pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faithfulness

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.”

Photo credit: Jean Wimnerlin

As we join Paul again today in 2nd Timothy 4, this section begins with a story of abandonment. Much as it was with Jesus when he stood before Pilate, no one is there to support Paul. In the verses between yesterday’s and today’s passages, Paul comments on those who have abandoned him and he asks Timothy to come visit. Paul, like all of us, values company and support in difficult times. Graciously, Paul asks that the fear that held them away not be held against them.

In the next verse, Paul boldly identifies who was present, who strengthened and supported him as he stood before the emperor. In verse 17 we read, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.” Paul felt Jesus right there by his side. He drew on a strength that was not his own. Now, standing before the emperor – one who was well known for his violent responses to any and all who opposed him – Paul could have quietly offered “yes sir” and “no sir” responses. Not Paul. We read that he fully proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ right then and there. And instead of being whisked away for a quick and sudden death, he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Paul survived to preach another sermon, to live another day.

This boosts Paul’s faith and his trust in the Lord. This is what allows him to write with confidence that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What a great example of both God’s faithfulness and of Paul’s faith that trusts fully in the Lord! May we strive to live out such trust and faith this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in unfavorable times and places, may my faith not waiver. May I be as bold and courageous as Paul, trusting fully in you and standing surely on my faith. Bring me too through the trials. Amen.


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Reaching Out

Reading: Psalm 91:14-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me, I will rescue him [or her].”

Turning to the second half of this week’s Psalm 91 reading, we hear God’s words of love to us. Often it is hard to seek refuge. We are hard-wired to compete, to excell, to rise to the occasion. For some it is very hard to step outside the persona of self-made, rugged individual. Winners make it through; losers ask for help.

But sometimes the storm capsizes our boat and tosses us out into the raging sea. The choice becomes reach out or drown. At that place almost everyone stretches out a hand. There are many events or things that can bring us to this point – an incurable diagnosis, a tragic natural disaster, a senseless act of humanity, an addiction. All are things we’d avoid if we could. But at times we cannot avoid what has happened or is happening. We cannot control the situation, never mind the outcome. Those who refuse to stretch out a hand suffer a hard fate.

In verse 14 God says, “Because he [or she] loves me, I will rescue him [or her].” God is the one who takes the outstretched hand. God is the one who pulls us out of the raging waters. Rescue might not look like we think it should look. But God’s plan is always better. Now, God might use someone to extend that reach, to help one who is almost drowning, to begin the connection to God. This might be you. It might be me. Are we prepared to partner with God in someone’s time of need?

Prayer: Lord God, in the storms of life, you are steady and sure, loving and strong. When I get there, remind me to reach out quickly. When another needs a hand, guide me to reach out quickly too. Amen.


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Rejoice and Offer Thanks

Reading: Luke 13:14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman… whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

Yesterday we read of Jesus healing the woman. When have you or someone you know been healed of something that has afflicted you (or them) for a long time? What did it feel like to be freed? How did others who saw or experience this react to the freeing? Usually when one is healed there is a joy and an expression of thanksgiving by the person, by loved ones, and even by people who may only witness or hear about the healing.

Today we rejoice whenever someone is healed, whether from a disease or an addiction or a pride or anger or jealousy or… issue. But in today’s passage the synagogue ruler couldn’t rejoice. He was bound up by the Law. More than anything, keeping the Law represented his faith. So he calls out Jesus, albeit indirectly, for healing on the Sabbath. There’s a little hope for him though. He does tell people to come on other days for healing.

Jesus calls the ruler a “hypocrite.” Jesus reminds him that even he unbinds his animals on the Sabbath so that they can find water. He then asks, “Should not this woman… whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” Shouldn’t a daughter of Abraham be unbound on the Sabbath? Shouldn’t she be set free so that she can live? Jesus’ response delights the people. We all love a little joy.

Yet at times we can be a bit like the synagogue ruler. We can see or hear about someone who has been healed or has overcome something that bound them and we can wonder if they deserved it or if God rescued the “right” person. We can be guilty of wanting to limit God’s healing power. We can question the width and breadth of God’s love. When we are tempted to be stingy with or critical of God’s healing power, may we remember the many, many, many ways that God has rescued and redeemed us. May we then rejoice and offer thanks to God for healing another child of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to always celebrate all of the ways that you bring healing and wholeness to all of your children. May joy abound! Amen.


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71:1-6

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.”

Psalm 71 speaks of our dependence on and connection to God. My relationship is one that has ebbs and flows. There are times when I am more dependent on God than at other times. These tend to be seasons of doubt and those times walking through the valleys. Pain or grief or suffering drives me towards God, strengthening our connection to one another. This is where the Psalm begins. God is the psalmist’s refuge. The author asks God to rescue and deliver, to hear the pleas and to save him or her. Verse 3 declares, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” God is everlasting. We can always turn to our rock, to our refuge.

There are times too when I feel less dependent and therefore less connected. Things at church and in life seem to be going good. It is not that my faith has lessened or changed. God is still present; I just feel less needy. The lack of need for rescue and deliverance lessens the intensity. Yet I know that God is still right there. The everlasting God remains my rock and refuge. If I cry out, I know God is right there.

Verses 5 and 6 explain this trust, this knowledge. What is true for the psalmist is true for many. God has always been our hope. It feels like faith has always been a part of our lives. For as long as we can remember – “from birth” – we have relied upon God. Again, we create or allow ebb and flow, but looking back we see and know a God who is ever steadfast and true, who has always been there. God is our rock of refuge – always. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, no matter the degree of my engagement, you are always fully present. In those seasons when I feel like I need you less, you are never away. You are always right there, walking with me. Thank you for your unwavering faithfulness. Amen.


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Even Though

Reading: Hosea 11:1-7

Verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.”

As God speaks at the start of Hosea 11, we are reminded that God loved Israel and rescued them from slavery in Egypt. This is but one of many stories of God redeeming and guiding the beloved family of God. Another aspect of this familiar pattern comes in verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.” This is the other half of the cycle. For the Israelites, their relationship with God was often one of sin and repentance, forgiveness and restoration. Our faith can follow a similar path.

God laments how the people have turned to false gods. It is a choice we all make in our lives. Whether it is pursuing wealth or popularity or power, at times our focus is askew. We prioritize something other than God. God laments that the people do not recognize who healed them, who led them in love, who lifted the yoke, and who bent down to feed them. At times we too fail to see the work of God in our lives. We can miss the fact that the door that opened or the hole we avoided falling into was God’s hand at work. The verses for today close with a reality: “My people are determined to turn from me.” How often God must think this of me.

Even though we are not always what God designed us to be or who God wants us to be, God’s love remains. Even though we must sorely disappoint God at times, God’s compassion never fails. God ever desires to wrap us in love and kindness. It is a no-matter-what love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you formed me in my mother’s womb. You’ve loved me since the thought began. I know your love, your compassion. You’ve rescued me and have forgiven me, again and again. Even so, I stray, I wander, I sin. Thank you for a love that always, always reached out, ever drawing me back into right relationship. Amen.


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A Glorious Love

Reading: Colossians 2:6-15

Verse 13: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ.”

Our passage begins with Paul encouraging us to live in Christ, “rooted and built up in him.” Paul implies an ongoing, continually growing relationship. Jumping to verse 9 we are reminded that we have been given “the fullness of Christ” – the one who was “the fullness of God… in bodily form.” The fullness of God in Christ that we have been given is the Holy Spirit. This receiving of Christ’s Spirit transforms us, empowering us to put off “the sinful nature.” This, of course, is also an ongoing, continual process as we die to our sin over and over. The sinful nature is ever at work in our flesh. But, thanks be to God, so is the Spirit!

In verse 13 we read, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ.” When there was no hope for us, when we were as lost as lost can be, Jesus Christ rescued us as he “took it away” by “nailing it to the cross.” This act of love is what rescues us again and again, casting off our sin and the guilt and shame connected to it, making us alive once again in Christ. It is a glorious love that Christ has for you and me! Freeing us, we claim victory over the world and all earthly powers.

This glorious love that we experience is not a love experienced by all people. There are some who do not know Christ. We are sent to these to offer hope and rescue. There are some who long to know this freedom that we find in Christ yet are trapped or held back by society and the labels and systems that we create. We too are sent to these, armed with the triumph of the cross, empowered to help them break free of these earthly powers, inviting them to experience transformation and redemption in and through Jesus Christ. Living out the fullness of God in Christ in us, today may we seek to guide others to know the power of being alive in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, it feels so good for the chains to fall to the ground, to experience the freedom of life with you. In all I do and say and think today may I reflect your glorious love to the world. Amen.


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Offering Salvation

Reading: Acts 16:24-34

Verse 26: “All the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.”

The story in Acts continues! Shackled and in the innermost cell in the jail, Paul and Silas turn to praying and singing. What else do you do when you find yourself in a dire situation with little hope? We too at least pray when we find ourselves in dire straights.

As is often the case, God rescues the faithful. Held tight in a man-made stronghold, how does God respond on their behalf? With an action that demonstrates that God is more powerful. An earthquake shakes the place, loosing chains and swinging open doors. See – the things of man are no match for God! Yet the prisoners do not escape. While God is supreme, escape is not the point. God has an even better plan than freeing Paul and Silas. God plans to save a soul and his household.

Sensing what the sound of metal scraping against metal might mean, Paul once again intervenes, calling out to the distressed jailer. Calling for light and rushing into the cell area, the jailer asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Moved by their faith that brought them through, the jailer wants to experience that freedom too. Paul and Silas tell him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

The jailer takes them out and he washes their wounds – an act of repentance or a gesture of love? Or both? He and his household are baptized into Christ. They celebrate by sharing a meal with those who offered them life.

Many in the world are like the jailer – thinking they are in control, believing they have all the power. Until they don’t. In that moment they see no hope, no way out or up. When we cross paths with someone in this place, will we too offer the only answer to this life, Jesus Christ? May our lives sing and exude God’s love and grace and peace and joy, enabling us to also one day offer Christ’s salvation to one in need.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live faithfully day by day, revealing a better way than the way of the world. When others notice, may I respond well with the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Such a Love

Reading: Psalm 91:2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].”

Lent has begun! For some, yesterday at an Ash Wednesday service we began by recognizing our mortality and our sinful nature. There was a commitment asked for: to enter into this holy season of Lent intentionally seeking to be made more like Christ. It is a season of preparation for Easter. The work done in Lent is hard work. It asks us to look within, to see ourselves honestly and to confess and repent of those things that limit our relationship with Jesus Christ. Lent can also be a season of investing in our faith. We can read our Bibles or a devotional on a daily basis. We can participate in acts of service. We can fast on a regular basis. Each of these piety practices has the same goal: to make us more like Christ.

Today’s Psalm – #91 – begins with a recognition of God as our shelter, as our refuge, as our fortress. These images paint a picture of a God in whom we can trust. They also remind us that our God is a God who is present and who watches over us. The second half of our passage begins with these words: “If you make the Most High your dwelling…” The key word, of course, is “if.” While God is ever present, God does not force us into a relationship, into being near to God. Just like a parent or grandparent, God is always right there, watching over, ready to respond when a child cries out for help. A child feels able to cry out because they know they are loved. A child trusts that the parent will respond. The parent responds because they love the child. Love is the key to this and any relationship.

In verse 14 we read, “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].” God’s love is unconditional. God will love you and me no matter what. But a relationship is a two-way connection. We must love God for it to be a relationship. Within that relationship, God will rescue us. God will protect us. God will lift us up. God will answer and deliver us. God will forgive and redeem us. These are the promises of God. Thanks be to God for such a love as this!

Prayer: Lord God, entering this season of Lent I am reminded of how great your love is for me and for all of your children. Thank you for the love that rescues and protects, lifts and delivers, forgives and saves. Amen.


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Today I Choose

Reading: Psalm 71:1-6

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go.”

Do you ever just want to cry or to crawl back in under the covers or to hunker down in your favorite chair to watch movies? The last three years have brought me to this place more than in all my other 52 years combined. Instead of just hearing or reading about the number of cases or deaths, now we all personally know people that are battling or have been lost to COVID. Most of us know several people currently affected. I don’t know about you, but today I needed to read Psalm 71.

Psalm 71 reminds us of what God offers to all who will walk in right relationship with the Lord. We can find refuge in God. We can trust that God will rescue and deliver us in righteousness. We can ask God to deliver us from the hand of evil. Some days, though, I just want to withdraw, to be alone. These days that feels safe, easy. In that place I don’t have to say that word or deal with decisions surrounding the pandemic.

Psalm 71 reminds me, reminds all who are struggling a bit, that God is still right there. It reminds us that God desires to be our refuge, our rescuer, our deliverer. Sometimes it takes a conscious, intentional decision to declare God our refuge… instead of saying, yes, God can be our refuge… This day I choose to live into these words of hope and promise. This day I choose to not walk alone. This day I choose to lean into God so that I can be caring and loving in my words, actions, and decisions. Today I choose to love because God is love.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for all who are struggling a bit today. I lift up all who would rather just sit the day out. And I pray too for all who cannot sit it out: for the health care workers and others who have to show up, for those who sit another day by the bed of a sick loved one or who stand by the grave of a loved one lost. Pour out your love upon us, O God. Amen.


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Greater Still

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 18-20

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

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

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

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

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

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