pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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Eternity Awaits

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

Verses 10 and 11: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”.

Ecclesiastes 3 is a familiar passage. Most of the passage is about the seasons in life, laid out in a series of contrasts. A time to plant… to uproot. A time to weep… to laugh. A time to keep… to throw away. Verses ten and eleven sum up the passage well: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”. Life has both burdens and beauty, sorrows and joys. All people, believers and non-believers alike, live within these realities – birth and death, mourning and dancing, love and hate, war and peace…

This year has been different, unlike any other in our lifetimes. These pandemic times have affected all people – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, men and women, believers and non-believers. Illness and loss and grief have been born by all kinds of people and families. Yet not all is the same. Within the hearts of those with a saving faith there is a different peace, a different hope, a different strength. The rest of verse eleven reads, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of man”. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that the burdens and beauty, the sorrows and joys are but temporary. None of these things that Solomon writes about in Ecclesiastes 3 are the end of the story. Eternity awaits us all. For those who believe, our eternity rests in God’s hands. Thank be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, life is filled with many experiences – some joyful, some full of pain. Seasons come and go; this one that we are in the midst of will one day be a memory too. You are the constant. You remain love and hope and strength. All honor and glory are yours. Amen.


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The God Who Saves and Guides

Reading: Exodus 14: 23-31

Verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”.

In one short night the Israelites experience a wide range of emotions. They felt fear and worry as the Egyptian army closed in. They felt doubt and anxiety about their situation. They felt protected as God formed a barrier to keep them safe and they felt loved as God provided a way forward. They felt awe and wonder as they walked on dry ground. They felt a mix of relief and exultation and some sorrow when the waters closed in over the pursuing army. It all culminates in verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”. Because of the great power they saw and were a part of that night, the people’s faith in God is solidified.

This experience of passing through the waters is one common to us all. In our nation’s past and in our family’s past, people passed through the waters and came to a new land. Some came bound in chains, fear and bewilderment stirring inside them. Others came in cramped quarters, carrying all they had in a suitcase or trunk, excitement and hope stirring in them. These two stories are part of our collective and communal story. They are part of shaping and forming who we are as people and as a nation. These two stories continue to shape and form us. Daily both slaves and immigrants make their way into our nation.

As the Israelites took their next steps on the other side of the waters, they realized there was no going back. Their direction was sealed. With God in their hearts they walked on into their future. Today almost all of those who end up in our land find themselves in a similar place. They have no means or ability to return, having come without anything, against their will, or selling all they had just to make the journey. Many feel lost and fearful. Many of these are without faith or true hope. They do not know the Lord. They cannot have faith or trust in God.

As God cared for and protected, loved and guided the Israelites, they grew in their faith. As believers we are tasked with caring for and protecting, loving and guiding those who are lost and afraid, those who are among the vulnerable and marginalized. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to notice those in bondage and those who are seeking to make a new way. Through our acts of love and kindness, may they come to know the God who frees and the God who guides. May we see those who are without faith and may we help them to know the God who loves one and all.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to see the stranger and the captive among us. Lead me to be love in the world, helping others to know your mighty power and great love. May I be light in the darkness and share hope for the future. Amen.


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Faithfulness

Reading: Exodus 2: 1-10

Verse 3: “When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket… and put it among the reeds”.

With Pharaoh’s edict to throw all newborn Hebrew male babies into the Nike still fresh in our minds, Moses is born. He is not yet Moses though. He is born to a Levite family – the clan that will one day become the priests to all of Israel. His mother keeps him secretly for as long as she dares. Finally, at three months, she must give him up. In verse three we read, “When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket… and put it among the reeds”. It reads so matter of fact. I cannot imagine the tears that flowed and the sorrow that gripped her heart as she did each step. What she felt must have come close to what Mary felt as she watched Jesus in his final hours.

Just as he was on the path to Calvary, God is faithful on the path to the river’s edge. Moses’ sister watches the basket from afar as his mother places the basket in the river and walks away – how could she stay? God’s hand guides the small basket to the very place that Pharaoh’s daughter comes to bathe. Her ears hear crying and her eyes are guided to the basket. Her heart is filled with compassion. Bravely Miriam steps forward and offers to get a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby “for you”. Somehow she knows this is but a temporary thing. Pharaoh’s daughter gives the baby to his mother, offering to pay her for caring for the child. Imagine the mother’s gratitude to God! Imagine how her faith grew that day. What sorrow had turned to joy!

How faithful is our God! When the baby is weaned he is returned to Pharaoh’s daughter. It is then that he is named Moses because she “drew him out of the water”. This letting go was much different for Moses’ mother. She was not giving him up to death but to life. Her son was stepping from slavery and a hard life into safety, security, and freedom. What had transpired was so much more than she could have ever envisioned that day she placed her son in the river. God is an amazing God.

On our days when life takes a twist or when it delivers up a hard pill to swallow, may we recall the faithfulness of both mother and God. In trust and faith may we too allow God to guide, walking forward in his love.

Prayer: God of all graces, thank you for the reminder today of your faithful love. Through the power of the Holy Spirit remind me of your love at all times, especially in the trials. Amen.


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To What Extent? How Far?

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse 2: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”.

Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you could take someone’s place? Or have you ever been in a situation where you’d give anything to change the final outcome? Maybe someone you love lost a child and you’d take that child’s place in a heartbeat if you could. Perhaps things could have been done or said differently and that person wouldn’t be estranged from the family. I’d guess that almost all of us have been in these situations or have heard stories of others who were in these or similar situations.

Paul is right there with us. In verse two we read, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”. You can feel his pain. Paul grew up in a Jewish home and became a Pharisee, a scholar of the Jewish faith. Paul knows what all of “my own race” know – the covenants and prophecies, the law and temple worship. They have the faith that has been longing for the Messiah. They know the stories and scriptures that point to Jesus as the Messiah. But they will not recognize him as the Savior, as the one, as the Messiah. To one who does accept Jesus as Lord, it is hard for Paul to understand how the Jews do not. Paul believes in Jesus Christ so strongly that he is willing the be cursed to hell, to trade away his salvation for the sake of the Jews believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul is willing to take the place of that child. Paul is willing to do anything to change their unbelief.

Paul’s willingness should be our willingness. Like the men with the treasure in the field or the pearl of great worth from last week’s Matthew 13 passage, we should be willing to give up anything or to do anything to see another come to Christ as Lord and Savior. As we ourselves ponder those we know and perhaps love who are living outside of a relationship with Jesus, to what extent are we willing to go so that they may be saved? How far?

Prayer: Lord, we know that at times the cost of faith might be high. The question I wrestle with is how far am I willing to go to bring another to Jesus Christ. Work within me to expand the range of what my answer truly is. Ever push the boundary, Lord. Thank you Jesus. Amen.


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Yes Lord!

Reading: Psalm 30: 1-5 and 11-12

Verse 2: “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”.

Psalm 30 is a song of dedication to the temple. It is written as a reminder that God is our helper, our healer, our rescuer… It is a song of thanksgiving and praise, of assurance and remembrance. David opens the Psalm by exalting God for rescuing him in a time of need. In verse two he sings out, “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”. This personal rejoicing and thanking God is something we all have done and will continue to do throughout our lifetimes. The love of God for us is a steadfast and limitless love. David has good reason to rejoice, as do we all.

As the Psalm continues, David recalls how God’s favor lasts a lifetime. Like with Mary and Elizabeth, two who found favor with God, David has come to know that it is a forever blessing. David does acknowledge that sorrow will come, but that it does not last. Through God’s presence, he recounts the joy that comes with the morning. With God, David will not be shaken. With God, David will be able to stand firm. We too serve this same God. His favor and joy extends to us. In faith we too can stand firm. Yes, the trials will come. The sorrow will visit on occasion. Like David, we too can cry out to the Lord, trusting that the Lord our God will be our help.

Verses eleven and twelve close out Psalm 30. Each time I read those words I am connected to the song “Trading My Sorrows”. It draws upon these words. Song author Darrell Evans writes of trading his sorrow, shame, sickness, and pain for the joy of the Lord. He too remembers times when he was crushed, when he was struck down. He was crushed but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. God remained present. God remains present to each of us too. The chorus of this song is a repetition of the words, “Yes, Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord”. It acknowledges what the Psalm closes with: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever”.

This day and every day, may we trade our sorrows… for God’s joy. In grateful response may our whole lives thank the Lord our God. May it be so as we say, yes Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my healer, my redeemer, my rescuer, my friend. Over and over your joy has come with the morning. You set my feet upon your firm foundation. I will not be shaken. May all my life sing out yes Lord, yes Lord! Amen.


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Joy and Sorrow

Reading: Proverbs 8: 1-4 & 22-31

Verses 22-23: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works… I was appointed for eternity”.

Proverbs 8 opens with wisdom calling out. It then speaks of why mankind should seek wisdom and of how we can use wisdom. Then, in verse 22, we find a shift. Read through New Testament eyes we read wisdom as Jesus Christ. Hear Jesus’ voice in verses 22 and 23 as we read, “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works… I was appointed for eternity”. Before the creation of the world that we find in Genesis 1, Jesus was with God. In this Genesis account we also read that when the darkness was still over the surface of the deep, the Spirit of God was “hovering over the waters”. In the beginning, the Trinity was there.

Verses 24-29 contain a simple reminder of the creation story. Jesus was there before the oceans, before the mountains, before the fields, before God marked out the deep, before the clouds… When God “marked the foundations of the earth”, Jesus was there. Like God, there is the eternal nature to Jesus.

In verses 30 and 31 we catch a glimpse of the relational nature of Jesus. He was the craftsman at God’s side. He was filled with delight and rejoiced in God’s presence. Jesus also rejoiced in God’s creation and he delighted in humankind. When I consider these thoughts, both joy and sorrow come to my heart. I rejoice because this is how I see Jesus living out his earthly life. He rejoiced in interacting with and ministering to people. Jesus loved one and all. This is an extension of what he felt as creation began and continued to unfold as he was at God’s side. But there is also a little sadness for me. In spite of his great love for us, that was not enough. Jesus had to die for the ones he loved. On our own we could not and cannot overcome sin. So in love he gave himself for us. Jesus’ love is so much greater than our love. While I am a little sad that he had to, I am so very grateful that Jesus Christ loved me that much. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the beautiful world that you created. Thank you for my place in it. More than that though, thank you for the gift of your son, who went all in for me and for all of humankind. Thank you God. Thank you. Amen.


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Sing a Song!

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 1: “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights above”.

Songs are found throughout the Bible. Many people express their faith and their joys and sorrows through song. The Psalms are a book of songs. Psalm 148 is one of many that are songs of praise. It begins with, “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights above” and invites all of creation to praise the Creator. The list begins with the angels and ends with the children. It also includes the heavenly bodies, all creatures, nature in all forms, and the forces of nature. Everything was created by God; therefore all should praise God.

Humanity is the part of creation made in God’s image. We are “closest” to God in our creation. One of the ways we can best connect to God is through song. When we praise God with song we recognize God’s presence in our lives and in our world. We acknowledge that God is in control. When we consider the choice of what we can sing, there is both a wide variety and a great volume. We can sing a Gregorian chant or a rap song. We can sing a classic hymn or a modern praise song. We can pick a song that is slow and somber or one that is jazzy and upbeat. There is a great variety of songs that contain both praise and good theology. Many songs are Bible verses put to music and other songs recount God’s presence and movement in people’s lives – they are sung testimonies.

When we sing a song, we are both reminding ourselves of God’s truths and activity in the lives of the faithful and we are also professing our faith. Song is also a universal language. It can therefore lead to evangelism. Try humming a song or hymn today and see if God provides an opportunity for you to tell another about your faith. Sing a song today and allow God to move in and through you!

Prayer: Lord, may my joyful noise be a fragrant offering to you and to others today. Give me an opportunity today to share my faith with another. Amen.


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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! Amen.


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Childlike

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-4

Verse 2: “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”.

In our Psalm today, as in many of the Psalms, there is an honest cry to God for help, for rescue, for refuge, for deliverance. The psalmist cries out to God almost like a child would cry out for help… Verse 2 reads, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”. There is an honesty and a trust that reminds me of how a child asks their human parent in times of need. The child has an almost unshakable belief that the parent will come through.

Jesus encourages us to have the faith of a child or to have childlike faith. It is a faith that comes openly and honestly to God with our sincere requests as well as our grandiose dreams. It is a faith that says and believes that God can do anything – no request is too big for God. It is a faith that comes with no pretense and with no agendas. It must be refreshing to God when we come to Him like a child, like the psalmist, with this pure faith.

As adults we struggle to have this kind of faith. We like to pretend that we have it all figured out and to act as if everything were under control. This makes it hard to ask for help. It is hard to ask our spouse or co-worker or boss for help. Ask God for help?! To admit we are in need of help, to cry out to God in our times of trial – well, that is just childlike. And it is exactly what God wants.

Like the psalmist, this day and every day may we seek to have a childlike faith, coming to our loving heavenly Father with and and all prayers. May we bring God our greatest joys and our most heartfelt sorrows. And like a child, may we trust our heavenly Father with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, grant me an honest and humble heart. May I come to you ever open and always honest, trusting in you alone. Amen.