pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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Keep the Faith

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4: 6-8

Verse 7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”.

Yesterday in 9th grade Confirmation the topic was John Wesley. It was an overview of his life, his faith, his important works. We focused on his early struggle with faith and the moment that his heart was “strangely warmed”. The impact of reconnecting with a God that he felt distant from brought a renewed fire and passion. As life drew to a close, Wesley’s last words were “Best of all, God is with us”. With these parting words he breathed his last. One present noted that he died well. What is it that allowed Wesley and us such peace at a moment that brings fear and anxiety to so many?

In our passage today Paul is nearing the same point in life. He is imprisoned and he senses that the end is near. Paul notes, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering”. He is so grateful for his time witnessing to Jesus Christ. Paul reflects back on his life of service and rejoices, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. He has no regrets, no doubts, no second guessing. From the day he met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul has been all-in for Jesus. He has held nothing back, giving everything he had to the gospel and its message. Like Wesley, Paul is assured that a crown of righteousness awaits him on the other side of this life. Paul will die well too. What is it that affords Paul and all fellow believers a confidence in their eternal destinies?

Wesley’s source of hope and strength and faith was the same as Paul’s. All that they were was built upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ. In good times and in bad, in joys and in the sorrow, these men of faith stood upon Christ alone. To cling to Jesus is our only hope too. May we keep the faith as we walk the walk of faith and as we fight the good fight for Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, to think upon these who have come before and who modeled the faith so well is encouraging to me. Their witness is a good reminder. Even so, keep my eyes focused on the perfector of the faith, upon Jesus Christ my rock. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Saved to Save

Reading: 1st Timothy 1: 12-17

Verse 14: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”.

In our passage today, Paul gives thanks that Jesus Christ intervened in his life. One can feel the emotion of Paul as one reads verses twelve through fourteen. He knows that he would still be a blasphemer, a persecutor, a violent man – a sinner – without Jesus’ intervention. Can you recall when Jesus Christ first intervened in your life?

In verse twelve Paul thanks Jesus for choosing him and for considering Paul worthy of service. He is grateful for the strength that Christ gives him so that he can be faithful in his service to God’s kingdom. Paul recognizes that he was chosen. Christ identified Paul as one to serve and called him to discipleship. As unlikely a choice as Paul was to be a leader in the early church and to be the main missionary to the Gentiles, God still used him. Paul, who had been acting in “ignorance and unbelief”, experienced the mercy of God.

In verse fourteen we read, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”. Paul recognizes the fact that the unmerited, undeserved free gift of God was poured out abundantly upon him – like a heavy rain during a powerful summer thunderstorm. As God’s grace cleansed Paul of all the sin and hatred and violence, he was refilled with the faith and love of Jesus Christ. It was a complete transformation.

Can you remember what you and your life were like before you knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Can you relate to these words of Paul: “Christ Jesus came to save sinners”? We all can answer these questions. The answers are part of our faith story. Paul knows that Jesus changed him so that he could be used “as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life”. Paul knows that he was saved so that he could help Jesus save others. That too is part of our story. We too are saved to save. Today and every day may we make Jesus known. May it be so!

Prayer: God of all, you poured out your mercy upon me too. In your infinite love you continue to pour out your mercy and grace. I would be so lost in my sin without you. Continue to do a good work in me; help me to bear witness to your love today. In and through me may others know Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.