pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Come

Reading: Psalm 137

Verse 4: “How can I sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

Psalm 137 is a reflection on what has befallen God’s people. Like our reading from Lamentations 1, the Psalm is about Babylon’s invasion and the physical and emotional devastation that it caused. But these words today are not words of lament. They are words of anger. The psalmist is not yet to the place of lament. The author is still at an early stage in the emotional process of dealing with the suffering and pain. To me, it is awesome that we have such honest examples of our humanity in the Bible.

Sometimes we feel like our prayers to God have to be all neat and polished and pretty. Sometimes we think that our prayers should be safe and kept on an upbeat note. While there is definitely a place for these kinds of prayers, our prayers must first reflect our hearts. The psalmist was angry and bitter and that is what spews out at God in these words. There are even pleas for revenge and pay back. How could the psalmist say such things to God? He or she can because God is intimately known. The psalmist knows that God wants us to come in prayer with everything. God wants the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. Why? Because God wants all of us. God wants to be present with us all of the time.

In verse 4 we read, “How can I sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” The psalmist is really asking: How can I walk with you, God, when I’m so angry and bitter? We might ask, how can I come to church or kneel in prayer when I’m so mad at God about ____? The good news is that God simply says, “Come.” We are invited to come as we are, no matter what. If that is just to sit and fume, that’s ok. If it is to pour out our unfiltered emotions, that’s ok. No matter what, God says, “Come.”

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful that I don’t have to dance around anything with you. I can bring anything, honestly and openly into our talks. You are a safe place for all that I am, even when I am a poor reflection of your son Jesus. Please continue to form and shape me, to work in me to bring me closer and closer to who you created me to be. Amen.


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Reflecting God?

Reading: Psalm 79:1-9

Verse 8: “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Psalm 79 begins with the plight of Israel. The temple has been defiled and the walls of Jerusalem torn down. Dead bodies decay in the streets. Israel is the object of scorn and ridicule – from the pagan nations around them. It is from this reality that the psalmist asks God, “How long?!” He wants to know how long Israel will suffer for the sins of the people.

In response to all that has befallen them, in verse 6, the psalmist invites God to pour out wrath upon these pagan nations – the ones that God has used to punish Israel for their unrepentant sins. From this perspective that would make no sense. That’d be like badmouthing and tearing down those across the aisle that you’re supposed to be serving with. It’d be like posting an inspiring Bible verse on Facebook and then a second later ripping into someone because they don’t see an issue the exact same way you do. Like the psalmist, we can turn in an instant, not connecting one dot to the next because it doesn’t suit our agenda or our purposes.

In verse 8 the psalmist pleads with God, saying, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” Can these words come on the heels of wishing destruction upon others? Can we beg mercy for ourselves and something else, something bad, for one not like us? When we do so we are not reflecting the image of God in us. God loves all of creation passionately and completely. To pray for devastation on another or to heap destruction upon others is to pour it out upon God. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, tame our tongues and rein in our overly impassioned emotions. Fill out spirit with your love and grace. Let these be the things that flow from our mouths and keyboard strokes. May we first see in all people the image of you. Amen.


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Lead in Light and Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:11-12 and 22-28

Verse 22: “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

As I read and reflect on these words in Jeremiah 4, there is a sadness. It is a sadness both for the people of God in Jeremiah’s day and a sadness for our time as well. In the opening two verses God tells Israel that a “scorching wind” is coming. It will not be to “winnow or cleanse” however. It is a destroying wind that comes from the north. In our time it feels like the scorching wind comes from the edges, from the extremes.

Verse 22 sums up the state of the people. Here God says, “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” This is quite the charge. The people of God have chosen idols over God, evil over good. They are now like “senseless children.” These words mirror our society today. Our nation as a whole has lost its connection to God and to faith. We have become like senseless children, intent on getting our own way, no matter who it hurts, not the least bit interested in other people’s perspectives. We, as a nation, have grown faithless, becoming polarized and divided along the way.

Verses 23-26 present an interesting image. Using the language of the creation story found in Genesis 1, here God deconstructs the story. It is a regression story now. Just as the people have regressed in their faith and in their actions, so too will the earth regress. The light, the people, the plants and animals – they will all be gone. All will be a desert, left in ruins. It is where that path of evil and selfish behavior leads – to death and destruction.

This image does not have to be the end of our collective story. We can learn to do good, to honor the other, to understand and value differing perspectives. We can once again seek to build up, choosing not to tear down and create division. We can extend a hand instead of a fist, a smile instead of a scowl. We, as the people of God, can lead, letting the light and love of God guide our words, thoughts, and actions. It is a choice. May we choose God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. You ever call us to living and walking as your children, reflecting your goodness into the world. Help us to change the world and its ways, making space for and truly valuing all people. Amen.


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“Hear this…”

Reading: Amos 8:1-6

Verse 4: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.”

Photo credit: Nick Sarro

We continue this week with Amos. Last week God used a plumb line to reveal how askew or crooked the Israelites had become. In this week’s reading from Amos 8, God reveals some details. As our passage opens, God shows Amos a basket of fruit. The fruit is ripe, maybe even appealing – at first glance. When one looks closer, however, one can see the rot along the edges. Using this analogy, God says, “The time is ripe for my people; I will spare them no longer.” We all know what happens when you leave rotting fruit in the bowl with good fruit. It will all go bad. It is time to deal with the rot.

In verse 4 God speaks to the rot: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.” The Sabbath is a farce. The powerful go through the motions, anxious for it to end so that they can return to making dishonest profits and to trading on the lives of the poor and needy. Selfishly living they ignored the needs of their brothers and sisters. We too can play these games. I’ve gone to church and spent the whole time thinking about that afternoon or the week ahead. I’ve given the homeless man a granola bar or a bottle of water while tightly clinging to that wad of cash in my pocket.

God declares that their songs will turn to wailing. Bodies will be strewn everywhere. This brings to mind recent images of responses to times when those with power have abused or oppressed those without power. Punishment will surely come for being selfish and ignoring the plight of those on the margins. God will not stand for such evil. What would Amos tell us about how we live and about how we treat those in need around us? How could we better reflect God’s heart for all people?

Prayer: Lord, guide my eyes to look beyond myself. Lead me to be more generous, more willing with all that you’ve blessed me with. Amen.


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Grounding Moments

Reading: Psalm 42

Verse 5: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Psalm 42 is written by the Sons of Korah. Korah was a Levite priest who led a rebellion against Moses, upset over Aaron being appointed to the role of high priest. Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth after losing a showdown before God. The Sons of Korah express their sorrow through songs of hope such as the one we read today.

The Psalm begins by expressing a longing to draw near to God and to meet with God. Tears have wet their faces day and night. Those around them ask, “Where is your God?” In verse 4 the emotions take a positive turn as they recall leading the procession to worship in the house of God. They recall the joy and offer thanksgiving for being a part of worship. Almost in response they ask and answer a rhetorical question: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.” Even though they feel isolated and alone, the Sons of Korah know that God is faithful. They know that they will again worship God with joy.

We all have experiences in life when we long for God or when God feels distant or when we feel alone and isolated. Maybe you’ve not led a joyful procession into worship, but when have you felt joy from your faith or when have you enjoyed time in God’s divine presence? These are your grounding moments – the moments that you can reflect upon and find assurance and hope. Take a little time now to reflect on these experiences and then to praise God for these experiences.

Prayer: Lord God, those times when you have been tangibly present to me – these are like anchors for my soul. In the valley and other trials, they are like lights shining in the darkness, guiding me back to you. Thank you for your faithfulness and steadfast love. Amen.


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Reflecting God’s Love

Reading: Psalm 8:6-9

Verse 6: “You made humanity ruler over the works of your hand.”

As we continue in Psalm 8 we see one of humanity’s roles in the created order. God has made us “ruler over the works” of God’s hands. Humanity has been tasked with caring for or stewarding our fellow creatures that fill the earth, sky, and sea. Being created ourselves “a little lower” than the heavenly beings, we have a special role to care for God’s creation. I do not believe this is limited to the things listed in Genesis 8. Taking in the whole scriptural narrative we see that the task includes caring for the whole creation.

Just as the way we love our neighbor reflects our love of God, so too does our care for the earth reflect our love of God. The earth and all that is in it or on it or above it were given by God to be home to all of creation – for humanity, for all of our fellow creatures of earth, sky, and sea, and for the soil, the plants, the air, the waters, the minerals… Jesus commissioned us to love all of our neighbors, not just some. In the same spirit we are to care for all of the created order.

In seeing God’s charge that comes to us today in Genesis 8 as a holistic charge, we begin to see how everything is connected, how all parts of creation should matter and be valued. This day may we begin to see our responsibility as a gift, as a privilege. God gave so much to humanity as resources, food, and so on. God also gave us beauty, community, and relationships to bless us. The psalmist celebrated the majesty of God’s name. May our love of God, one another, and all of creation join in this celebration of God’s love for all of creation.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to love all of your creation just as Jesus loves me. Help me to live into the interconnectedness that is part of your design. Doing these things, Lord, may you be glorified. Amen.


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On Earth as It Is…

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 20: “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

As followers of Jesus Christ we all have an eternal inheritance. In today’s passage Paul puts it this way: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Paul is speaking to a time yet to come for us. Many have experienced what he is speaking of. We are told in scripture that heaven will be a kaleidoscope of people from every race, tongue, and nation. The great multitude will reflect our world in all its diversity. This is great news, isn’t it? Hallelujah and amen!!

While the promise of eternity in God’s presence is indeed wonderful and glorious, don’t we pray ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ at least each Sunday? Didn’t Jesus come not just to open the way to heaven but also to bring the kingdom of God here to the earth? In light of the honest answers to these questions, we can see that while we believe these things to be true, we don’t necessarily seek to live them out.

Paul’s initial audience was the church in Philippi. It was a city in the Roman empire so the average person in Philippi enjoyed the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship, much as you and I enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship. Much of the early church, though, was made up of slaves and others from the lower rungs of society. They did not enjoy the rights and privileges of membership in the earthly kingdom. News of citizenship – of belonging, of being equals, of having worth – this news would bring great hope to those largely without. Imagine hearing these words from their perspective. Great news, huh?! Hallelujah and amen!!

And while this is indeed wonderful and glorious news for many, there are people who truly love Jesus that at least feel outside of or excluded from our communities of faith. And there are people who don’t yet know Jesus but do need his love and grace and transforming power. Many of these also feel outside or excluded. So, the question is: how do you and I better reflect ‘on earth as it is in heaven?’ How do you and I live and act and think and speak in ways that offer belonging, equity, and worth to all people, flinging wide open the doors to the kingdom of heaven here on this earth?

Prayer: Lord God, may your love and justice roll down like a mighty river. May your love for all people, all created by you in your image, be manifest in our churches and in our lives. Amen.


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Freedom in Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Verses 17-18: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we welcome the constant presence of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit lifts the “veil” from our eyes, helping us to see ourselves as we truly are. This unimpeded vision opens our hearts to the reality of who and what we are as well as helping us see the world around us more clearly. The Spirit leads us to become more and more like Jesus both inside and outside.

The inner process of restoration and redemption is addressed in the two verses from chapter 4. We “renounce secret and shameful ways.” The pledge to be freed from sin is step 1. Then Paul calls believers to “set forth the truth plainly.” We do this two ways – one internal and one external. In our own lives we allow the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ. This refining and transforming process isn’t always easy. It requires work and sacrifice. As this work is being done in our lives we begin to live Jesus’ truths out in our world. We share Christ’s love, forgiveness, compassion, grace, peace… with others, revealing to them the glory of God.

In verses 17-18 we read these words: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.” When we are filled with the Spirit we are free to live and love as Christ did. Without the limitations that this world tries to place on our love, kindness, and generosity we can live in ways that reflect God’s glory to others. By being freed from the cares and concerns of this world we live as witnesses to Jesus Christ. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, unshackle me from the things of this world. Strip me of the pride and greed that so easily binds. Bind me instead to the way of love, to the way of Christ. Amen.


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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.


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Reflect the Reign

Reading: Psalm 132: 10-18

Verse 13: “The Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling.”

Today we turn to the second half of Psalm 132. The main theme continues to be relationship. This section of the Psalm begins with the Davidic covenant – God’s promise to David that his descendant would be on the throne forever and ever. This promise would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In verse thirteen we read, “The Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling.”

Many years after these words were written God incarnate came to Israel and dwelled among the people. Jesus came and revealed what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. Jesus took God’s love out into the world. On the back roads, by the seashore, in the temple and synagogues, by wells, in homes and on hillsides – here Jesus met folks where and how they were. Whenever and wherever, he ministered to all he met. Jesus prayed, fasted, worshipped God. He also walked into valleys and dark places, sharing the hope and healing found in relationship with God. Here Jesus experienced the pain and suffering of the world. Here Jesus brought love, peace, comfort, and strength.

Today is “Reign of Christ” Sunday in many of our churches. As we end the Christian year and move towards Advent next Sunday, may we remember Jesus’ example of love and may we strive to live and love with Jesus Christ reigning on the throne of our hearts. In the interactions we have with friends and family and with the stranger and the outcast, may all we say and do reflect the reign of Jesus Christ in our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, may your reign in my life be more than words on a page. In my actions may others see your love being lived out. In my words may others hear your love being made known and shared. Fill me with your love and pour me out into the world. Amen.