pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse 9: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”.

Photo credit: Iker Urteaga

Noah is the central character in our passage but he is far from alone. Noah and family have been on the ark with every other living animal, bird, reptile, insect… for almost a whole year. Imagine being confined to a fairly small space for that long! In reality, though, the current pandemic has felt like that for many. For Noah and crew, the waters finally receed and God calls them out of the ark with the imperative to “be fruitful and increase in number”. The earth must be populated again. New life must return. As they exit the ark, God says, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”. Never again will the whole earth be destroyed by water. A rainbow will remind God and humanity of the covenant.

If the pandemic has not felt like being locked in an ark for you, we all have had other trials and experiences where we wondered if we’d make it through, where we questioned if we’d survive the storm, where we’ve longed to finally catch our breath… As I’m sure Noah and family did from time to time, we have asked why God would allow this terrible thing to happen. This is a questioning born from grief or pain. After these emotions have passed we realize again that death and disease and illness and natural disasters are all part of life. None of these things are God punishing us or the world. At times maybe you, like me, briefly wondered this about COVID. It can sometimes feel that way. At the time of this writing, 2.43 million have died worldwide, with almost half a million of those deaths in the US. This disease has reminded us that we are powerless in many ways and that we can’t totally control everything. In the midst of the loss and grief we have also been reminded again and again of the hope, joy, strength, peace, assurance… that we find in our faith and in our covenant God.

Just as it did for Noah and family, the world as we once knew it has changed forever. We are in a place we never imagined we’d be. Just as the people of Noah’s day said ‘the rain will stop soon’, so too do we think this cannot last forever. We approach a year living in a pandemic. All of us have lost someone or have been impacted by this powerful disease. Yet Noah’s truths remain for us: God is more powerful than any earthly thing and that God is our covenant God. We too need to remember that God is more powerful than anything, even death. God promises to be our God in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are all-powerful and everlasting. You are in total control and you are limitless. Yet you know my name and even the limited number of hairs on my head. You love me. You call me child. Thank you for wanting to be in a personal relationship with even me. Amen.


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Why We Came

Reading: Mark 1: 29-39

Verses 32 and 34: “…the people brought to Jesus all their sick and demon- possessedJesus healed many”.

Photo credit: Ben White

In today’s reading we don’t get any fancy healings or deeply profound teachings. Today’s passage is simply about Jesus’ love for the people. Arriving at Simon and Andrew’s home, Jesus hears of and goes to Simon’s mother-in-law and heals her. Then we read that later that evening “…the people brought to Jesus all their sick and demon- possessedJesus healed many”. Folks from all over bring their loved ones to Jesus and he makes them well. Can you picture this scene? I imagine Jesus standing out in the front yard, at the end of the path that leads to the house, there where the path meets the road. I envision a long line of people there along the road. For a long time the line doesn’t seem to get any shorter. One by one, person by person, the next stands before Jesus. With a soft touch or with a few gentle words he makes that person whole. Their lives are forever changed. Jesus is simply loving others as they meet there on the side of the road.

I like to think of this Jesus now and then. This Jesus reminds me of the many worker bees who selflessly serve. For some it is on Sunday morning, for others it is at VBS or youth group. For some it is leading a small group, for others it is feeding the hungry or giving aid to the needy. For some this is comforting the grieving, for others this is visiting the lonely. This group of humble servants makes me smile and feel all warm inside. I see them loving others just as Jesus loved others.

Later in the passage, after Jesus slipped away to pray, the disciples find him and tell him everyone is looking for him. They are drawn to Jesus and to his love. He goes on to preach and heal because “that is why I came”. Jesus came to love others. As we enter the world today, tomorrow, and on and on, may we too offer others Jesus and his love. This is our purpose. This too is why we came into the world: to love others more than self. May it be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the reminder that the small and faithful things matter so much. Small acts of love can change lives and can change the world. Guide me to help do both. Amen.


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Ascribe Glory and Strength to the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 29: 1-4

Verse 2: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name”.

David begins our Psalm for today ascribing glory and strength to the Lord. To ascribe means to give credit to or to attribute to. In verse two, then, David is asking us to attribute to the Lord the “glory due his name”. Connecting into the Genesis passage from yesterday, thinking of the creation story, it is easy to attribute glory and strength to the Lord. God spoke and created the world and all that is in it. Each day ends with the pronouncement that it is “good”. As David calls us to “worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” it is easy to do so with the creation story fresh in our minds.

In the Psalm David hears the voice of God in the thunder that is over the waters. During a good thunderstorm one can certainly hear and feel the power in the thunder claps. It is a good physical representation of the power of God. In the remainder of the Psalm, which we will turn to tomorrow, the voice of God breaks cedars and shakes the desert, again revealing the awesome power found in the voice of God. In verse four David writes, “The voice of the Lord is powerful… is majestic”. Yes it is! All praise and glory and honor are yours, O Lord!

Volume does not always equal strength. Thinking of the power found in the voice of the Lord, my mind is drawn to a passage found in Luke 8. A fierce storm arises and the disciples fear drowning. They awaken Jesus and with a few words he brings total calm to the lake. In 1 Kings 18 the power of God is shown as Elijah calls upon God to turn the people’s hearts back to God. In response to his quietly spoken prayer in verse 37, the fire of God falls from heaven, consuming both the sacrifice and the altar. Having spoken, the people do turn back to God.

Yes, the voice of the Lord is powerful and majestic. It speaks out in many ways – in the thunder and the fire, in the softly spoken words, and, even now in the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. As you ponder today how you hear the voice of God, may you join David, ascribing glory and strength to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I have felt your power in the spoken word, in the written word, and in the sung word. I have felt your strength in times of testimony and witness and in the softly spoken words beside the deathbed and at the grave. Your Spirit’s voice has brought me calm in the storm and peace in the chaos. Thank you for your words spoken to me, always in love. Amen.


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Remember… and Give Thanks

Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 7-20

Verse 18: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce… and so confirms his covenant”.

Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell letter to the Israelites. After forty years in the wilderness they are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses cannot enter with them. Like most of the people who fled Egypt, he will die before they enter the land. The land they will enter sounds just wonderful. There will be good water and plenty of food – two things they sometimes lacked in the wilderness. There will be ample stone for building and metals for weapons and tools – also things missing in the desert. All of this will be there the moment they enter the Promised Land. The Israelites will not have to work for it. They will simply be provided for by God. In our lives, we too have been blessed in this way. Sometimes the small or unexpected gift or act of kindness comes and it means so much because it surprises us in a wonderful way. We did not expect to be blessed in such a way.

Today is Thanksgiving. Many will gather around a table and take turns offering up what they are thankful for – home, family, food, friends, health… All are good and right things to be thankful for and we should pause to thank the Lord our God. In this unique season, I ask you, what could you do today or tomorrow that would be an unexpected act of kindness for someone? What could you do that would surprise someone in a way that would lift their spirits and remind them that they are loved?

As the Israelites enter the Promised Land, the land flowing with good things, the temptation will be to forget God, the one who blesses them. In verse eighteen Moses reminds them of the truth they must hold onto: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce… and so confirms his covenant”. It is a reminder that God holds the covenant to be their God forever. It reminds us of this today as well. Today, may we remember this truth as well as our blessings as we celebrate and give our thanks to God.

Prayer: Loving and blessing God, all that I have, all that I can do, all that I am comes from you. You are such a good, good Father. Thank you. Each day may I use these many blessings to bless others, sharing your love. Amen.


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Aware and Attuned

Reading: Psalm 90: 13-17

Verse 16: “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”.

The Israelites have always been good historians. But unlike our study of history, which includes kings and wars, victories and achievements… the history of the Israelites centers on God and how God’s hand has been at work in their past. Seeing one’s history as the unfolding hand of God at work in our lives and in our world frames our understanding in a very different perspective. It shifts us from the great things that we or humankind has done (while avoiding or skipping past the failures and ugly things), to looking at the great things that God has done. In the Bible, the history contains the failures and defeats as well as the successes and victories.

Verse thirteen opens with a cry of “Relent, O Lord”! The psalmist next wonders how long it will be. How long will we suffer for our sins? That is really the question being asked. The psalmist begs for God’s compassion and the dawning of a new day when God’s unfolding love will fall upon them. This is a reality that we experience in our own relationship with God. When we sin we cause separation. In that time we are distant from God. The Holy Spirit’s conviction makes us aware of our failure and through repentance God restores our relationship. Once again we feel God’s mercy and love. Like the psalmist and like the Israelites, we long to sing for joy and to know gladness all of our days.

In verse sixteen we read, “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”. To know and hear about the deeds of God over and over is to be reminded of God’s best qualities and of our role in bringing those to our own awareness. The more we seek to be aware of and in tune with God, the more we come to be aware of and in tune with God. When we are intentional about seeking God’s “deeds” we become aware of God in the smallest of ways – in a descant added to a song of worship, in the heart of a youth reaching out with love and compassion, in the kindness and generosity shared in a card. Each day may we seek the Lord. In doing so, “may the favor of the Lord rest upon us”.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in so many ways. I am an imperfect and sinful creature. Thank you for the whispers of conviction and the nudges back into the path of faith. Thank you for the small ways you reveal yourself, always reminding me of your constant presence in my life and in our world. Amen.


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Abundance

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 17: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”.

Today’s passage is one of abundance. It begins with an abundance of grief. Hearing that John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod, Jesus is overwhelmed with an abundance of grief. He withdraws by boat to a solitary place, seeking to grieve and pray. But an abundant crowd comes out from all the nearby towns and follows Jesus to the place that he comes ashore. Instead of sticking to the plans and mourning the death of his cousin, Jesus pours out abundant compassion and healing mercies. As Jesus works his way through the crowd of at least 10,000 the day turns to evening. The disciples, aware of the hour and the remoteness of this place, ask Jesus to send the crowds away to find food in the nearby villages.

In a demonstration of abundant love Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd “something to eat”. They have a meager offering to give: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”. They see scarcity. Jesus sees abundance. In abundant love, Jesus shares the reality with the disciples. All they think they have to offer is a child’s meal. Jesus has already worked through the huge crowd, giving them what they came for: healing. And now, in abundant love for the people, he is about to go beyond even what they came for. Jesus gathers the meager meal, instructs the crowd to be seated, blesses the food, and then gives the food to the disciples. With their own hands they will be the ones to give the crowd “something to eat”. In his abundant love, the food never runs out. The baskets seem to always be full. All eat their fill. All are satisfied. The leftovers amount to twelve basketfuls of broken pieces. A basket for each disciple to carry as a reminder?

In today’s story Jesus teaches that even something small and seemingly insignificant – a child’s meal – can provide abundantly when given to God. Today – a small act of kindness, the loving presence to a hurting friend, a generous spirit towards one in need – how will God use one of us to be love and compassion to another in the world? May we each offer what we can to God’s purposes in the world, revealing his ever abundant love.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me forth with eyes and hearts wide open. Guide me as you need me to go. Use me as you will. Amen.


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New as Well as Old

Reading: Matthew 13:52

Verse 52: “Therefore every teacher… who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven… brings out new treasures as well as old”.

At what I would consider my “home” church, back when I was still a middle school teacher, I was part of the team that began a contemporary worship service. That was over twenty years ago. At the time it caused a lot of angst and even some division in the church. When the service outgrew the “Upper Room” and needed to shift to the sanctuary, then we really upset the apple cart. Change is hard, especially when it involves something new and relatively unknown to many people in the group or organization. But a quick survey of almost every church offering contemporary worship will reveal that that service is their best attended service. Change can be good and positive and even life giving.

When I moved into full-time ministry just over right years ago, one of my secret inner fears was one day being appointed to a small, rural church with just an organ or piano that only sang hymns on Sunday mornings. Since helping start the contemporary worship service that was the only service I had attended. When we were out of town on a weekend, we would find a church to visit with a contemporary service. But after just a couple of months in pastoral ministry I came to realize that I loved the hymns and liturgy of traditional worship. Holding onto the past, to the tried and true, very often has its place. It is often the key component of a group or organization’s core identity. It is essential to who “we” are.

In today’s verse Jesus is talking about this same idea – the old and the new. Talk about someone with first-hand insight on holding onto the past yet also doing something new. If we keep nothing but the old in our faith and in our churches, then we become old. We all know what eventually happens to the old. But we cannot just change it all overnight either. Then folks look around and wonder where they are. Balance is the key.

The same is true for our lives and for our journey of faith. Growth is most often a slow and steady process that involves melding the good new with the good old. In our faith and in our churches may we be open to the new even as we hold onto the roots and traditions that make us the children of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know, to discern, how and when and where to go in a new direction and why and where to keep the tried and true. Both are central to a healthy and growing faith and to a strong and vibrant church. Lead and guide me, I great Jehovah. 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.


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True Servants

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah’s servant song, when read through our New Testament lens, sounds like Jesus. Called long before he was physically born, sword in mouth that cuts through all religious airs and gets to the heart of loving God fully. A polished arrow that surely hits the mark, convicting us of our sin every time. As the servant did, at times Jesus felt as if laboring in vain. More than once he laments over the rejection and hard hearts; more than once he critiques the disciples lack of understanding. He realizes the outcome as described by Isaiah: “my reward is with God”. Jesus returns to the Father to reign forever.

In verse six God pries open the circle a bit. It is not enough for Jesus to go just to the Israelites. In the second half of this verse we read, “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. In comparison to the world, at that time Israel was small. God’s chosen people were a small segment of humanity. To go to the “ends of the world” was a radical shift in the mission field. Much of the Old Testament law functioned as a means of keeping Israel set apart from the outside world. God also directed some measures early on to insure this. Research the conquest of the Promised Land if you want to know more about this. By Jesus’ day the religious establishment defended itself fiercely. There is no shortage of Jesus clashing with religious leaders concerning the size of his circle – the degree to which he would engage and love the “other”. Eat with sinners?! Allow a prostitute to touch you?! Yes, the religious powers wanted to keep the circle drawn in very tight. Verse seven references all of this: “despised and abhorred by the nation”.

In our Christian life we are called to mirror this opening up of the circle. After being drawn into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we are called to die to self. This act ceases our circle of one as we are led to think of others and their needs before considering our own. We are also called to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus. This means we will do as our example did, suffering for others. These things are what a true servant does. On our journey, we too will be despised when we follow Jesus closely. Jesus is not of the world. He is foolishness to all who live for self and for the things of the world. The servant came for all. One day kings and princes will kneel. May this be our posture every day.

Prayer: Father of all nations and all people, guide me today to love as widely and unconditionally as the model did. Through my words and actions, whatever is needed, may I be a light in the darkness of the world. In humility and submission I kneel before your throne, asking for you to use me as you will today. Amen.


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Powerful, Strong, In Control

Reading: Psalm 148: 7-14

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted”.

Psalm 148 is all about praising God. The psalmist calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The praise comes from both the created world and from all types of people. As children of God, at times we are led to spontaneous praise. Coming home two days ago, just off the highway were a group of five bald eagles. Standing on a large patch of snow, their dark brown bodies seemed so large there close to the road. As I took in the sight I thanked God for blessing me with that small, sacred moment.

This morning the wind whips around outside. The power of the wind is amazing. The winds carry around the snow that has been falling for a day now, making it hazardous outside. We are not having church today. We will worship and connect to God in our homes today. I am grateful for the warm, safe home that I sit in. I pray for those who have to be outside – the farmers and ranchers, the emergency personnel, the two snow plow drivers that have gone by my window this morning.

The power and strength and size of the storm makes me feel small and humble. There is also a bit of powerlessness to a day like today too. This is all good. God is the one that is powerful and strong and vast and in control of it all. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God!

Prayer: O maker of all creation, O stirrer of the storm, thank you for the day. In the power of the storm you are revealed. I praise you for your greatness. I exalt your name alone! Amen.