pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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See? Recognize? Heed?

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

The prophet Malachi was sent by God to the Levites, the priests. They were offering imperfect animals on the altar – the blind, the diseased, the crippled. The priests had turned from God’s ways and had “caused many to stumble.” Malachi admonishes them and tells of a coming day of judgment. As I consider God’s case against the priests, I wonder what words Malachi would relay to us today. Is our offering similar to theirs? Do we give to God a portion dedicated up front or do we wait to the end of the month to see what we have left that we can spare? Do we always live an upright and holy life or do we fall into gossip circles and other sins that diminish our witness?

Beginning in chapter three God lays out the plan for change. The detestable and unfaithful behaviors will come to an end. In verse one the Lord Almighty says, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” About 400 years later the messenger will come. John the Baptist will offer a baptism of repentance, calling the people of God to a holy and faithful life. Although it is more comfortable and much easier to stay where we are at, to pretend that our faith is okay, to act as if we have no sin in our lives, the messenger draws crowds. John spoke to the hole in people’s hearts that only God can fill. Many came to confess and repent, to be baptized and cleansed. The people saw their imperfections and longed for a deeper, better, stronger faith. They saw their need and responded to the one preparing the way for the Lord.

Do we see our need for God? Do we recognize our imperfections? Are we willing to heed the words of the prophet? Will we humbly approach the Lord of mercy and grace, seeking to be made new again?

Prayer: Lord God, give me an honest walk of faith. Open my eyes to my areas of darkness and sin. Shine your light on my failures and imperfections. Pour out your grace and mercy, drawing me closer to you. Amen.


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Him Alone

Reading: Mark 13: 5-8

Verse 5: “Watch out that no one deceives you.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Returning to Mark 13 we receive the “explanation” for verses one through four. In these verses Jesus tells the disciples that “not one stone” from the temple will be left standing. The temple and all other earthly things – buildings, reputations, wealth, status – all will be no more one day. Also not entering God’s eternal glory will be things like injustice, pain, oppression, favoritism…

In verse five Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” In religion there will always be those with claims. Before Jesus’ time and ever since there have been “prophets” and prophets. Many have come in Jesus’ name, proclaiming the good news. Many hearing Jesus’ words this day will proclaim the gospel. The warning Jesus gives is two-fold. Many will come with false gospels. Some will try and form cults of personality. Others will preach things like politics and the prosperity gospel – just vote my way or just give enough and God will bless you.

There will also be those that tell you that wealth equals success, that material gain equals God’s blessing. Some will tell you that they can cure all your ills if you will just… Some will promise happiness and others inner peace. But with all these there is always a catch – it is more about them than Jesus Christ. That name may play a secondary role. That’s always the first litmus test. There is only one to follow as Lord of our life.

Today and every day may we seek Jesus Christ and him alone. In Jesus we find the only way, truth, and life. His is the only path that leads to eternal life. His is the truth that brings us joy, contentment, grace… May we follow Jesus Christ alone, our rock and our redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, may all my steps, all my desires, all of me follow you. Protect me from false narratives and empty words. Be my foundation and my shield. Amen.


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Abundant Rains

Reading: Joel 2: 21-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Crystal Huff

The prophet Joel is like many other Old Testament prophets. Sent by God to call the people back into right relationship with God, he came with a message of repentance. The locusts that have ravaged Israel are the result of sinful idol worship. Joel calls the people to “put on sackcloth” and to “declare a holy fast.” He implores the people to “rend your hearts” – to tear them away from idols and to turn once again to God. As the book works towards today’s reading, Joel speaks of God driving the enemy away.

In our text for today Joel reminds the people that “the Lord has done great things.” Yes, God is faithful. As a sign Joel points to the signs of God’s returning favor: greening pastures and trees and vines beginning to bear fruit. God is still there. Yes, the nation’s sins have brought hardship and suffering. But God is still there. Even when all seems lost, even when it feels like things couldn’t get any worse – look, God is still here. It is that kind word spoken in our time of need. It is that quiet presence that reminds us that we are not alone. Even in the trial and suffering, there are signs of God’s presence.

As we have walked through the valleys we have felt like God was not there. We may have even felt that the consequences were the result of our sinful actions. At times we’ve all said or done things that have brought just suffering upon ourselves. In these moments or seasons it is important to remember God’s promises. God is still our God. God is still in control. If we also rend our hearts towards God as we repent of our evil ways, then God will green up the pastures and send abundant healing rains. God is faithful. Our response to God’s faithfulness will be to praise Gods name. And “then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness extends to all generations. Your love and mercy never ends. When I falter and stumble, when I sin, gently call me back again. May your abundant mercies wash away my sin, restoring me back into your presence. Amen.


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Rebuking Jesus

Reading: Mark 8: 27-33

Verse 32: “Jesus spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

As our time in Mark 8 begins today we walk along with Jesus. Along the way he asks the disciples who people say he is. They respond with Moses, Elijah, some other prophet. The general population sees Jesus as one sent by God. That much is revealed in the wisdom of his teachings and in the miracles he offers. Turning next to those who know him best Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” It is Peter who answers, “You are the Christ.” For those of us who know Jesus well, how would we respond to this question? Like Peter we too might name Jesus the Christ or the Messiah. Or we might say he is Lord, redeemer, Savior.

And sometimes we, like Peter, can demonstrate a clear lack of understanding or have a failure of faith just moments after proclaiming Jesus is Lord, Savior, Messiah… Jesus explains to the disciples that he will suffer and be rejected, that he will die, and that he will rise after three days. In verse 32 we read, “Jesus spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Well, the end of Jesus’ ministry did not match Peter’s vision for what the Messiah should be.

All of what Jesus explained was necessary for Jesus to be the kind of Messiah we need and not just the kind we want. Who or what I want Jesus to be does not always align with who and what Jesus really is. When I’m in just the right mood, I too can begin to rebuke Jesus for not doing what I want or for letting me experience this thing I don’t want to. We have all gone down that road. We’ve all done what Peter did.

In those moments we too are guilty of having in mind “the things of the world” and not “the things of God”. In those moments we want our way, not God’s way. As we heard yesterday in James’ words, “this should not be.” As we continue in Mark 8 tomorrow, Jesus offers guidance in how it should be. As we go with Jesus today, may our walk be faithful and true.

Prayer: Lord God, you gave us the example of how to walk faithfully within God’s will and ways. When the voice of the world rises up, send your Holy Spirit to remind me of my call to follow you. Draw me into faithful discipleship. Amen.


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Even in This

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 10-20

Verse 18: “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

After God acquiesces to the people’s request for a king, God gives some words of warning to the people. Yes, a king can bring stability and leadership and authority to the nation. Yes, a king can negotiate with other kings and can lead the troops out into battle when needed. A king can fight for the people! But a king can also demand or, at times, take when the demands are not met. A king can call for military service and can seize land, crops, livestock, and servants. A king can tax the people to support his reign. A judge or prophet would never do any of these things. The leader that the people reject, God, would never do any of these things. Yet the people want a king.

All of this, both the good and the bad, comes true as king after king leads Israel. Reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, we see that God is right. There are more bad kings than good kings. The fate and the lives of the people rise or fall under the leadership of each king. Yet even though the people reject God in favor of a king, God remains engaged. Even though God grants them this autonomy, God does not abandon his children. God continues to send prophets to guide and redirect and shepherd these kings. God even chooses the first few kings.

God leads you and me in the same way. God does not force us to love and obey him or to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God engages us, the Spirit leads and guides us. But we are free to choose our own kings, our own gods. God allows us free will, just as he did with the Israelites. God warned them, saying, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”. When leadership is oppressive, selfish, authoritarian… God will allow them to learn their lesson. In time God will respond to their cries. We too experience this process. We have to endure a consequence for our poor choices. God will always forgive us when we’re repentant. But our poor choices and bad behaviors often impact others, creating ramifications. We too must go through a refining and learning process. Even in this, God is at work. Thanks be to God for loving us enough to always be there on the other side.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love always leads and informs. Your love is greater than our limitations and failures. We are ever a work in progress. You are so patient, so faithful, ever true. What a wonderful God you are! Amen.


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Fit for Service??

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”.

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today and tomorrow we read of God’s call on Isaiah’s life. In the opening chapters of the book of Isaiah the case is laid out for why the Israelites desperately need a prophet to speak God’s word to them. They are the “people of unclean lips” that Isaiah lives among.

As the story of his call opens in chapter six Isaiah finds himself face to face with God Almighty. The Lord is on the throne and “the train of his robe fills the temple”. The Lord is a very big presence in Isaiah’s vision. All around the Lord are seraphs, amazing creatures with six wings. Covering their faces and their feet in reverance to the Lord, they sing of God’s holiness and glory. Their worship is so powerful that the heavens shake and smoke fills the temple. Isaiah’s response is honest and raw. He is both humbled and afraid to be in God’s presence.

In verse five we hear Isaiah’s response: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”. If I were to come face to face with God, I don’t think my reaction would be much different. When the imperfect encounters the perfect, when the limited encounters the limitless, it is natural to want to shrink back, to want to become invisible. The contrast is just so great. And yet God chose to bring Isaiah into his presence. God saw Isaiah not as imperfect or limited or as sinful but as one worthy of service in the kingdom of God.

Like Isaiah, you and I are people of unclean lips. You and I live among a people of unclean lips, in a nation that has drifted from the Lord. God does not look at us and see failure or sin or imperfection. He looks at you and me and sees another fit for service in building the kingdom of God. Draw into his presence, how will we respond?

Prayer: Lord God, I marvel that you can use even me. Long a man of unclean lips and one that still stumbles now and then, you still chose me. You drew me into your presence, you began to work in me. Thankfully you saw more within me than I did and you’ve been drawing that out. Please continue to work in me and to use me as you will. Amen.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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Big Plans

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah 49 begins with Isaiah’s call. Before he was born God called him. Prophet is his destiny. Isaiah was God’s voice – “a sharpened sword”. He was God’s servant, “in whom I will display my splendor”. He was filled with confidence and felt God with him. And then he experienced what Moses and other prophets experienced – the people were stubborn and willful. Beginning in verse four, we can see that Isaiah hit the proverbial “wall”. He sees no purpose, he feels like he has spent his strength in vain, “for nothing”. God did not leave Isaiah here. We too can feel spent and like we’ve been treading water, getting nowhere. Like Isaiah, we focus back inward, we begin our own pity party.

God does not leave his servant Isaiah here. He will not leave us there either. God’s plans are always greater. His plans so often exceed our vision or dreams. In verse six God says, “It’s too small a thing” to simply have Isaiah help restore Jacob and Israel. No, no. Continuing, God proclaims, “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. Yes, the prophet Isaiah will help lead Israel home, out of exile. But he and his words will also be a part of the salvation of the whole world. God’s plans go far beyond Isaiah and Israel. Ultimately, God’s love and saving grace will extend to the whole world.

Where are you feeling stuck? In what situation do you feel like you’re not having an impact? Our faith is often like Isaiah’s. We question, we doubt, we feel ineffective or adrift. And like with Isaiah, God will use us as a light to the lost and as part of bringing salvation to the broken and hurting. God is faithful. God has big plans for you and for me. We were born to be a child of God. May we step out in faith and trust, knowing that God leads the way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I question, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I doubt, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I fear, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I feel less than, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I am tired and worn, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Fill me, O God, use me for your glory. Amen.


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The Sovereign Lord

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah has many layers to it. Much of the Bible is written in this way. It spoke to the people of Isaiah’s day, it spoke to the people of Jesus’ day, and it speaks to us. Today’s passage is one of four “Servant Songs” – four writings that can be read and meditated upon from the perspectives of Isaiah and Israel as well as from that of Christ and Christianity. For example, the one given the “instructed tongue” and who is “wakened morning by morning” to listen to God was originally Isaiah and his prophetic words were applied to Israel. These same words are connected to Jesus and therefore are applied to Christians past, present, and future.

Prophets have always reminded the faithful of God’s will and ways and have ever called the people back when they have wandered and sinned. Isaiah spoke the word of God to Israel, guiding them out of exile and back into right relationship with God. In turn, the nation of Israel sought to be the “light upon the hill”, revealing God to the peoples living all around them.

Isaiah embodied the idea of a suffering servant. Verse six encapsulates this sacrificial service. Many years later this same verse would be applied to Jesus and the newly forming Christian faith. Like Isaiah, Jesus “offered his back to those who beat me” and he “did not hide my face from mocking and spitting”. Just as Isaiah claimed power and voice in God’s name, so too did Jesus. The words of verse seven apply equally: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

The Servant Songs remain a call to the family of God. The word of God and the teachings of Jesus continue to instruct us, to sustain us, to guide us. As we take in, study, and apply the word we become people of love and justice and mercy and salvation. We begin to take on the role of suffering servant as we minister to a world in need. The more we follow the way of Christ, the more we hear his instructions, the more we awaken day by day with listening ears, the more we offer our back to those who oppress and abuse – the more we draw the kingdom of God near in our own hearts and in the lives of those in our world. The sovereign Lord remains with us. May we ever be his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for pouring out your word each morning, for wakening my heart to your light and love. In times of suffering may I never waver. May I ever trust in you, knowing that you are working to bring all things together. Amen.


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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.