pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 2: “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

Turning to the Psalms today we are connected to yesterday’s reading from Deuteronomy 30. In the opening stanza of the longest Psalm the writer focuses in on the blessing side of obeying God’s laws and of striving to live God’s way. There is a joy that can be felt as the psalmist considers living a life of faith.

In verses 2 we read, “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.” There is a sense of security when we live within the parameters laid out by our good and holy and just God. Our pursuit of God, our seeking to know, understand, and live out all of God’s laws brings us to a place of praise. There is joy and peace and contentment when we are walking steadfastly with God.

The honesty of the Psalm is so refreshing. In verses 5 we read, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees.” I read these words with an emphasis on the “Oh” part. In these words we can feel a longing to always be faithful balanced against the reality that we are human and are therefore imperfect. There is value in looking within and realizing that we’ve fallen short. In recognizing that we fall short regularly we see our need to grow in our faith. And we often experience God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The closing verses today is such an honest admission. It is part pledge and part humble request: “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.” I’m going to really try. Please don’t give up on me. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I want to be faithful and true to you all the time! But I do fail, again and again. Encourage my resolve. Convict and redeem me quickly and often. Help me each day to walk as a child of the light. Amen.


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Loved and Worthy

Reading: Luke 19:7-10

Verse 9: “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house'”.

Continuing today with Jesus and Zacchaeus, we recall that Jesus called Zacchaeus to come down out of that tree. As Zacchaeus comes down, we read that all the people there “began to mutter.” They are all complaining because Jesus wants to go to the house of a known sinner, the hated and despised tax collector. We see in verse 8 that the invitation changes Zacchaeus. The same was true for you and for me. We began to change when Jesus asked us to open the door of our heart to him. It is true for all who hear Jesus knocking. Knowing that he wants to come to live in our heart begins the transformation process because then we, like Zacchaeus, begin to understand that we are loved and worthy of belonging in the family of God.

Zacchaeus’ first response is to begin to live right. Seeking righteousness he pledges to “give half of my possessions to the poor” and to repay anyone that he has wronged “four times the amount.” Caring for those in need and mending broken relationships are signs of a changed heart in Zacchaeus. He is no longer consumed by greed and selfishness. The overwhelming love of Jesus Christ has washed into his heart and has washed away these parts of Zacchaeus. Recognizing this, Jesus declares that Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus has been redeemed from his sinful ways and has been made a child of Abraham through faith in the Lord.

Our passage closes with a phrase that really encapsulates Jesus’ life and ministry and purpose: “For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus came to call people like Zacchaeus back to true life, back to God, and back into community. He came to tell one and all that they were love and worthy. As we strive to follow Jesus, may we seek to do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, there is absolutely no one outside of the reach and touch of your love. Guide me to live each day guided by this belief. In turn may I seek and love just as Jesus did. Use me today to share your love and saving grace with others. Amen.


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Even There

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verse 7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Returning to Jeremiah 29 today we recall God’s message to the people living in exile: settle in, it’s going to be a while. The consequences of living a long time in sin will not end quickly. Sometimes this is necessary. At times in my life, and maybe at times in yours, I have wandered. The results have left me in places or in circumstances that I didn’t really want to be in. I longed to return to how life was before. Like it is for Israel in today’s text, it was for me at times. I could settle in or I could be stuck in some past. I could live into my new reality or I could fight God the whole way. It is a choice.

Jeremiah’s advice is to start living again. Don’t sulk and frump your way through this because then you’ll miss out on God’s presence with you even here in Babylon. Realize that God is there in the exile. Realize that God is there in the aftermath of wayward living, no matter where we find ourselves. And, maybe more importantly, realize that even there God can make a difference. So even there, God wants to use us for God’s purposes. Even there we too have something to offer. Jeremiah encourages the Israelites and us today by saying, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Be the light. Be the faithful. Be a positive in the city and culture. Set the example. Even now God can work in and through you. Even there, walk the walk of faith.

While we might not be invaded, taken captive, and hauled thousands of miles away, we will find ourselves living out an uncomfortable situation or stuck in the consequences of our sinful choices. When we do, may we remember today’s word: God is faithful even there. May we be so too.

Prayer: God, it’s not always easy to bloom where we’re planted, especially if we don’t like it there. Yet you are ever present, ever guiding. Give me an “even there” faith. Lead me to live and love and serve well no matter the place or the circumstances. Amen.


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Rejoice with Me!

Reading: Luke 15:1-10

Verse 9: “And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my list coin'”.

Today we return to the parables of the lost sheep and coin recorded in Luke 15. In both stories someone goes to great lengths to find that which was lost. These great efforts are given because the lost must be found. A great joy is shared when the lost are found and there is also a celebration in heaven over the one that is found. These two parables and the one that follows in Luke 15 are beautiful illustrations of how God seeks, searched, woos, and finds the lost, finishing it all off with a grand celebration.

Once upon a time there was such a party in heaven for you and for me. On the day that we committed to die to self, to repent of our sins, and to follow Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives, all of heaven celebrated extravagantly. The funny thing, though, is that we don’t get found just once. We wander over and over. We get lost in our sin again and again. God keeps seeking, searching, wooing… Confession and repentance are constant and ongoing. We are flawed creatures. Yet every time a sinner repents, a celebration is raised in heaven. Fire up the band!

These two parables and the awesome image of joyous celebration were told in response to some grumbling about who Jesus was associating with. Where do we fit in the story? Are we the grumbler or are we the joyous partier? If we tend to stay in the perimeter, judging or avoiding those who are ‘lost,’ then we are the Pharisees… If we are willing and seek to get our hands dirty, so to speak, to engage the sinners, wanderers, and others who are lost, then we experience the joy and celebrations that Jesus speaks of today. The joy and the celebrations are here and now and are one day in heaven when Jesus says to us, “Rejoice with me!”

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who engages all with a no-matter-what love. All are creations of your mighty hand. All are beloved fully by your gigantic love. Help me to mirror this so that everyone I meet will hear the invitation that you give to all. Amen.


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Living Water and Word

Reading: Psalm 107: 8-9 and 43

Verses 8-9: “Give thanks to the Lord for unfailing love… God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

Today’s three verses from Psalm 107 invite us to consider and heed how God gives to the children of God. The psalmist first invites us to thank the Lord for unfailing love. This is not a human love – a love that is fickle or easily turned inward. God’s love for us is a love that is steadfast and unchanging. God’s love flows from a heart that is so deep that we can only begin to fathom the endlessness of God’s love.

In verse 9 we read of God giving to fill our thirst and our hunger. We often pray “and give us this day our daily bread.” God can certainly be a provider of bodily sustenance. But what if the psalmist is speaking of more? What if the psalmist is speaking of the living water of Jesus Christ that springs up to eternal life? What if the author is speaking of the living word – the Bible and the Spirit of Christ in our hearts? Satisfying this hunger sustains us in and through all of life. Yes, it is right and good to give thanks for the bodily sustenance that we receive from the Lord. But how much moreso for the spiritual sustenance that is offered to us daily by the Lord?

This day may we first seek the water and food that does not perish or fade. May we seek to be filled with the things of God this day – the imperishable and everlasting love of the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your holy word today. May these words sink down deep and fill me with joy, peace, hope, mercy, grace, kindness, compassion, and light. Guide me in the way in which I should go. Use me to be Christ to the world. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Verse 9: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Today’s second portion of this week’s passage from Luke 11 begins with an illustration. A man has an unexpected guest. He has no bread so he goes to a neighbor, asking for bread. At first he is denied – “I can’t get up and give you anything” – but the neighbor relents because the friend at the door was so persistent. He was bold in his asking.

Continuing on, Jesus says, “So I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.‘” Jesus is encouraging us to be bold and persistent. Begin with prayer. Ask God. Tell God the desires of your heart and the needs of your life. Ask God where you can be used today. Then turn to scripture. Seek encouragement if that’s what is needed. Maybe it’s assurance or direction or guidance that you need. They’re all in God’s word. Seek holy input. Lastly, take action. Knock on a door, send a note or a text, serve at a local organization, mow a neighbor’s lawn. Allow the asking and seeking to guide your doing. Be bold and live out what you’ve prayer for and found scriptural support for. Be persistent and trust in God. God is faithful.

This pattern applies to this week’s theme of reconciliation. Whether it is the hard work of personal transformation (reconciling oneself to God) or the challenging work of forgiveness (reconciling ourselves to another or to God) or the difficult work of social reconciliation (fixing or creating new and just systems), we begin with prayer, turn to scripture, and then take action. Rooting and founding our efforts in our relationship with God is essential to building the kingdom here on earth. Day by day, may we work to make it so.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask that you would daily guide my life. As I turn to your word and particularly to Jesus Christ, the living word, show me the way to live and be your light and love in the world. Then put me to doing. Use me as you desire as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Evidence

Reading: Psalm 27:7-14

Verse 13: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

As we turn to the second half of our Psalm we hear David looking to God, longing for God, seeking God’s presence and protection. David wants to learn from God and to seek God’s face. There is an active part to David’s faith. He doesn’t expect God to just show up when needed. David has built a relationship with God. This gives him the confidence to state: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

David has had his share of difficulties. Like ours, some have been self-inflicted and some have been a part of living in a fallen and broken world. In either case, we can sometimes forget that we are not alone. Times of struggle and hardship tend to turn us inward, seeking to protect ourselves, to limit any more exposure to pain, to avoid those who mean well. This can also be how we treat God. It takes trust to turn to God and to others, to open ourselves up to sources of strength, compassion, encouragement, and support.

In those moments when we’re tempted to withdraw, to isolate, may we remember to take the long view. God is faithful – that will be evident if we look back at other times in the valley. God loves us. That will be evident as we recall times when we sought God and God drew near to us. God has good for us. Looking back at hard times or at the lows in our life, we can see how God worked some good out of our darkest days. Doing these things we too will see the goodness of the Lord, made evident in and through our relationship with God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your unfailing love and presence in my life. Even when I create distance, when I turn away, you are always right there, as close as my next prayer. Thank you for your faithfulness, O God. Amen.


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Who or What?

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 9: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

The section of Psalm 36 that we read today begins with these words: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” There is a “grand sweep” feeling here. The psalmist reminds us that God’s love and faithfulness are everywhere. This immensity of God continues in the next verse. God’s righteousness is like a “mighty mountain” and God’s justice is like the “great deep” – vast as the ocean! These words, images, and the feelings they create can carry us and can fill up our faith.

And then I think about our world. Illness runs rampant across the globe. Sides continue to fight about anything and everything pandemic related. The political landscape here feels worse than that. No one seems to be able to hire enough help yet many sit at home. The world is a mess right now. Somehow this is hard to align with the everywhere immensity of God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.

But, then again, God is not the God of all people. In verse 7 we read, “Both high and low among mankind find refuge in the shadows of your wings.” We find refuge. To find it we have to seek it. To seek it one has to want it. To want it one must desire God more than the things of this world. It is a choice. God desires a relationship with all people – “both high and low” and all in between. But God won’t force it. Each must decide who or what they will worship.

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” I want to walk as a child of the light. I will seek the Lord. I will find refuge in the shadow of his wings. Who or what do you choose to worship?

Prayer: Lord, in you there is life. That life is contentment, peace, joy, hope, assurance, love. Your kingdom rests on faith, righteousness, justice. You offer rest and refuge from the things of this world. Strengthen and encourage me today as I seek to walk in your light. Amen.


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Save Your People

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-9

Verse 7: “O Lord, save your people.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Jeremiah 31 is in the part of the book that details how God will bring the Israelites back from exile. One day God promises to gather them “from the ends of the earth.” As our passage opens, the Lord encourages the people to sing with joy and to make their praises heard, praying, “O Lord, save your people.” Through Jeremiah, God invites the people to praise God and to ask God to save them.

Those encouraged to seek God and to petition God for help expands in verse eight to include “the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor.” This partial list represents the weak and the vulnerable. When God says that a “great throng” will return it implies that all who are weak or vulnerable – or outcast or marginalized or powerless or voiceless – all will be called back home to the Lord.

Although written nearly 3,000 years ago, these words remind us today of the same truths that undergirded this invitation and these promises: God loves and cares for those who turn to the Lord for help. God has good plans for you and me. Even when we feel like we are in exile or when we feel weak or powerless or alone, God also encourages us to cry out, “O Lord, save your people.” Like with Israel, God will hear us and will respond. God will rescue and redeem us too.

In verse nine we read, “They will come with weeping, they will pray as I bring them back.” These will be tears of joy and prayers of praise as God guides us “besides streams of water” as God provides a “level path” so that we do not stumble. In love God cares for and protects those who seek and love the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I praise you for all of your love and care. Thank you for always calling out to me in so many ways. Your love and care never fails. You are an amazing God. May all the praises be yours. Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Matthew 6: 25-33

Verse 33: “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

We take a break from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Matthew 6. This is a common passage for Thanksgiving. These words of Jesus tie in well with the themes of this time of the church year. We just celebrated “Reign of Christ” Sunday in many of our churches. In this passage Jesus calls us to trust in God’s love and provision for us – to trust that God reigns over all things. This coming Sunday begins Advent. Many will light the candle of hope. Today’s passage calls us away from worry and from seeking the things of this world, towards placing all of our hope in our “heavenly Father.”

There are many things that we can worry about. Jesus names food and clothing in today’s passage. We can also worry about shelter, heat, safety, health care, education. These too are necessities. They are also givens for most of us – things that we simply take for granted. Yet many worry day to day about these basics of life. In our land of abundance and plenty, no one should worry about any of these things.

This day many will gather with friends and family to celebrate a holiday. Many will include giving thanks to God today. In verse 33 we read, “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we trust first in God and not in the things of this world, then we truly receive a blessing. The blessing is not in the things we receive or do not receive. The blessing is in the relationship, in the abiding presence of God – the one who is loving and faithful, generous and steadfast. On this day of giving thanks may we celebrate and live into our relationship with the God who reigns over all the earth.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking day by day with me, for loving me unconditionally. Each day may I lean into your reign, O Lord. Amen.