pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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It Is I

Reading: John 6: 16-21

Verse 21: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

As we return to John 6 we see the disciples in a tough spot. The wind was howling and the waves were crashing. Three hours from shore, bailing water, rowing furiously – not a good place to be. And here comes Jesus, walking to them, across the water. It is interesting that when they see Jesus approaching “they were terrified”.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my life gets messy. Sometimes it is because I have too much going on and the wind and waves are about to overwhelm me. Sometimes it is because of a choice I have made or am making – I just want to hide in the darkness. In these situations and more, I can recognize the disciples’ fear. I don’t want Jesus to see my mess or the choices made to create distance between us. Have you been there too? And yet Jesus speaks to me and to you just as he did to the disciples: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Jesus isn’t afraid to enter our mess or even our darkness. He works to bring us back to shore because he loves us and wants to be with us. The wind and the waves still; the light causes the darkness to flee. Suddenly we are where we need to be, walking with our Lord and Savior. May we rejoice today in the Lord who walks through it all, drawing us back into his loving presence again and again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you pursue me out of love. Your love is a no-matter-what love. Grow in me, O God, so that I may reflect that love for myself and for others. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Encountering Jesus

Reading: Mark 6: 30-34

Verse 34: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”.

Today’s passage begins with the disciples telling Jesus all about their mission trip. They were excited about the teaching and healing that they had done. Soon the buzz would wear off and the exhaustion would set in. Jesus wants to take them to a quiet place to recuperate. Jesus and the disciples finally get away and head for a solitary place across the lake. But, alas, the people see them and run ahead of the boat. A large crowd gathers. It is not such a solitary place.

Perhaps Jesus will send the crowd away? No, that’s not Jesus. We read: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. That’s the first lesson for us. Even when we have other agendas, even when we have other plans – take the time to see those before you, those in need. Allow compassion and love to lead your decisions and actions. There’s another lesson too: be the crowd. Recognize Jesus and pursue him. Acknowledge your need. Meet him where you can and welcome him when he steps into your life. At times we are all lost – like sheep without a shepherd. May we all encounter Jesus Christ today.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see you in my life today. Make me a willing recipient of all you have to teach me. Amen.


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A New Covenant

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

In Jeremiah 31 we see that God is a covenant God. Our passage opens with God promising a new covenant. In verse 31 we read, “The time is coming…” The Lord then references the last covenant – the one given as God led them out of slavery in Egypt. Here the covenant relationship takes on the husband-wife analogy. God led the Israelites to freedom as a husband would lead his wife, gently taking her by the hand and walking with her. During the time in the wilderness God was a constant companion to the Israelites. God guided and protected and provided for Israel. Despite this intimate and personal relationship, Israel wandered soon thereafter. They worshiped other gods, forgetting all that God had done for them.

Instead of breaking the relationship and moving on from Israel, God declares that he will make a new covenant, a better covenant. Instead of writing the covenant on stone tablets, God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. The covenant will shift from external to internal. God’s ways will be in our mind and on our heart. The new covenant will be mediated through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will internalize God’s ways in heart and mind and soul.

Even with such an extraordinary gift, we too can become like the Israelites at times. We forget our true love and chase after the gods and idols of this world. We allow other things to supplant our primary relationship with God. Yet our covenant God remains, continuing to say ‘I love you’ over and over. Instead of allowing the distance that we create to define the relationship, God pursues us, draws us back into relationship. No matter our response, God still says, ‘I love you’. God remains our God. We are his people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Covenant God, you love me far beyond what I can even begin to comprehend. Your love goes on and on and on. My love for you is fragile, tenuous, limited. Yet you love me without reserve, without condition. What a wonderful example you give me to follow. Lead me in your love, O God. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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The Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 13: “You also were included in Christ… Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”.

The opening section of Ephesians is all about God’s plans to include us all in the family of God. Paul begins by declaring that God chose us to be in Christ “before the creation of the world”. It is in “accordance with his pleasure and will” that all people are “adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ”. God desires for all people to be a part of the community of faith.

Starting in verse seven Paul moves on to why and how God wants us in the family. First, only then do we receive redemption for our sins. Out of love God provided a way for us to be freed from the bonds of sin. Without Christ we remain trapped in the guilt and shame. Second, God lavishes us with wisdom and understanding. The ways of God are not the ways of the world. This gift allows believers to live and see and love the world differently. Created anew in Christ, we pursue the things and ways of God instead of the world. Third, in relationship with Christ we become a part of the fulfillment of all things. Living holy lives we are a part of bringing “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. As part of the family, we seek to help bring others into the family of God.

About three years ago I was serving a church in a small rural community. The hospital called and asked if I would come visit an elderly woman who was nearing death. Soon after arriving I learned from her daughters that she wanted to be baptized. As I left to get the needed supplies, I asked if she wanted to receive communion after being baptized. She nodded “yes”. When I returned we had a short baptism service for a 93-year-old. She had come to know Jesus as Lord later in life but had never been baptized. She knew of Paul’s words: “you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. Feeling a new sense of belonging, this deposit “guaranteeing her inheritance” led to celebrating holy communion in a new way too.

Taken together, all of the signs and symbols, all the wisdom and knowledge, all the blessings and graces – they reassure us of our place in the community of faith. Thanks be to God for the love that is big enough to want all of us to be saved. To the praise of his glory, amen!

Prayer: Loving God, you so want to include all people in your family. Use me today to move someone a little closer to being a part of the great community of faith. Amen.


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Intercessors

Reading: Exodus 32: 7-14

Verses 9-10: “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”.

Yesterday we read about the making of and worshipping of the golden calf. Today we hear God’s response and the rest of the story. As God looks down upon the revelry, he sends Moses back down the mountain. God notes that the people have “become corrupt” and that they were “quick to turn away” from all that he has commanded. There is an anger that is beginning to build. The emotions in his voice and the decibel level must have changed as God continues, saying, “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”. The first part of this statement certainly remains true, at least concerning me. I am stubborn and willful. Maybe you too? And, sometimes, we might not cause God’s anger to burn, but we at least quicken his pulse or cause that vein to pop out on occasion. At this point in Israel’s wilderness journey, God is ready to “destroy” the whole lot, to start over with just Moses.

As I consider how the people got God to this point, I am cognizant of many times when I have probably done the same. I have worshipped idols. No, I have not literally danced around a man-made image in the wilderness. I have done worse. I have definitely allowed the things of the world to take the place of God at times in my life. I have pursued wealth and titles, recognition and wins on the court – all to the neglect of my relationship with God. We all have our lists. God’s anger must burn against us at times. God must feel like destroying us at times. But the punishment does not come raining down from heaven. We too have an intercessor, an advocate, one who speaks for us. Just as Moses stands between God and the execution of his anger and wrath, Jesus stands between God and us. Jesus speaks words of empathy and compassion, of love and understanding. Some of the time, Jesus probably has to remind God, “I already paid the price”.

In the end, God relents and the journey towards the Promised Land continues. Grace wins. Grace continues to win in our lives as well. Thanks be to God for our intercessor, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I, like those living in the wilderness, am so grateful for your mercy and grace. Each time I deserve punishment, your love lived out stands in my defense. His sacrifice allows me to be made new again. Over and over. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Arise, Beloved

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

The Song of Songs is about love. On the literal level it is the story of young love, of courtship, of desire. In today’s six verses we see the beloved, the young woman, being sought by her lover. Twice in today’s passage he calls out, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. The earth itself is coming to life as spring begins. The flowers and vines are blossoming, the doves coo, the figs begin to form. Life is bursting all around. The two lovers can sense the energy in creation and want to be a part of that.

In the metaphorical sense, the Song of Songs is the story of how God seeks to be in relationship with us. This relationship is also built upon love. God’s love is not the “I love my brother” kind of love from childhood. It is not the pinky swear “I’ll do anything for my BFF” kind of adolescent love. It is not even the wild and passionate love of two twenty somethings who have fallen madly in love. Even this love pales in comparison to the love that God desires to lavish upon us. God’s love is unconditional, unfailing, unending. The best of human love is conditional, fickle, wavering.

God pursues us like the young man pursues his love. God leaps the mountains, walks across the seas, peers through any opening that he can find, calling out to each of us, his beloved. Today, be aware of how God is calling out to you, seeking to deepen your relationship with him. Will you arise and go with God?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, make me aware of each way that you reach out to me today. Create in me a sensitive heart, a willing heart. Help me to take in and to pour out your love this day. Amen.


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Walk in the Light of Christ

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verse 14: “Wake up, o sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”.

As we come to the fourth Sunday in Lent we have been on a journey since Ash Wednesday. Over the course of these 21 days we have sought to look within, to identify that which hinders our relationships with God and with one another. Today’s passage speaks of light and darkness. These elements have always been a part of who we are and of our journey of faith.

Before we became a follower of Jesus Christ we did live in the darkness. Once we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, his light shown in our lives, bit by bit exposing our darkness. His light continues to expose our selfish and sinful desires and deeds. Still, every once in a while, we try and turn our backs and seek to please self instead of God. We know well what Paul speaks of when he mentions being shameful and disobedient.

Over the course of our Lenten journey we have been reminded again and again of what is pleasing and holy and true. As our desire to pursue these things – the things of God – increases, our worldly desires slowly die. In this process the light shines brighter and brighter and it becomes less tempting to turn our backs against God. Being in the light brings us joy. It is a journey to get to that place.

Paul ends today’s passage, probably quoting from Isaiah, with these words: “Wake up, o sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. May we ever walk in the light of Christ, fully aware of our sinful nature that leads to death. May we ever turn to Christ, allowing his light to lead and guide us.

Prayer: Father God, when I do slip or begin to wander, send the light of Jesus Christ blazing into my heart and mind. Shine your light into my life, drawing me back into your love. Amen.