pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Walking Into Places and Spaces

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Photo credit: Lili Popper

As we begin this week we enter into the end of Epiphany, the season that focuses in on the revelation of Jesus Christ. In this season we highlight who and what Jesus is. Our call, however, is to reveal Jesus Christ to the world every day of our faith journey. It is fitting that this season culminates on Transfiguration Sunday, when the Christ is filled with light, revealing him in all of his glory. In each passage this week we enter into the thin spaces of holiness, into the places where God is at work.

As 2nd Kings opens there is turmoil in the land. The king tries to consult Baal, one of the local pagan gods. Elijah, God’s prophet, condemns this action and proclaims that the king will die. It is also time for Elijah to end his earthly life and to cede the role of prophet to Elisha. After clearly demonstrating that God is with him, Elijah comes down the mountain to walk out his final steps. Three times Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, seeking to spare him. Each time they arrive at a new place, the local prophets come out and tell Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah from him. Three times Elisha asks them not to speak of it. Each time Elijah tries to leave him behind Elisha says, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. He will not abandon Elijah. He will continue to walk faithfully with him. Elisha chooses to walk into that thin space with Elijah. As he walks through that space, Elisha is transformed from protege to prophet, from student to master, from one who follows to one who leads others into God’s presence.

As believers we too will face times when the Holy Spirit invites us to walk into those thin spaces, into those holy places. We will be called to be the presence of God in the lives of others. We will be asked to walk with another on a difficult journey. We will be asked to sit or pray with another in a time of pain or loss. We will be asked to share our faith and our hope with another who is lost or broken. In these sacred moments we will be called by the Holy Spirit, asked to be the very presence of God to another. Yes, it is scary and hard to step into those places and spaces. We do not go alone. The one who invites goes with us. The Spirit is ever present, ever ready to reveal the power of God’s love, peace, hope, power… through us. As we feel ourselves called and as we stand on the doorstep to these holy and sacred moments, may we too say, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Prayer: Lord God, each time that I have stepped into that thin space, you have been right there with me. Your Spirit leads and guides, strengthens and encourages. Each experience has been holy and sacred. Yet each first step is always hard. It ever requires trust and faith. Continue to give me the courage and belief to step into those places and spaces. Walk with me day by day. Amen.


Leave a comment

Drawing Near

Photo credit: Soul duvOcean

Reading: Mark 1: 14-15

Verse 15: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus steps into his ministry as the one who prepared the way has been arrested. John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod. John spoke truth against the power of the day and it would cost him his life. Jesus travels to Galilee to begin his ministry. This region to the north was isolated, away from the power structures of the day, home to many in need of the good news. As he begins his ministry Jesus announces, “The time has come”. John had prepared the people for this very moment.

Jesus continues with the message that John had preached. It is one of the constant messages of the entire Bible. The practice of repentance always remains central to the walk of faith. In verse fifteen Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”. In Jesus, God draws near to us. This is what draws us to him, it is what drew the first disciples into following Jesus. In our lives today we have moments when this is especially true. These are the times when we can tangibly feel God’s presence with us. To have any relationship, change is necessary. It is true of our relationship with Jesus. This relationship begins in a place of humility, in the place where we recognize our need for a Savior. Sensing that we are entering a holy space, stepping into the presence of the Messiah, we are naturally led to repentance. Entering that space we feel that we need to be our best. Part of that involves laying aside our imperfections, our sins, our selfishness. Looking within, we see that which separates us from the one we want to draw near to. Repenting of these we draw nearer to the kingdom of God. It is in our moments of closeness to Jesus that we come to belief as we surrender our lives to him. As we continue to draw near we experience grace and mercy and forgiveness as we are made new over and over. We experience freedom from the things of this world as our focus and love shifts toward the eternal. We come to live out the joy and hope and peace that grows from belief and trust in Jesus. We come to see Jesus as the “good news”, as the way, the truth, and the life, as the one who gives us the final victory over sin and death.

This day may we spend time in his very presence, allowing the good news to permeate our very being. May the kingdom of God draw near to you this day!

Prayer: Loving God, you draw near to me in so many ways – in these quiet moments, in the interactions with others, in the ordinary of life. In love you fill me with a peace and hope and joy that nothing in the world can give. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.


Leave a comment

Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


1 Comment

Celebrating

Reading: 2 Samuel 6: 1-5

Verse Five: “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord”.

Quick history review: When Israel was fighting with the Philistines, they sinfully brought out the ark of the covenant basically as a good luck charm. The battle did not go well and the Philistines captured the ark. But the ark was a curse because they put it in one of their god’s temples. So they returned it. Years later Saul dies and David becomes king. He defeats the Philistines and begins to consolidate his power to Jerusalem. In today’s passage David is bringing the ark to Jerusalem, aligning his political and spiritual power.

To the Israelites, the ark represents God’s presence with the people. It is one of the most holy and sacred objects for the Jews. Instead of just sending some priests or Levites after the ark, David makes a big deal out of it. As we read today, he gathered 30,000 men to parade the ark ‘home’. It had been residing in Abinadab’s house in a small town near Jerusalem. The return was a joyous and festive occasion. Verse five tells us, “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord”. All of Israel came to the parade. It was a great event to bring the ark to the capital city. This action brought exuberant praise and worship if God. It was like a homecoming for the presence of God.

Today we feel like the sanctuary is the place where we most easily and readily find and experience God’s presence. It is a holy space frequently home to prayer and praise and the sharing of God’s Word. It makes sense that we feel God’s presence in the sanctuary. The questions that come to me through this passage today are: Do we worship in the sanctuary with “all our might”? Do we come to joyously celebrate God’s presence with us? Are we exuberant each Sunday in our worship of God?

Today may we wrestle with these questions and where our thoughts and the Holy Spirit take us.


1 Comment

Two Spaces

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Advent is a time of waiting.  As we wait, who do we wait as?  We wait as disciples, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as servants of the most high God.  Yes, in our waiting, we wait longingly to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.  But we do not wait idly.  In the days ahead we must actively live out our faith, seeking to help others to be drawn bear to the coming Savior.

As believers we live and wait in two spaces.  In these days of Advent we wait expectantly for the celebration of the birth.  We celebrate because in the birth, God takes on flesh and walks among us.  Emmanuel, God with us, lived among us and set for us the example which we are to follow.  When we look at Jesus’ life here on earth, we see what it looks like to live God and to love neighbor.  In Advent we actively seek to live out our faith, drawing others to Christ.  As Paul wrote, “We receive grace and apostleship to call people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith”.  We live to make new disciples.  In doing so we are good in the world, light and hope in dark places, help and care to the needy, and love to the hurting.

As believers we also live in another space because we also know the end of the story.  Yes, Jesus came and lived among us to show us how to live.  And, yes, because of this Jesus can better intercede for us before the Father.  He has experienced life so He can relate to our struggles.  But ultimately Jesus came to die so that could have new life, life without sin, life with God.  We also live in this sacred space, in this eternal space.  It is a space filled with hope and grace and mercy and love.

As we live out our witness to Christ’s love in the here and now may we also share the good news of the promise of life eternal, the ‘prize’ for which we journey.


Leave a comment

To Hear God

Reading: Genesis 15: 1-12 and 17-18

When was the last time you experienced God’s presence?  Was it during a time of worship?  Was it during a time of deep prayer?  Was it out in nature – perhaps in a beautiful sunrise or during a powerful thunderstorm?  Maybe it was during a quiet time alone with your Bible.  God desires to be in relationship with us and seeks those moments when He can connect to us so that we can feel His presence.

Abraham was blessed to be able to talk and walk with God – many times.  Their connections were through a dialogue that had both give and take to it.  There was certainly more to it than simply hearing God’s voice.  The relationship between God and Abraham was deep and open and honest.

For most of us, we feel blessed when we have felt God’s presence surrounding us.  This experience is almost a physical one although we cannot see or touch God; we do feel a tangible presence in these moments.  We come away from these experiences with a definite sense of being blessed and with a sense knowing the sacred in our lives.

While experiencing God’s presence is always an awesome experience, I long to have a connection with God like Abraham’s.  The greatest obstacle to this is me.  I so value the times of being in His presence, but I want to hear His voice, to converse with God.  At times, when I am planning a lesson or working on the message, the Spirit’s guidance is definitely evident, but more is possible.

My greatest challenge is to provide the space for a conversation to happen.  For me, this means slowing down enough and quieting myself down enough to allow the opportunity to occur.  It also requires being open enough to hear God.  I can say I want to have what Abraham had, but I must be fully willing to hear and obey what God has to say.  This involves the complete surrender of my will to His and my total trust in His plan.  For me this is a journey just begun.  God, make me willing.  God, draw me in.  God, help me create space for You to enter in.  God, grant me the courage to trust.