pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Glorified

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We constantly pray for you… so that by God’s power God may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

In our Epistle reading Paul expresses his gratitude for the faith shown by the church in Thessalonica. He gives thanks for their growing faith and for the love that they show for one another. Paul even adds that he boasts about their steadfast faith in the midst of trial and suffering. It is easy to have faith when life is great. Paul recognizes and gives thanks for their faith when things are hard. I can praise God on good days and question or doubt God when bad things happen. To have the constant and steady faith that Paul sees the today’s text remains a goal for me and maybe for you too.

In the second part of today’s passage Paul offer up this prayer: “We constantly pray for you… so that by God’s power God may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” The prayers are constant because the battle is ever present. There are ample opportunities to choose ease over discomfort, status quo over change, power over service. The world works to hard wire us to think of self first. So we need the presence and strength of God to live faithfully each day. We need help to fulfill the “good purposes” that God has for us. We need encouragement from the Holy Spirit to respond in faith each time we are prompted or nudged to act or speak on behalf of another. To stand against an injustice, to step into the gap to prevent abuse, to act and speak against racism, prejudice, sexism, inequality… – all of these place us face to face with those who have power and authority and privilege. To do these things, to walk this walk, it is to follow Christ.

Paul ends today’s passage with the “why” of his prayers: “So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified.” As the Spirit stirs and as our faith leads, may we speak and act in ways that glorify the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments when I teeter, when I’m tempted to be quiet or to try to preserve self, inspire me to speak or act in ways that elevate the powerless, the marginalized, the weak. Fill me with your power and presence, shining a light to the love and grace and glory of your son. Amen.


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Witness and Bring Near

Reading: Psalm 65

Verse 4: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts.”

Psalm 65 is written by David and is a celebration of God’s presence, provision, and blessing to the Israelites. These words are written within the context of the Israelites being God’s “chosen people.” They saw themselves as a people set apart from the world. Many of the laws in the Torah were meant to keep them to themselves lest they become tainted by the pagans around them. When David writes, “Blessed are those you choose,” he is speaking into this context. As the Bible, the story of God’s love for humanity, continues to evolve and grow, we see a widening of the circle. As Christians we believe that God’s love is unending. That means that God chooses everyone. God wants all people to be a part of the family of God. This is perhaps best illustrated in Jesus’ final command: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

The blessings and provision and presence of God that David reflects upon in the Psalm are available to all who worship God. God hears our prayers, forgives our transgressions, performs awesome deeds, gives hope, and enriches the earth abundantly. In these ways and more God seeks to “bring near to live in your courts” all of humanity. This is true for you and for me and for all people. This day, as we live with the Lord, may we too “shout for joy and sing,” bearing witness to our God so that all people may hear the invitation to know the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use my words and actions today to reveal your love to those who do not know you. Lead and guide me to reflect your love and care to all people, drawing them towards a relationship with you. Amen.


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Pour It Out

Reading: Lamentations 1:1-6

Verse 5: “The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.”

To lament is to express our grief, our sorrow, our sadness. It is an outpouring of emotions. As I read these opening six verses again today, I wonder how long it took the writer to put these words to paper. When I’ve experienced something horrible, something terrible, it has taken some time to express what I’m feeling. In Lamentations it is clear that some time has passed. The city is deserted, things lie in ruins.

Hardship and suffering sometimes come upon us simply because it is part of life. We are not to “blame,” so to speak. But sometimes we had a hand in what happened, if not directly at least indirectly. In these cases, I think our lament is even deeper. This is the case with today’s writing. The author writes these words in verse 5: “The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.” There is a distance here – “her many sins.” The writer does not say “our sins.” Yet the author was there during the sinning. Inaction can also implicate us in the hardship and suffering. Whatever the writer’s connection, there is clearly deep and profound emotions triggered by the recent events in Israel and Judah.

When you have found yourself filled with troubling and difficult emotions, how do you express them? Do you journal? Do you write poetry? Do you paint or use some other artistic means to release these feelings of grief, sorrow, and sadness? Do you find a trusted friend or two to talk with, allowing this space to be your safe outlet? And over and in and through it all, do you pour it out to God in prayer? We must begin with God and then allow ourselves to feel and express our lament. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the safe spaces that you have been and that you have provided in my times and seasons of lament. I trust in you and will return as needed. Lord, draw others into your great heart of compassion. Ease any reservations or hesitations or doubts. Help each of us to feel at home with you. Amen.


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Pray (and Live) for the Kingdom to Come

Reading: Luke 11:1-4

Verse 2: “Your kingdom come.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to Luke 11, we see that this week’s theme of reconciliation continues. In the opening 4 verses we read Luke’s version of what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” (The longer version is found in Matthew 6.) In this prayer example that Jesus gives, forgiveness is a key feature. Jesus teaches the disciples to ask God to forgive their sins “for we also forgive.” There is an indication that we are to forgive others if we desire for God to forgive us.

The art of forgiveness can be tricky. Sometimes, usually most often, our apology is sincere and earnest and the one we hurt or offended accepts it and our relationship enters the reconciliation phase. But once in a while our apology is rejected. Perhaps the hurt was too deep to forgive. Perhaps there are other factors, such as past history with us or past experiences outside of our relationship. Some of the time the other person needs more time and space to process the situation. It is hard when reconciliation does not come. Yet we cannot force it. We must offer grace nonetheless. This is something God alone supplies.

In verse 2, after acknowledging that God’s name is holy, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come.” At the point of Jesus’ time on earth the world had already become much less than God intended it to be. So, after the salutation, Jesus first instructs the disciples to pray for the kingdom of God to come. When we pray this we are asking that love and justice, grace and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, generosity and reconciliation be the new norms in our world. Looking at our world today, what a radical prayer this is. Yet it is so needed. So as Christ followers may these three words be both our intent and our resulting action as we pray and then live out these words. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, things roll on as they are, day by day. Same old, same old. Until change is made, sometimes forced. May I be used today as a part of breaking your kingdom into this world. 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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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32:6-11

Verse 10: “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.”

Returning to the Psalm we continue with this week’s themes of love, mercy, grace, confession, and forgiveness. Verse six begins our passage for today with these words: “Let everyone who is godly pray to you.” David invites us to do so front a place of assurance that he has experienced again and again through prayer. Through a deep and personal connection to God, David says with confidence, “surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach them.” Yes, storms and trials will come. But God will protect those who oft come to the Lord in prayer.

David connects the act of prayer back to the act of confession that he wrote about in verses 1 and 2. To move away from the weight of our sins, away from the isolation that comes with sin, we have to take these burdens to God in prayer. Once we do so we find ourselves forgiven and ready to continue on our journey of faith. We begin to be taught again in “the way you should go” as God counsels and watches over us. Receiving these gifts, we are drawn even deeper into relationship with God.

In verse 10 David writes, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.” To be surrounded – that is a place of security and comfort, of contentment and peace. Trust is built through relationship. The prayer driven cycle of confession and forgiveness, where we best experience God’s unfailing love, builds our trust in God. May we often bring our burdens to the Lord in prayer, trusting them to God’s unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your constant readiness to hear the burdens and sins of my life. Your unfailing love cleanses me and prepares me to hear your counsel, your guidance. Open me today to all you have for me. Amen.


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Trust and Confidence

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 8: “The Lord will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever.”

This week’s Psalm is both a celebration of God’s deliverance and a rejoicing over God’s continued presence in all of life. David begins by praising God for God’s love and faithfulness. David celebrates the place of God’s name and of the words spoken by God. They are both “above all things.” There is nothing more worthy of our praise and adoration.

In verse 3 David acknowledges how God heard and answered his prayers. Because of this David has become “bold and stouthearted.” He is filled with trust and confidence in the Lord. We too experience these feelings when God answers our prayers. David then thinks outside of himself, praying that “all the kings of the earth” would know and praise God. David wants others to know his God, to be touched by the glory of the Lord.

As the Psalm closes, David brings it down to reality. Although God is great and mighty, “God looks upon the lowly.” God is concerned with the downtrodden and the outcast, with the orphan and the widow. The implication here is that we should be concerned too. What is on God’s heart should be on our heart. In verse 7 David recognizes that God is with him. Over and over God has preserved David’s life as he walks “in the midst of trouble.” Over and over, “with your right hand you saved me.” These experiences also build David’s trust and confidence in the Lord. Because of this, David can boldly proclaim, “The Lord will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever.” God is with him; God is on David’s side. God’s love endured forever!

As we journey in faith we come to understand what David is proclaiming. As we walk long with God we too build a trust and confidence in God. And we, like David, are called to proclaim our faith in the Lord. May our witness in the world bring glory and honor to God, the one who is worthy of all of our praise.

Prayer: Lord, you are my redeemer and the rock of my salvation. Your constant presence leads and guides, protects and defends. You alone are worthy of my praise. Use me today to glorify your name. Amen.


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A Constant Prayer

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

These words are probably familiar to you. This prayer of David is often recited just before the pastor or priest offers the message or sermon in church. This prayer invites God into the process and also reminds us who God is. Used this way, the prayer asks blessing on the words spoken and it invites the listeners’ hearts to a welcoming and receptive place. We are also reminded of two of God’s key characteristics. God is our rock, our foundation, our strength. Each time we give or receive the word of God, we are building on that rock. Each time we acknowledge that God alone is our salvation, we give or receive the word with thanksgiving and rejoicing in our heart. It is good to invite God into the process.

These words could also be used another way. What if they were not exclusive to sermon time? What if we used this prayer as a part of our everyday life? Imagine how different our interactions and our relationships would be. If we prayed these words before speaking at meetings and gatherings, before conversations with family and friends, before hitting “send,” imagine how our lives and world would change.

David used these words more in the everyday sense. It was a constant prayer, offered often. I invite you to consider using these words of prayer often too. Claim and live into these words in the week ahead. If they make a difference in your heart and in your relationships, keep using them. Blessings on the journey.

Prayer: God, help me to use these words more than just on Sunday morning. May this prayer become a regular part of my everyday life. Amen.


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God’s Peace

Reading: Philippians 4: 5-7

Verse 7: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Ben White

Continuing in Philippians 4 today Paul first encourages us to let our gentleness shine out to all people. Being gentle is a way of being in the world that is noticeably different. The ways of the world are often aggressive, taking, toxic. Being gentle involves empathy, patience, consideration for the other. Being gentle exudes love.

Next Paul instructs us to take all things to God in prayer. He says don’t pause and be anxious first. Take it to God right away. Do not wait until after we’ve tried every solution or answer that we can. Take it to God in prayer right away. And don’t begin by unloading the problem or concern. Don’t just vent to God. Begin with thanksgiving. Start by reminding yourself of all that God has done – rejoice in that. With a heart and mind in the right place bring all the rest to God.

This short passage closes with the “why” – “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It is something we do not understand. The burdens, the fears, the worries – the weight of that prayer focus – it suddenly feels lighter if not altogether gone. That is what passes our understanding. When we turn it over to God in prayer, God takes the weight off of us. This opens the door for us to trust more deeply in God. There God’s peace guards our hearts and minds. Thanks be to God for the peace that comes through steadfast prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to just rush on today, slow me down, help me to be kind and gentle with all I meet. Build up my prayer life – I want it to be my first response, my first option. In that place may your peace and love wash over me. Thank you, God. 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.