pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Shine Upon Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s reading from Psalm 80 is a great plea for God’s presence and for God’s power to be manifest in our lives. It is a good plea for us to read, to consider, to pray over ourselves as we walk through Advent this year. Advent calls us to slow down, to become present to the Christ child in the manger, to focus our lives on the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas, on the other hand, calls for celebrations and parties, for rush, rush, rush. In the Psalm a phrase is repeated three different times. Against the worldly rush of Christmas, we pray this verse over ourselves today: “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”

In verses one and two we read the psalmist’s plea: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.” The writer recognizes Israel’s need for one who will be like a shepherd – one who will lead and guide the flock. He pleads for God to “come and save us.” In power and might Jesus will come and save the people. Just as the notions of Advent and Christmas are different, soo to was Jesus’ revelation of power and might. He demonstrated power in love of God and neighbor. He revealed might in his obedience to God’s will and ways. This is how the Good Shepherd reigns. It is into this kingdom that we are invited – both to receive and to give away.

As we enter the third week of Advent, it is the week of joy. All of us can struggle to keep our focus on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, during this season. For some of us loss or grief feels heavy. For some it is busyness and expectations that limit our joy. What is it that is inhibiting your joy? What can you name right now that you need God’s light to shine upon, leading you towards restoration and wholeness this Advent season?

Prayer: Lord God, each of us needs your light to shine a little brighter into our lives. Shepherd, reveal our need and guide us to humbly ask you to restore us and to renew our sense of joy. May your face shine upon us; be gracious to us, O Lord. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 34: 19-22

Verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

Psalm 34 comes from David and is a celebration of when God rescued him from Abimelech, a foreign king. David praises God for rescuing him and redeeming him from his troubles. The concepts of redemption and restoration run throughout the Bible and throughout this week’s readings. These concepts bring all believers hope in this life.

Leading into this Psalm, David finds himself in a tough situation – powerless before a powerful king. David is fleeing from King Saul and finds himself surrounded by this Philistine king and his troops. (In 1st Samuel 21 the king is identified as Achish.) God leads David to pretend to be totally insane. The king sees that David is no threat to anyone and sends this madman away. We read David’s praise in verse nineteen: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” David had gone on from slaying Goliath to winning many victories for King Saul. In his own true insanity, Saul became very jealous and wanted to kill David. Having only served faithfully, David now finds himself in trouble. Once again, God delivers him from trouble. David was also faithful to God, obediently doing as God directed.

We too are called to faithful, obedient living. We too are invited to listen for God’s voice, seeking God’s guidance and direction. When we do these things we are not guaranteed an easy, trouble-free life. We are promised God’s presence in all of life. Over and over David walked faithfully with God. This leads him to speak these words in verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in the lows of life I frequently turn to you. There I know I need you. In the good days and even in the OK days my focus can so easily shift a bit. Focus me at all times on an obedient and faithful walk. Help me to be intentional about my walk with you. Amen.


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Rejoice and Rest

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 5: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”.

Photo credit: Ronnie Khan

The words we read today are such familiar words. When one hears, “The Lord is my shepherd”, we are brought immediately to a good and sacred place. The Psalm speaks of our relationship with God throughout all of life’s joys and trials. These words of David bring us comfort and strength, assurance and guidance, blessing and presence.

Our good shepherd is not a distant holiness that is non-committal. God is right here, right now. When we are weary, God makes us lie down and brings us restoration. God walks with us, ever guiding us in all righteousness. In those moments or seasons of pain and grief, God is present in the valley. When fear arises, God comforts us. Even in the presence of our enemies God anoints us with the oil of blessing. In the presence of our enemies, the rivers of God’s love and mercy and grace can still make a way. Filling our lives here with goodness and love, God will also one day welcome us to dwell in his forever home too. What beautiful words and thoughts.

Today may we rejoice in the love of the good shepherd. Today may we rest in his presence.

Prayer: Lord, your love is so incredible. You are our all in all – present when we are weak and strong, loving us when we please you and when we fail. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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In Our Hearts

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse 1: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

Psalm 139 speaks of the intimate and personal connection that we each have with God. The psalmist begins by telling of the heart and mind connection, perhaps because this is the most important. In the first verse David writes, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. It is both scary and comforting to really consider what this means. On the one hand, nothing is hidden from God. Our unkind or selfish or evil thoughts are all known by God. On the other hand, when we are hurting so bad that we cannot even form thoughts, God knows our pain and grief. I would not have it any other way. I can work on the condition of my heart and on the words of my mouth. I am helpless at times and then only God can help.

The tongue is difficult to tame. It is a good reminder to know that “before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely”. While it is still ruminating or festering or boiling in my heart, God knows the words I am pondering speaking. This is as unfiltered as it gets. It is God knowing me at my very core. It is where we are our most authentic selves. If we want to be right with God, we must begin by being right with God in our hearts – in the place no one else in the world truly sees or knows anything about.

It is in the secret place of our heart that we most need God’s guidance and direction, conviction and restoration. In public we tame our tongue to avoid looking bad or to not hurt others… This is good. But in the secret place we need help. The voice of the Holy Spirit is what will refine us and form us more and more into God’s image – if we but listen and hear. The Holy Spirit is God’s truth and love living inside our hearts. It is what will “hem me in – behind and before” if we allow it to. The voice, the nudge, the whisper, the shove – these will help keep us on the narrow road if we allow them to. David speaks of this in the rest of verse five, where he writes, “you have laid your hand upon me”. May we be aware of those thoughts rumbling in our hearts, feeling the hand of God upon us. And may we be aware of his truth and love welling up in us, also feeling the hand of God upon us. In all we think and say, may we be led by God.

Prayer: Loving and kind God, help to form my very thoughts. Begin them in a place of love and truth. Guide them to come forth in kindness and with compassion. May all I think and say be pleasing in your sight, bringing you the glory. Amen.


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Living Witness

Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-13

Verse 9: “Surely his salvation is near those who fear him; that his glory may dwell in our land”.

Today’s Psalm begins with things that we all long for: God’s favor upon the land and forgiveness for our iniquities or sins. Whether we are talking spiritual or emotional or physical favor, our land needs healing. We need restoration. Healing and restoration begins within each one of us. The psalmist clues us in as to how this starts within. In verse eight he writes, “I will listen to what the Lord God will say”. This is first a pledge to read and study and meditate upon his word. Then it becomes active, allowing the word to shape us, to define us, to restore us.

In the next verse we are reminded that God is close. God is always close to us. Verse nine says, “Surely his salvation is near those who fear him; that his glory may dwell in our land”. It is near, it is close. When we live out our salvation here in this time and place, God’s glory is revealed in and through us. Living out our salvation, we live into verse ten: “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other”. Imagine our world if we as Christians lived out these four traits each and every day! It is our choice. Living out love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness, may we bring God the glory every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to be these things each day. May your love and faithfulness, your peace and righteousness flow through me and out into the world. In all things may you be glorified. Amen.


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Once New Again

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”

Today’s passage is from the book of Judges. This book covers the time period when there was no king in Israel. One after another a judge rules or leads Israel. In today’s reading Deborah the prophetess is acting as the judge or ruler of Israel. In our opening verses we read, “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”. In today’s passage it is Canaan who rules over Israel. The … can be followed by many different names – Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans… The process of “doing evil” is familiar: the people sin, there is a period of oppression, this leads to crying out to God, and then God restores Israel. This is an often repeated process for Israel.

This is a process that we are also familiar with, especially on a personal level. In our battles with sin, in our attempts to be obedient and faithful, we often have our “how did I get here again?” moments. How did I let pride get in the way of doing right again? How did I allow anger to win again? How did I give in to ___ again? Our weak, imperfect human condition makes us prone to the same cycle or process that we see scattered throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus did not fix us; it did not remove our human weakness and our tendency towards the things of this world. It did, however, change the process. The “time in the hands of…” is no longer required. The time in oppression, the time in exile, the loss of freedom is no longer needed. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins. With his life Jesus served the consequence. Sometimes there is an earthly consequence that we must suffer through. Our sin can damage a relationship or can violate earthly laws. There are costs to these things. But through the gift of grace and the giving of mercy, we are made new again, our sin is washed away, we are restored back into right relationship with God. In the process we do learn, we do grow from our failures, we do gain strength in the battle again sin. More importantly we learn just as Israel learned: God never gives up. God keeps working in our lives, keeps restoring us, keeps calling us to deeper obedience and to a more faithful walk. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thousands and thousands of times I have stumbled and fallen. Even though it is almost beyond counting, your grace is greater. Even though I struggle to forgive just a few slights, your mercy never ends. So great a love is hard to fathom. In utter humility I thank you for loving a sinner like me. You are truly love and grace and mercy lived out. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Partners of God

Reading: Psalm 99: 1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice”.

The psalmist’s love of and awe for God are obvious. In the opening verses the psalmist recognizes God’s reign over all the earth as well as God’s great and awesome power. God is exalted over all the nations of the earth because God is holy. It is a good and right thing to have a holy reverence for the Lord our God. Humility is then drawn forth from within us as we acknowledge the might and power of God as he reigns over the whole earth.

In the next two verses, however, we are reminded that God does not just reign with power and might. Yes, his voice can make the earth shake. But his gentle touch can also break the bonds of injustice and oppression. In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice”. In our world today this is an odd combination. Often those powerful enough to rise into places of authority have done so on the backs of others and have lost their sense of justice and equity on their way to the top. They become insensitive or even callous to the plight of the poor and the marginalized and the powerless. Not so our God!

Our God loves justice and seeks to stand with the oppressed, the broken, the hurting, the downtrodden. God has always been a protector of these as well as of the widow, the orphan, and the imprisoned. Nowhere has this love been more evident than in the incarnation. Jesus, God in the flesh, fully lived out this love of justice and all who were oppressed or pushed to the edges of society. Providing the example of what God’s justice and love looked like when lived out to the full, Jesus then invited us to “come and follow me”. In our awe and love of God and as our response to our loving Savior’s invitation, may we too be lovers of justice and sharers of salvation from all that binds. May we become partners with God, working daily to bring wholeness and restoration and reconciliation to a world in need.

Prayer: Loving and awesome God and blessed son Jesus Christ, fill me with your love and passion for the least among us. Guide me to those places and people who need to know your healing love and your freeing grace. May I be an instrument of your peace and love this day and every day. Amen.


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Reconciliation and Restoration

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”.

Today’s passage from Matthew 18 is about seeking the reconciliation and restoration of a relationship when it has been damaged. Above all else, Jesus’ call was to love one another. As the song goes, that’s how the world will know that we are Christians. This is especially true within the church. Here our love should be genuine and pure. It must be modeled in the church and in our relationships with one another. Jesus knew that the church would be just like all other organizations in one way: it is made up of imperfect people prone to sin and selfishness. As such, he knew that there would be conflicts and disagreements within the body of Christ. In today’s three verses we find practical steps for how to resolve conflict, especially in the church.

The causes for conflicts and disagreements can the gamut. The divide can be over deeply theological issues or it can be about painting a wall. Almost all issues, regardless of the root causes, will have deep ramifications for churches and individuals if left unresolved. So Jesus gives steps to avoid this. When conflict arises or when someone hurts or sins against another, the first step is personal. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”. Yes, this is hard for most of us to do. But it does provide the necessary space for being open and transparent. No one else is there to impress or to save face in front of. Going to someone directly lets them know you value them and your relationship with them enough to risk for them. It provides a space for honesty and open dialogue. Most often this step leads to reconciliation and to a deeper relationship.

Sometimes this first step does not work. Pride or who can intervene. Embarrassment or lack of understanding can also create a barrier to resolution. Jesus advises us to then take along one or two others to help guide the conversation. By involving others we often open up the conversation and find new ways to seek reconciliation. As a group we can often work things out that two struggle to do on their own. When this step fails, Jesus directs us to get even more help figuring out the conflict. He tells us to bring the matter before the whole congregation.

Both of these last two steps often involve some soul searching on our part. The sin may be obvious and surely needs correction. But if there is grey or doubt, it is a call for a time of sincere prayer and honest self-reflection. This step is always a good thing. The Holy Spirit will clarify and lead us to our best approach to the situation. Jesus does not want any division in the body. By going to the throne in prayer we are inviting Christ to guide us to reconciliation. When we invite him, he will always go with you!

Prayer: Loving God, lead and guide our conversations and relationships to be safe enough to tread into these uncomfortable spaces. May your Holy Spirit show us the way to unity and reconciliation within our Christian relationships and within our churches. Amen.


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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.