pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

“I am with You.”

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

These past two years have been filled with fear, unknowns, angst, grief, anger, conflict, sorrow. Perhaps we’ve had others seasons filled with these things, but outside of the great world wars we have not experienced a prolonged difficult season like this. Isaiah speaks to a people who felt all of these emotions and maybe more. The Babylonians swept in like COVID, bring much sorrow and pain and… As their years in captivity drug on, the Israelites surely asked questions like, “How long?” and “When can we return to what was normal?” These are very much the questions of our day as well.

Into the anger and sorrow and unknown and everything else, God spoke these words through Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” Into these powerful and very real emotions, God reminds the people: “I am with you. You are mine.” Yes, this is an unprecedented time, but God is with the Israelites. Yes, it’s starting to feel like forever, but it is not. Going on in verse two we read, “I will be with you.” Those waters and rivers that feel like they’ll sweep over you? “No, I am with you.” Those fires that feel like they will consume you? “No, I am with you. You are mine.” These words of reassurance and hope kept the people going in exile. It sustained them until this season passed.

As we near the two-year mark for this current pandemic, we too need the hear these words: “I am with you. You are mine.” We too need to claim these words, to cling to them, to write them on our hearts. May our trust and hope in the Lord drive away the fear. May God’s presence carry and sustain us as we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you have been faithful always – forever. You have calmed fears and brought peace. Your love has strengthened and encouraged. Be with us on this journey, walking with us day by day. Amen.


Leave a comment

Constant and Eternal

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

The Psalm begins with the giving of praise to the Lord for his glory and strength and for the splendor of his holiness. These are some of the attributes of the Lord revealed in and through God’s divine nature. Continuing into the middle section of our Psalm, verses 3-9, David recognizes the ways that God’s power and majesty can be revealed in the created world.

David uses “voice” as the presence of God in the created world. One can “hear” God in the thunder; one can “see” God in the lightning. One can “feel” God in the wind and in the earthquakes. One can “see” God in the aftermath of a storm that twists trees and leaves forests bare. Extending this concept, one can know God’s presence in a sunrise or sunset, in the beauty of a spider’s web, in the sounds of a rippling brook. In these relatively still or quiet ways we can also experience the Lord’s power, glory, and strength.

The Psalm closes by acknowledging God’s constant and eternal presence “enthroned forever.” David then praises God, saying, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Strength and blessing and peace come from being in God’s presence – whether through knowing God in the created world, through worship in the sanctuary, or through quiet time with God in the early hours of the day. God is all around us, eager to be with us. Thanks be to God for this constant and eternal presence.

Prayer: Lord God, from the moment we awake to the moment our next day begins, you are with us. You’re there all the time, if we but look for you, if we but seek you. Turn me often into your presence. Amen.


Leave a comment

Growing Closer

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts 8 we read about some people who are a lot like us. These Samaritans have been baptized in the name of Jesus. Now what?!

At two weeks or three months or at some other time in our very young lives, most of us were baptized. For most of us it was an action initiated by our parents on our behalf. At baptism we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, marked as a child of God. Although adults, this is just where the Samaritans were. Like we were as an infant, they were unaware of the next step.

The apostles in Jerusalem hear about their young faith and send Peter and John to minister to them. Finding them to have faith in Jesus Christ, Peter and John pray over and then “placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Doing so, these new believers receive the Spirit. These new to the faith needed someone more mature to activate the Holy Spirit. Peter and John saw the next step needed to grow their faith. As young people most of us needed some folks like Peter and John. We all needed our parents, our Sunday school teachers, our youth leaders, our pastors… to guide us along in our journey of faith. When the timing of God was right, someone said just the right thing or an experience occured that prompted us to invite Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior. At this moment the Spirit activates and begins to lead and guide our young faith. For some this happens during confirmation, for some it is at camp, and for others it is some other faith experience that triggers the next step of faith.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, these Samaritans came to know the same indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. Filled, the Holy Spirit leads and guides, prompts and nudges, convicts and corrects, ever seeking to draw us closer and closer to who and what God created us to be. Even with the Spirit’s constant presence, our faith journey is not a straight line to sainthood. Our faith grows and then seems to regress at times. Our faith shines brightly and then seems to hibernate. Faithful and disciplined participation on our part lessens the dark or sleepy moments or seasons and increases the fruitful and productive times. Each day may we intentionally connect with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, seeking to grow closer day by day.

Prayer: Lord of all, keep me steadily connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Fill me with knowledge and insight, understanding and trust, belief and hope. Each day empower the Holy Spirit to guide me to more faithful discipleship. Amen.


Leave a comment

Home with God

Reading: Luke 2: 41-52

Verse 48: “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

Today we get a snapshot of Jesus as a teenager. The gospel story fast forwards from toddler to the ministry of Jesus at about 29 or 30 with this one little snapshot along the way. Unknowingly, Mary and Joseph leave Jesus behind in Jerusalem when they begin to head home after the Passover celebration. People and family groups often traveled together for safety and protection. Mary and Joseph must have thought Jesus was with other family or friends as they headed towards Nazareth. It must’ve been at night, after their first day’s journey, as they got ready for bed, that they discovered Jesus was missing.

Imagine the thoughts that ran through Mary and Joseph’s minds! Did he just wander off along the way? Did he fall in with the wrong crowd? Was he wandering the cold streets of Jerusalem all alone, scared and hungry and afraid? In what must have been a hasty return, Mary and Joseph return to the big city. And then spend three days searching for Jesus. Imagine the thoughts that went through their minds after day one! Then on day two? And day three?!

On the third day (no coincidence here), Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple courts. He is absolutely fine. As an expression and release of the building worry, Mary asks, “Son, why have you treated us like this?” To explain, she goes on to let Jesus know, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” What was lost has been found. In his own defense Jesus tells his earthly parents that he was in his father’s house – right at home. Where else would I be?

Have others ever thought you lost when you were not? Has your faith or trust in God ever been questioned in a difficult time or by those without faith? Our reality is the reality Jesus demonstrates in today’s passage: we are most at home when we are abiding in our with God’s presence. As Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). May it ever be so for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my strength when I am weak. You are my joy in moments of difficulty. You are ever my rock and my salvation. Ever draw me home to you. Amen.


Leave a comment

God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Today in our reading, the writer of Hebrews shares Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth using Jesus’ own words. We hear today why it became time for Jesus Christ to take on flesh, to walk among us. The system was broken and needed a reboot. The temple offerings did not please God; God did not desire any more of what they were doing. The people and the priests had digressed to simply going through the motions. The unblemished first fruits of the herd or crop had become something imperfect or blemished that one bought on the cheap as they walked through the temple gates. The meaning, the connection, the relationship has been largely lost. All of these things were purposes of the original sacrificial system.

In order to restore these purposes God took on flesh and came into the world as a baby. Our divine, all-powerful God became vulnerable, dependent, limited. Becoming physically present to humanity, God began to restore meaning to faith, to rebuild the connections to and within the body of faith, and to establish a new and forever relationship with all of humanity. As the person of Jesus, he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.” Jesus came to do what needed done to reboot the system. Ultimately doing God’s will ended on the cross, providing the means to restore our relationship each time we break it with our sin.

Sometimes we struggle with our connection to God and at other times we fight our connection to our own bodies. We don’t always want to do God’s will. Sometimes we just ignore it and at other times we make an intentional choice to go against God’s will, to sin. We can also get lost in the things of the world, neglecting or abusing the connection to our own body. We can skip meals or time with family. We can try and push through an oncoming illness or lack of sleep. Most often these “efforts” are to accomplish some earthly thing – that important project or deal that we must get done or that little bit more to impress enough to Garner that raise or promotion. These things also cause our relationships with God and with one another to suffer. When we ignore who we were created to be and how we are intended to live in this world, then we lessen or diminish all of our relationships and connections.

Even though the human one, Jesus Christ, left this earth almost 2,000 years ago, it did not end the relationship. He left the gift of the Holy Spirit – the ongoing, continual, indwelling presence of God within each believer. Through the Spirit God became “as close as our next breath.” We can walk and talk and hear from God through the Holy Spirit each moment as we live out our life. May we embrace the presence of the Holy Spirit each day, ever drawing closer to always doing God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to tune into you and into who I am in you. Attune my ears and heart to your Spirit voice within me and dial my mind into becoming more of who you created me to be – spiritually, emotionally, relationally. Make me wholly yours. Amen.


Leave a comment

Always

Reading: Philippians 4:4

Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

What was the hardest thing you went through in the last few weeks? What was your greatest struggle or challenge to your faith during this time? When have you felt the temptation of sin – anger, gossip, jealousy, pride, judging… – recently? How have others wronged or otherwise hurt you during the past few weeks?

Were you able to do as Paul says today? In those times of hardship or trial or suffering were you able to “rejoice in the Lord always?” This is our encouragement today. And “always” Paul says! So, how does one rejoice in the midst of such difficult situations or circumstances? It begins with another “always”: the Lord is always with us. The Lord’s presence never leaves us. In moments of anger or frustration, Christ is there to bring us peace. In moments of temptation, Christ is there to bring us strength. In moments of despair, Christ is there to give us hope. In moments of sadness, Christ is there to comfort us. In all things, Christ is always there with us. Whether by prayer, by turning to the scriptures, or by fellowship with other believers, we can be reminded of how to find all we need in Jesus Christ.

This is reason to rejoice. But there is another reason: it is part of our witness to our faith. When we walk through the trials… in faith, others notice. The world, for example, reacts to anger with anger. When we choose to react to anger with empathy or kindness or by seeking understanding, we provide an alternative way to be in the world. The joy, hope, peace, strength, comfort, grace, assurance… that we live with in the difficult and hard times reveals our faith in the one who is always with us. This day may all see Christ within us.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. Your presence always walks with me. In those times when others notice your peace, hope… make me ready to share my faith. Amen.


Leave a comment

Greater Still

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 18-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Continuing to point towards the day when the Lord God will restore Judah and Jerusalem, Zephaniah speaks hope to those who are separated from God. The people’s disobedience offended God’s sense of justice. Because of their great sin they were almost unrecognizable to God. Disaster would befall the people. But God’s love was greater still. The God who is mighty to save will one day restore Israel as well as the other nations of the world.

In verse nineteen we read, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.” The army that Zephaniah predicted will come and destroy, leaving behind a small remnant while carrying many off into exile. The remnant was a shell of what was and will struggle to survive. They are the lame that God will rescue. Those carried off will lose connection with God. Living in a foreign land they will be unable to worship in the temple; they will not be able to celebrate the annual holy feasts. They too will become a shell of what once was. These are the scattered that God will gather. Reflecting back upon Zephaniah’s words many years later, the Israelites will see and better understand the need for both God’s justice and God’s love.

At times we too can find hope in these words. At times life will leave us struggling – illness or disease, unwanted change, bad decisions… We can find ourselves in need of rescue. At times we will wander off, straying from our faith. We too can end up far away from God, as if we were living in a foreign land. Once there, we need God to gather us back in. At times these forces can intertwine and build one upon the other. “Life” happens and we begin to doubt or to question God, leading our faith into a place of uncertainty or maybe even separation from God. In this place we need both rescue and gathering. As it was with God’s people of old so it will be with us today. “At that time I will gather you: at that time I will bring you home.” God’s love is greater still. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in a place that feels void of your presence, stir up the Holy Spirit in my heart. Remind me of your living presence and of your great love for even me. Thank you for your steadfast love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Others Will Be Drawn

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today we continue in Zechariah’s song, turning to the role that John plays. While on duty in the temple Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel tells of John’s birth and of the role he will play. In verse seventeen we read, “He will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Upon John’s birth Zechariah shares this in his song. In verse 76 we read, “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” John the Baptist will serve faithfully, speaking God’s truths, drawing them back towards God. John preached about the forgiveness of sins and offered a baptism of repentance, a symbolic cleansing to the Jews. John lived a life of service, helping people to prepare their hearts for the time when they would meet Jesus. This too is our call.

In one of the devotionals that I read there is this great line from Linda Furtado: “Part of being people after God’s desires is choosing to serve as the presence others need, stretching ourselves to love in ways that reflect God’s love.” We begin by knowing God’s desires. Primary among them is God’s desire to have a saving relationship with all people. We must them choose to be God’s loving presence to others. Sometimes this is being like John – calling others to a holier life, speaking hard truths. Sometimes this is coming alongside another in their time of need. Often God will call us to stretch ourselves, to get out of our comfort zones. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will lead us to people, to places, and into situations that stretch us. It is there that we rely more deeply on God’s Holy Spirit presence within us. Once there we are called to love others as God loves us. When we live out our faith in these ways, others will be drawn towards the Savior of the world. Doing so we live into the words of Zechariah: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” Hear these words today, spoken over you by the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, above all you are love. Lead me out beyond myself, having eyes to see needs and a heart to respond. In and through me may others know of your love for them. Amen.


Leave a comment

Relationship Remembered

Reading: Psalm 132: 1-9

Verses 1 and 2: “O Lord, remember David… He swore an oath to the Lord.”

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

Today’s Psalm is about relationship. God remembers David and David remembers God. Relationship is always about connection, history, experience. So too is faith. The Bible’s key movements all center around relationship. Sometimes the movement is away from God as the people forget the relationship. The Israelites wander over and over, worshipping idols or forgetting who and whose they were as they instead chose to live like the world around them. Each of these many instances is followed by a return to right relationship with God. The Biblical narrative continually follows this cycle of disobedience and reconciliation. Even though the Bible was completed in the first century our story and humanity’s story continues to follow this cycle.

Because our relationship with God has an ebb and flow to it, our relationship is often built around remembering. Throughout the Bible we hear about remembering the covenants and commands, about remembering the stories of God’s love and faithfulness, about remembering the words and example of Jesus Christ. Remembering draws us back into relationship. It is in relationship that we experience God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, restoration, redemption… When we live outside of relationship we are far from these things of God.

In the Psalm relationship is remembered and kindled in the house of the Lord. There, in God’s “dwelling place” one is able to “worship at his footstool.” In the sanctuary we meet God’s presence and we reconnect; there we renew and refresh our relationship with God. There we are reminded of his word. There we sing with joy God’s praises. There the Lord joins with us as we once again are “clothed with righteousness.” This day may we remember the Lord our God, our salvation and our hope. Tomorrow may we go up to the house of the Lord, joining with the community of faith to worship the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, may I enter your presence with praise and thanksgiving. May I celebrate your love today. In response may you know my love as I enter your holy sanctuary. Amen.


Leave a comment

Always There

Reading: Psalm 146: 1-4

Verse 2: “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.”

Psalm 146 is a song of praise to the Lord. It rejoices in God’s presence in the lives of the faithful. It celebrates the ways that God has been present in times of need and with those who are on the margins. In our faith journey we have experienced God’s presence throughout the highs and lows and during all that falls in between these extremes.

In verse two we read, “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.” There is a commitment to praising God in all things and at all times. No matter what life is bringing, the psalmist chooses to praise the Lord. There is also a warning in these verses for today. In verse three we are reminded, “Do not put your trust in princes” – or in any other earthly thing for that matter. Rulers die and return to dust. Possessions and wealth only get us so far. Beauty and popularity fade. The plans that we make “come to nothing” when our lives end here on earth. This world, this life with all its trappings, is only temporary.

With an eye on the eternal, the psalmist calls us to “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, o my soul.” We do so because we are assured of God’s victory over sin and death. We do so because we are assured of our place in God’s kingdom, both now and into forevermore. We do so because we are assured of God’s constant and abiding presence. Yes, today and every day may we praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, when I turn to you, you are always there. When I’ve wandered and make my way back to you, you are always there. When I struggle and cry out to you, you are always there. In the stars or sunrise or thunder, I am reminded that you are always there. In the middle of the routine of everyday life, in the smallest of ways, you remind me that you are always there. Thank you Lord for your presence in my life. Amen.