withstand a millisecond of God’s inspection? We do live holy and devout lives for portions of time. David, Job, Elijah, Moses, Peter, John – all the ‘greats’ of the Bible – they all had their failures, their times when sin reared its ugly head. Only one person lived a perfect and sinless life. While upright and blameless is the goal as we follow Jesus, it is not anything we can achieve 100% of the time. In the same way, our prayers cannot be perfect. But they can be like David’s is today in Psalm 26: honest, sincere, heartfelt, desiring of God and God’s action in our lives. Our prayers, our desires, the hopes of our hearts – may we pour them out to the Lord our God, the one who loves to hear the children praying.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this honest look at prayer. It’s good to be reminded that you just love the conversation with us. It doesn’t have to be all beautiful and polished. That’s ok. But you want it as we feel it, as we honestly pour it out to you. Stammering, stumbling, halting, run-ons – none of that matters to you. Thank you for desiring and hearing our prayers just as they are, no matter what. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Prepared to Offer Love

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 4: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name”.

Psalm 100 is such a spirit-lifter! It is all about praising God and rejoicing in God’s goodness and love. The Psalm was written to be sung heading to and in worship. That is what the psalmist means, literally, when he writes, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise”. Enter into the tabernacle, enter into the temple, enter into the sanctuary, enter into the chapel… with thanksgiving and praise. We can all leave “life” behind and enter into that holy space to praise and worship the Lord. It is in that sacred place that we connect to the Holy One. There we are lifted up in spirit and filled with his presence and love. There we are renewed and refreshed. There we are prepared.

The second half of verse four reads, “give thanks to him and praise his name”. Once connected, lifted up, filled, renewed, refreshed, then we are prepared to exit the church to live lives that give thanks to the Lord and that bring praise to his holy name. We do so by living out and pouring out our faith into the world and into the lives of those we encounter. This is the feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty… that we have been reading about in Matthew 25. May we each see and live out the relationship between worship and life, seeking to make Jesus Christ and his love known in all we say and do and think.

Prayer: God of all generations, may my life be a fragrant and pleasing offering to you. May my times of connection ever be times of thanksgiving and praise, filling me to do your will in the world. Amen.


Leave a comment

Leaders and Mentors

Reading: Judges 4: 4-5

Verse 4: “Deborah, a prophetess… was leading Israel at that time”.

Deborah was a woman who led the nation of Israel for a period of time. Under her leadership and guidance, the people were freed from the rule of foreign kings and enjoyed peace for forty years. Deborah was the leader or judge because of her connection to God. As a prophet Deborah heard the word of God and used God’s direction to lead the people, to settle disputes, to guide military leaders. She relied on God to show her how to lead and to have the words to speak. The people looked up to Deborah and saw her as their leader because God’s connection to her was clearly evident.

As I think back over my life of faith, I can identify people who were Deborahs to me. In times of uncertainty their words guided me and helped me through. In times of suffering or trial, their words brought me comfort and strength. In times of difficult decisions, their words helped discern the correct path. I sought these men and women out because I saw God’s presence in their lives and because they had walked the path I was walking. As I have turned to more mature Christians, God has used their willingness to help me along on my spiritual journey. Like Deborah, they have freely given of themselves, patiently leading and mentoring me in the ways of God. I am grateful for their love and care, for their investment in me as a fellow believer.

As we each continue on our journeys of faith, we too may be called upon to be a Deborah. It might be for our church, for our community, for a family member, for a friend… As we grow in our relationship with God, his presence becomes more and more evident in our lives. When we are called upon as leaders and/or mentors, may we step forward as humble servants, leading and guiding as the Lord our God directs us.

Prayer: Lord God, on my journey of faith, help me to discern when to lead and what to seek the guidance and direction of others. Speak to me by the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to you. Keep me humble, turning to wiser and more mature Christians when other voices are needed. Continue to lead and guide me, O Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Undeserved? YES!

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 1: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard”.

Today’s parable in Matthew is the second in a row where Jesus teaches about God’s upside-down kingdom. If we were the workers who were hired early in the morning, we too would be upset when we received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Like these workers, it would not matter a whole lot to us that we agreed to our pay before we even started working or that it was a fair days wage. Similarly, those who worked nine hours would be pretty upset, those who worked six hours would be kind of upset… On the surface level we struggle with this story just as we can sometimes struggle with the story of the thief on the cross found in Luke 23.

Jesus’ actual behavior also reflects this upside-down feel. He did not spend most of his time in the temple. He did not recruit his followers from elite rabbi schools. Jesus himself was not even trained as a professional rabbi. The religious leaders were much like the full day workers in our parable. They cringed and recoiled when Jesus forgave the sins of adulterous women and greedy tax collectors and the lame and deaf and mute – those obviously carrying the lifelong burden of some unrepentant sin. Like the thief on the cross and the workers who only came at the last hour, people like these do not deserve such easy grace, such free flowing forgiveness.

Do we sometimes cringe and recoil at who God continues to invite into the kingdom of God? Do we ever walk into church on a Sunday morning and wonder, Who let them in? If so, we need to check the inner religious snob hiding inside of us too.

I do not know about you, but I am glad that God is the God of late in life professions of faith and death bed confessions of Jesus as Lord. That expression of generous and unconditional grace is the same exact grace that forgives my struggle with pride for the zillionth time. Yes, yes, we rejoice at that grace. Whether one comes at the first hour or at the last hour, may all hear about and come to experience that same extravagant and wonderful grace.

Prayer: Loving and generous God, it is so wonderful to live within your abundant and generous grace. Even though I may not deserve to experience it over and over, you continue to pour it over me time and time again. Thank you for your love of a sinner like me. Amen.


Leave a comment

Trust

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 5: “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”.

David follows the typical pattern found in lament Psalms: pouring out his heart and his pain and then coming to the Lord in praise. I think that this pattern is typical of many of our deepest relationships. At times we need to express the hurt or frustration or anger that we are experiencing and then we can move on in that situation or relationship. On a smaller scale that is “venting” or “letting off steam”. On a bigger scale it can be finally having that really good cry. Both bring relief or cleanse our thoughts and emotions enough so that we can focus on what really matters. For persons of faith, that means focusing first on God and on our relationship with God.

In verse five David finally gets to this point. Here he writes, “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”. Head and heart being expressed, he can now turn to the more eternal, more powerful force: God. I too can get bogged down in the worldly stuff from time to time. It can be a difficult situation or it can just be from too much busyness. In those times the focus becomes more on me and my concerns. God seems to take more of a back seat. Then I end up where David is in the first few verses of Psalm 13 – feeling distant from God and wondering where God went. Soon enough God reminds me that it was me who created distance, me who allowed something else to take priority in my life or heart or mind. In a passage or something I read, in a song or in the words of a friend, I am reminded of that unfailing love and of the hope I have in his saving grace. It is then that a song or prayer of praise fills my heart.

Songs of lament are good reminders that life will be hard at times. We will struggle, especially when we shift our eyes and focus from the one who is worthy of our praise. Today’s Psalm reminds us to allow ourselves to feel and to express our emotions to God, trusting in his love and care. May we ever turn to God, the rock of our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, in the highs and lows, you are the same. Whether I am on the mountaintop or in the depth of the valley, you are steadfast and true. Remind me over and over to turn to you, to hold fast to you. You are my rock and only hope. Amen.


Leave a comment

Pour Out Faith

Reading: Joel 2: 25-32

Verse 28: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Faith is a wonderful gift. For each of us, we can trace the giving of this gift. For me it began to be given by my parents. Seeing them live out their faith through their words and actions made real the stories and lessons I learned in Sunday school and church and later in youth group. In high school my youth pastor poured into me and grew those seeds that had already been planted. Even after I claimed Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, others have continued to help me along my journey of faith. Many people have had a hand in the growth and development of my faith. Yet nothing or no one plays a greater role than the Holy Spirit.

Since the day we are marked as a child of God the Spirit works in us. God’s grace leads and guides us even before we enter into a saving relationship. God woos and seeks to draw us in. This is accomplished through the people in our lives and by God’s actions in our lives. In verse 28 we read of God’s ideal plan: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”. All were created by God to be in an eternal relationship with God. This is the God of love’s greatest desire: to be in relationship with each one of us. Once we confess Jesus Christ as Lord, the Holy Spirit comes alive in our hearts. God’s indwelling presence, the gift of the Holy Spirit, leads and guides, corrects and protects. The gift of the Holy Spirit reminds us of all we know about Jesus and also leads us to know more and more.

The Spirit works within us to share our faith with others. To many we will become one of those people who pours into the life of another. We do so for our children and grandchildren. We do so for others at church, at work, in school… We each become part of accomplishing God’s plan of salvation. As we live out our faith we help others to know God. In verse 32 we read, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. May we each be a part of making that happen.

Prayer: God of all, may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands and feet connect others to you. Sensitize me to the power of the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to do your will. Amen.