pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Offering Salvation

Reading: Acts 16:24-34

Verse 26: “All the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.”

The story in Acts continues! Shackled and in the innermost cell in the jail, Paul and Silas turn to praying and singing. What else do you do when you find yourself in a dire situation with little hope? We too at least pray when we find ourselves in dire straights.

As is often the case, God rescues the faithful. Held tight in a man-made stronghold, how does God respond on their behalf? With an action that demonstrates that God is more powerful. An earthquake shakes the place, loosing chains and swinging open doors. See – the things of man are no match for God! Yet the prisoners do not escape. While God is supreme, escape is not the point. God has an even better plan than freeing Paul and Silas. God plans to save a soul and his household.

Sensing what the sound of metal scraping against metal might mean, Paul once again intervenes, calling out to the distressed jailer. Calling for light and rushing into the cell area, the jailer asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Moved by their faith that brought them through, the jailer wants to experience that freedom too. Paul and Silas tell him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

The jailer takes them out and he washes their wounds – an act of repentance or a gesture of love? Or both? He and his household are baptized into Christ. They celebrate by sharing a meal with those who offered them life.

Many in the world are like the jailer – thinking they are in control, believing they have all the power. Until they don’t. In that moment they see no hope, no way out or up. When we cross paths with someone in this place, will we too offer the only answer to this life, Jesus Christ? May our lives sing and exude God’s love and grace and peace and joy, enabling us to also one day offer Christ’s salvation to one in need.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live faithfully day by day, revealing a better way than the way of the world. When others notice, may I respond well with the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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3 Lessons

Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Verse 39: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today’s passage from Acts 9 is a miraculous story. And it also contains guidance for you and me.

As the passage begins Tabitha becomes ill and dies. Luke shares that she “was always doing good and helping the poor.” She was a model of the faith, a generous and humble servant. Tabitha was deeply loved by her community of faith and by those in need. Grief came upon those who loved her.

Hearing that Peter was nearby, the believers sent for him, urging him to “Please come at once!” In verse 39 we see his response: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.” We do not know about Peter’s connection to Joppa or to this church or to Tabitha. What we do know is that he went at once to his brothers and sisters in need. This is lesson 1 for us.

When he arrives, Peter gives attention to those present, to those who are mourning. They want to show him their connection to Tabitha, to demonstrate the love that they shared. Peter allowed them to express their grief. Lesson 2 for us.

Lastly, Peter responded. He became present to the one that was so beloved. And he prayed. While the outcome was miraculous, the lesson remains: Peter prayed for the situation. In those times when we find ourselves unsure of what to do, may we also turn to the one who knows all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be a loving and comforting presence in times of need or loss. Give me the courage to enter those difficult places and spaces; help me to trust in you alone. There, make my words your words, my hands your hands, my heart your heart. Amen.


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Pray a Prayer!

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 3 and 4: “The Lord has done great things for us… Restore our fortunes, O Lord.”

Psalm 126 is a passage that makes a great prayer. Many of the Psalms work this way. That is how and why many were written. In ancient times this song was a sung prayer, often used when going to worship or when traveling to Jerusalem for one of the yearly festivals. For the Israelites these sung prayers functioned like the early hymns of our faith. Both contained truths about God and our relationship with God. I think of songs like Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Great Are You Lord, and All Who Are Thirsty as ‘modern’ versions of the Psalms.

Psalm 126 is a great example of God’s love and care, both past and present. This is illustrated well in verses 3 and 4. Verse 3 recognizes God’s past work on behalf of God’s people and verse 4 asks for God to continue to work amongst the faithful. The first three verses of the Psalm are reminders of God’s faithfulness and the last three call for God’s faithfulness to work in and among the people as they move forward.

The Psalm is a good one for us to pray too. We can pray it as it is. Or we can use the basic structure to personalize a prayer. To do this we can substitute in a time when God rescued or redeemed or saved us (in place of being brought back from captivity) and we can insert actions or outcomes that we desire in place of sowing, seeds, and sheaves. In doing so we are reminded of God’s faithfulness in our past and we are naming our need for God’s work in our present and future. With this in mind, pray a prayer today!

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoiced in my heart when you called me to Grace. I ask that you would continue to grow my faith as I seek to serve you and this community of faith. Amen.


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Roots

Reading: Jeremiah 17:7-10

Verses 7-8: “Blessed is the man [or woman] who trusts in the Lord… [They] will be like a tree planted by the water.”

Today in our Old Testament lesson we shift gears to consider following God’s ways (instead of the ways of the world). In our first two verses for today we read, “Blessed is the man [or woman] who trusts in the Lord… [They] will be like a tree planted by the water.” Trusting in God is essential in our walk of faith. Life is not always rosy; trust is needed most in times of trial or suffering. Trust reminds us that God is with us in all times – the good, the bad, and everything in between. This truth about God does not change. The degree to which we live into it is what fluctuates.

In the rest of verse 8 the Lord parallels trust to the roots of a tree. A tree’s roots grow underground, working their way towards the water, towards the source of nourishment. Because the tree is connected to the water, heat and drought do not impact the tree significantly. The leaves remain green and the tree still bears fruit.

Like the roots of a tree, our faith develops over time. It takes intentional and consistent effort for our faith to develop deep roots. The source of our faith nourishment is found in God. As we dedicate time to read and study and meditate on the word of God, our roots of faith and trust grow deeper. As we give time to prayer, bringing both our joys and our concerns, we strengthen our roots of faith, building our trust day by day. As we spend time in worship, we are exercising our faith and trust in God, establishing a firmer foundation of faith.

In verse 10 we read, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind.” When the Lord looks within each of us, may a heart turned to God, a mind filled with the things of God, and a soul deeply rooted in faith and trust be found. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day, lead me in ways that sink my roots of faith deeper and deeper into you. Nourish me with your word and with your Holy Spirit presence. May it ever be so. 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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Today I Choose

Reading: Psalm 71:1-6

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go.”

Do you ever just want to cry or to crawl back in under the covers or to hunker down in your favorite chair to watch movies? The last three years have brought me to this place more than in all my other 52 years combined. Instead of just hearing or reading about the number of cases or deaths, now we all personally know people that are battling or have been lost to COVID. Most of us know several people currently affected. I don’t know about you, but today I needed to read Psalm 71.

Psalm 71 reminds us of what God offers to all who will walk in right relationship with the Lord. We can find refuge in God. We can trust that God will rescue and deliver us in righteousness. We can ask God to deliver us from the hand of evil. Some days, though, I just want to withdraw, to be alone. These days that feels safe, easy. In that place I don’t have to say that word or deal with decisions surrounding the pandemic.

Psalm 71 reminds me, reminds all who are struggling a bit, that God is still right there. It reminds us that God desires to be our refuge, our rescuer, our deliverer. Sometimes it takes a conscious, intentional decision to declare God our refuge… instead of saying, yes, God can be our refuge… This day I choose to live into these words of hope and promise. This day I choose to not walk alone. This day I choose to lean into God so that I can be caring and loving in my words, actions, and decisions. Today I choose to love because God is love.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for all who are struggling a bit today. I lift up all who would rather just sit the day out. And I pray too for all who cannot sit it out: for the health care workers and others who have to show up, for those who sit another day by the bed of a sick loved one or who stand by the grave of a loved one lost. Pour out your love upon us, O God. Amen.


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We Too Need to Pray

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 8: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

David begins Psalm 19 by reminding us how creation reveals the glory of God. From the skies filled with stars to the sun “running its course” like a bridegroom, the movements of creation speak of God’s power and might. In their own ways, all of creation worships God. The natural world reminds us of our right relationship with God.

In verses 7-9 David extols the value of God’s laws. In these verses David describes God’s laws as “perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure.” The outcomes of following God’s laws are “reviving the soul… making wise the simple… giving joy to the heart… giving light to the eyes… enduring forever.” In verse 11 David adds, “By keeping them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” How true. Following God’s ways is good and right. This path benefits our life greatly. But it is not always easy to walk in right relationship with God.

David had his struggles with sin, just as we do. In verses 12-13 he asks for forgiveness for his “hidden faults” and for protection from “willful sins.” The hidden faults would be unintentional sins – like when I hit my finger with a hammer – and sins that are only visible in our hearts – unkind thoughts, jealousy, anger, pride, lust… The willful sins are those sins that come to life: anger that leads to lashing out, jealousy that leads to unkind words. Willful sins are also those that we consider, know we should resist, and give in to anyway: joining the gossip circle, cheating on our taxes. Yes, we too need to pray for forgiveness and for God to be a shield about us. May these be our prayers today.

Prayer: Lord God, I know there is no better way than your way. There is such joy and blessing when I walk in your way. When I slip, when I begin to stray, draw me back onto your path. When I stumble and fall, be quick with your love and mercy and forgiveness. Guide my path, protect my heart and mind. Amen.


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For Our Children

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

In our time in Isaiah 43 yesterday we were reminded that each child of God is loved and that God is with us in and through all this life brings. That personal focus turns a bit wider today. In verses 5 and 6 we read, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

For most of us, we baptized our children at a young age. We and our communities of faith promised to provide an example of faith and to raise our children up to one day claim faith for themselves. The child was marked with the promised seal of the Holy Spirit. Many of our children were confirmed, claiming this faith of their parent(s) and church for themselves. Along the way our culture and society taught them to compete, to excel, to be independent, to focus on self. These inwardly focused norms run against the faith norms of humble service and loving God and others more than self. As we watch this struggle take shape within our children as they become young adults, we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through their lives. We hope and pray that those seeds of faith will sprout, renewing their faith in the Lord as they navigate life.

We do not hope and pray alone. Jesus continues to intercede for our children. The Holy Spirit continues to be that still, small voice in their hearts. God yearns to “bring back my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” We continue to be examples of faith, living as ones called by God’s name. May we ever hope and pray for our children, for God’s children, for these “formed and made” in the image of our loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw back all your sons and daughters. Use us as living examples of humble service and faithful love, bringing back our children and your children, all for the glory of your name. Amen.


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God Answers

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 12-20

Verse 17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Photo credit: Jakob Braun

Hannah has prayed and prayed. She has prayed for years and years for a child. She remained barren. She has prayed and prayed for relief from Peninnah’s taunts and cruelty. The pain and hurt persists. Yet year after year she prays. It can be hard to continue to pray day after day, never mind year after year.

Back when I went into pastoral ministry there was a building that I would walk around and pray over. Originally it was a car dealership and most recently the hospital’s laundry facility. The hospital decided to build a modern laundry facility on the hospital grounds. The land-locked church that I was a part of was next to this building. I would walk along the building, running my hand along the bricks, praying for God to use this space for the church’s growing ministries. Day after day I’d walk and pray. Teams and other individuals from the church would also do prayer walks around the building. Eventually the new space was ready and the hospital began to vacate the building. The lead pastor and I were able to walk around inside the space, beginning to dream of what could be. Each day I would prayer walk around the building. The church even contacted the hospital to express our interest. Day after day, month after month, praying.

Hannah prayed and prayed. One day she is praying in the temple. Pouring out her heart would be more accurate. The priest Eli notices. After some conversation he is moved by her anguish and grief. He blessed her, saying, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” God responds to her prayers and to the blessing – she has a son. God’s timing aligned with Hannah’s prayers. God made a way forward.

One random day two men walked into the church. They let us know that they had bought the building and were going to start a new microbrewery. Gut punch. Hurt, anger, despair, doubt – these were the initial feelings. There might have even been a few sideways glances cast heavenward. Then the walking and praying resumed. As I walked along, touching the bricks, I prayed that God would one day use the space for ministry. I acknowledged that God’s plans are bigger than my plans, that God’s ways are higher than my ways. Although ministry has moved me on to other churches and other prayer focuses, when I’m back in the neighborhood, I sometimes still lift a prayer to God when I pass by that building and run my hand along the bricks. Our God still answers big, bold prayers. God did for Hannah. God will for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, loving and generous. Continue to lead and guide the ministries of your church. Continue to lead us to dream dreams and to see visions. Keep us ever at work building your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Eye on Jesus

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verse 26: “Such a high priest meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”

Today in Hebrews 7 we read about Jesus Christ, our priest forever. While in ministry on earth Jesus provided us an example for how to live out and live into God’s perfect love. Unlike earthly priests, Jesus was raised to new life and “because Jesus lives forever he has a permanent priesthood.” Jesus continues his saving work in heaven “because he always lives to intercede” for you and for me. Jesus prays for you and for me on a continual basis, ever bringing us before God.

In verse 26 we read, “Such a high priest meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” This list is quite the list! It is also the example that we are called to follow, the footsteps that we must walk in. If this list feels intimidating or if it seems impossible we must remember that Jesus himself is praying for us – for us to be faithful disciples, for us to love God and others well, for us to be forgiven when we sin, for us to be strengthened when tempted, for us to be comforted when in sorrow, for us to… The one who died to save us is praying for us on our journey of faith.

To be holy, blameless, pure… is a high calling. But we are called to a high calling: to be like Christ. Jesus is for us; he is on our side. We know that with God all things are possible. Therefore let us keep our eye on Jesus, seeking to live as his faithful disciple day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to model Jesus Christ today. Help me to be love lived out, to be grace poured out freely. In and through me may others see and come to know Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. Amen.