pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Walking Into Places and Spaces

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Photo credit: Lili Popper

As we begin this week we enter into the end of Epiphany, the season that focuses in on the revelation of Jesus Christ. In this season we highlight who and what Jesus is. Our call, however, is to reveal Jesus Christ to the world every day of our faith journey. It is fitting that this season culminates on Transfiguration Sunday, when the Christ is filled with light, revealing him in all of his glory. In each passage this week we enter into the thin spaces of holiness, into the places where God is at work.

As 2nd Kings opens there is turmoil in the land. The king tries to consult Baal, one of the local pagan gods. Elijah, God’s prophet, condemns this action and proclaims that the king will die. It is also time for Elijah to end his earthly life and to cede the role of prophet to Elisha. After clearly demonstrating that God is with him, Elijah comes down the mountain to walk out his final steps. Three times Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, seeking to spare him. Each time they arrive at a new place, the local prophets come out and tell Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah from him. Three times Elisha asks them not to speak of it. Each time Elijah tries to leave him behind Elisha says, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. He will not abandon Elijah. He will continue to walk faithfully with him. Elisha chooses to walk into that thin space with Elijah. As he walks through that space, Elisha is transformed from protege to prophet, from student to master, from one who follows to one who leads others into God’s presence.

As believers we too will face times when the Holy Spirit invites us to walk into those thin spaces, into those holy places. We will be called to be the presence of God in the lives of others. We will be asked to walk with another on a difficult journey. We will be asked to sit or pray with another in a time of pain or loss. We will be asked to share our faith and our hope with another who is lost or broken. In these sacred moments we will be called by the Holy Spirit, asked to be the very presence of God to another. Yes, it is scary and hard to step into those places and spaces. We do not go alone. The one who invites goes with us. The Spirit is ever present, ever ready to reveal the power of God’s love, peace, hope, power… through us. As we feel ourselves called and as we stand on the doorstep to these holy and sacred moments, may we too say, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Prayer: Lord God, each time that I have stepped into that thin space, you have been right there with me. Your Spirit leads and guides, strengthens and encourages. Each experience has been holy and sacred. Yet each first step is always hard. It ever requires trust and faith. Continue to give me the courage and belief to step into those places and spaces. Walk with me day by day. Amen.


Leave a comment

Impact

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 7-13

Verse 9: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”.

In the second half of our 1st Corinthians 8 passage, Paul reveals how our behavior can affect other believers. Some of the mature believers in the community of faith were comfortable eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. They may have been eating at an event in the temple or they may have purchased meat in the market that had been used in a temple sacrifice. To these mature believers, idols were meaningless so eating this meat was fine. But to the new believers, to those who were not far removed from worshipping these idols, this practice was a “stumbling block”. If a new believer ate of this meat, their conscience would get the best of them. They felt like they had defiled themselves. If they chose to abstain and felt guilt or weakness for needing to abstain when others in the church were partaking, this would weaken their faith. Paul says to the mature: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”. He is asking them to do this for the benefit of their new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Today we must be aware of potentially questionable situations that may also make a new believer stumble. For example, we would not want to talk up or invite a newly recovered person to join us in our bar ministry. If we knew someone had just left behind a sex addiction, we might do harm if we invited them to help in our outreach to sex workers. If we were aware of these conflicts and we asked anyway, we would be doing what those eating food sacrificed to idols were doing. We must also be aware of how our personal decisions and behaviors might adversely affect other believers.

There is a second layer to today’s reading that we as Christians and we as churches must also pay attention to. The mature in Corinth were not demonstrating concern for others. They were meeting their needs, doing their thing without regard for others. Although not explicit in the text, there must have been some conversations or some signal of their felt superiority and inferiority surrounding the eating of this food. Today we use “encouragements” like “if you just had enough faith” or “just trust God” that are hurtful to those new to the faith or to those struggling with their faith. Here we are not building up in love. Love would call us to be present, to listen, to walk with that person, to offer empathy.

Whether by our words or by our example, may we be mindful of our impact on others. May all we do and say build others up in love, for the glory of God and for the building of the kingdom.

Prayer: Lord God, make me aware of my impact. Use me for good in the world. Pull me up short when my example or my words have negative impacts. Guide me to build your kingdom here. Amen.


Leave a comment

Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Lord’s Servant

Reading: Luke 1: 26-38

Verse 38: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said”.

As Gabriel appears to Mary he tells her that she is “highly favored”. The creator of the universe, the author of all life, the one true God looks upon Mary and covers her in grace and blessing. Because of this Gabriel says, “The Lord is with you”. This is both a present and a future promise of God’s presence with Mary. All of this is awesome news for Mary. But they are unusual words to Mary and she is troubled, wondering about what all of this means.

Gabriel explains that God’s favor means that she has been selected to bear a very special child who will be “the Son of the Most High”. This child of God will be given the throne of David and will reign forever. The long awaited one will be born of the Spirit and of the flesh. This is a lot to take in, to wrap her head and heart around. To provide time and space for all of this to sink in and process Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth, although barren and well past child bearing years, is also with child. As a relative, Mary would have known of Elizabeth’s disgrace over not being able to have a child. Gabriel closes his side of the conversation with these words: “For nothing is impossible with God”.

Mary responds with humility and understanding. She responds. Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said”. Mary has found favor with God and accepts what God has to offer. She is willing to be a part of God’s plan. She steps forward in faith. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, you continue to speak through your word and through the Holy Spirit. You continue to pour out favor upon your people and to call them into service. May I respond as Mary did: humbly and faithfully. 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

Our Dwelling Place

Reading: Psalm 90: 1-6

Verse 1: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”.

Growing up I lived in a few different places – two in South Dakota, two in Virginia, one in Florida, and two in Connecticut. Each place brought new friends and new experiences. From third grade through graduate school Connecticut was home for me. Almost thirty years ago my wife and I moved to South Dakota. We have lived in seven homes in four different communities. Each town has been unique but all have been in South Dakota and this place is now our home. Add in time at college and seminary and I have many more places that have been at least temporary homes. I have found that for me, home is much more than a physical place. It is that, but it is more about those that are there that make it home.

Psalm 90 opens with this great line: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”. Since Adam drew his first breath, humankind has been invited to be in a personal relationship with God. As our “dwelling place”, no matter where we are physically, we can experience God’s presence. Places like the sanctuary at church may feel like the place we most naturally encounter God, but our places to dwell with God are certainly not limited to our churches. Just as God is “everlasting”, God is also everywhere present. We can turn to God anywhere we are to draw upon his love, strength, care, guidance, comfort…

The last few verses of today’s passage remind us that, as humans, we are temporary. At some point we will all “return to dust”. Compared to God, our own sense of time is so limited. We think 80 or 90 years is a long time. But as the psalmist reminds us, “a thousand years… are like a day” to God. Our earthly lives are so short compared to God’s eternity. Yet, in this we also know that when our physical bodies return to dust, our spirits go on to dwell with God in his eternal presence. Heaven will one day be our forever home. It too will be all about who we are with. There the Lord and his light and love will be our dwelling place. What a glorious day that will be! Until then, may we be his light and love here on earth, bringing a bit of his kingdom to bear on this world.

Prayer: Lord God, you will ever be my God. Eternity is the goal that I press on towards. Here, keep me on the path. Along the way, help me to always be an example of your light and love. Amen.


Leave a comment

In and With Christ

Reading: Matthew 18: 18-20

Verse 20: “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”.

Today’s verses remind us that if we seek to make Jesus a part of our decisions, our actions, and our prayers, then he will be there with us. Coming out of his teaching on the process of seeking reconciliation with a brother or sister in Christ, Jesus reminds us that what we bind on earth (or loose) will be bound (or loosed) in heaven. That is pretty serious. Yet when we have walked the process and have covered it in prayer, we are assured of the outcome.

Walking the process, staying attuned to Jesus’ teachings and witness, covering it all in prayer – these steps form the foundation of verse nineteen as well. If we gather with our brothers and/or sisters in Christ and we come to a decision that has been covered in Christ, then we are told that God in heaven will respond. Again, the condition is the same. In the last verse we read, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”. When we gather in Jesus’ name to discern the will of God or to bring our righteous prayers to God, then Jesus is always there. There is power in aligning ourselves with God and in inviting Jesus and his witness into our discussions, decisions, and actions. Jesus will shape and guide all we do when gathered as his disciples and as children of God.

As need arises may we gather physically with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with Christ himself in Spirit, trusting the Father to lead and guide and bless all we do and say and pray. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving Father, help me to always seek your will and your ways first and foremost. Lead me to like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ that we may seek your guidance together. Strengthen the community of faith through our communal prayers. Make us alive in you. Amen.


Leave a comment

When God Calls…

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verses 4-5: “God called, ‘Moses, Moses’! And Moses said, ‘Here I am’… God said, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy ground'”.

Today we hear the beginning of Moses’ call story. It is God’s first direct reach out to Moses. God has certainly been present in Moses’ life – guiding Pharaoh’s daughter to find the basket and to be moved by compassion. God was there when Moses stood up for his kinfolk and was there guiding him to flee, preserving his life. We all encounter God in similar ways. God closes and opens doors for us, for example, to help guide our lives. God’s Holy Spirit leads us in our decisions of both action and inaction. God is always present and engaged in our daily lives. Out tending the flock, God comes close to Moses.

There on Mount Horeb, we read, “God called, ‘Moses, Moses'”! God called and Moses responded. Prerequisite one to being called is to have a relationship with God. Moses knew God and he recognized that it was God calling. The next necessary step is the response: “Here I am”. Like I do from time to time, Moses could have skipped this step. The burning bush probably helped. I too pay better attention to God when something in my life is on fire. But not always. In the day to day of life – especially in the day to day of life – when I am out there tending to the ordinary, I can miss the extraordinary. Moses is told that he has come close enough. As the story continues, God says, “Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy ground”. The sand and rocks there on the mountain were not holy because of themselves. They were holy because of a holy God’s presence.

We also can encounter God in the ordinary, in the regular places that become holy because God has shown up. It can be in nature – by a pure mountain lake, beside the ocean, on a path through the wildflowers. It can be in a church. But it can also be in the grocery store aisle or at a concert or event. Our limitless God is not bound by time or physical spaces. Anywhere and anytime we can experience the holy. Our questions are these: when God calls our name, are we attuned enough to hear and are we courageous enough to say, “Here I am, Lord”?

Prayer: Omnipotent and omnipresent God, keep my eyes wide open and my heart fully in touch with you. Guide the Holy Spirit within me to lead me to walk in your ways and to practice your will and purposes for my life. May it be so. Amen.


Leave a comment

Pause to Praise

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6

Verse 4: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”.

Today’s Psalm is a song of remembrance and celebration. As a whole the Psalm recounts God’s covenants with Israel and the period in Egypt. It is part of the story of God’s ongoing faithfulness to Israel. The song would be sung as a way to help remember God’s love for his people. Most often it would be a song of worship and praise, but sometimes it also served to lift up their faith and spirit in times of personal or communal trial or testing or suffering.

Verse one begins with giving thanks to God for all that he has done. The charge is to make this “known among the nations”. The next two verses are about singing praises and bringing glory to God. Again, the context is to “tell of all his wonderful acts”. These ideas of making God known among all the nations and of sharing what God has done for us continues to be our charge as we seek to fulfill Jesus’ commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

As we turn to verse four we are reminded that our faith is not just rooted in the past. The past is our foundation and the future is our hope, but we live in the present. In verse four we read, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”. We remember God’s mighty acts from both the word of God and from our own faith journeys to build upon our foundation of faith. This base allows us to live day by day, looking to the Lord for strength and seeking his presence with an assurance that God will be there for us. We come to learn that the Lord was, is, and always will be present to and for us. Remembering and praising God for our experience with this truth builds up our faith.

As the psalmist reminds us to “remember the wonders… the miracles” that God has done, may we pause to praise God today for the ways he has touched our lives. In our own way may we each rejoice in God’s love today.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, in the word I find the unfolding story of your love for us. Thank you for the stories and teachings that encourage me, that lift me, that grow my faith. On my journey you have been a constant presence. Yet some points stand out – in a church balcony, in an ER room, in a prayer space. They are easy to identify – milestones. But even in the day to day your love and mercy remember me. They touch my life each day. In the small and mundane, even there I find you. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

Share the Story

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-5

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord… make known among the nations what he has done”.

Just as today’s Psalm is a method to remember all that God has done for Israel, we too should often recall what the Lord has done for us. The Israelites recounted the stories of God’s love and action and they told them over and over. Each generation and people coming into the faith would know the story of God and faith. In telling the stories they built up one another’s faith and found a deeper connection to God in their own trials and struggles. Our personal experiences of God’s love and action are also important moments in our faith journeys. Such experiences are scattered throughout our lives.

There was the time in my junior year of high school, when we were praying for a friend involved in a horrific car accident, when I felt God’s presence in the church balcony. There was the time about six years ago, when present in the hospital room when a man passed, when I saw a group of lights hovering over us in the corner of the room before his soul flew away. There are other smaller but no less significant moments when God was fully and tangibly present in times of worship, in moments on mission trips, in a prayer room at a Promise Keepers event. Each of these connection points with God built my faith. But they are not just for me. As I recall them and write or talk about them, I am doing what the psalmist is doing. When you remember your God moments and share them with others, you too are building up your faith and the faith of others. We are living into the psalmist’s words: “Give thanks to the Lord… make known among the nations what he has done”.

Many years later Jesus used similar words to give the great commission. Our call, no, our task as followers of Jesus Christ is to share the story. We are commanded to tell the good news of what Jesus Christ has done – both during his ministry and in all the years since – even those that include our lives. As we each consider the wonderful things that God has done, may we each be moved to share our stories of faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the moments when faith has been so personal, when you have drawn so close to me that I could feel you. Give me words to share these experiences with others, helping them to become aware of your presence in their lives. Amen.