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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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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Pressing On

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

In today’s passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for a radical change – his death, followed by him being “raised to life”. The time the twelve have spent with Jesus must have been the best time of their lives. They have witnessed all kinds of miracles and have been a part of a few. They have been side by side with love lived out to the full. They have been blessed with the wisdom of God. If I could just have dinner with anyone in the world, far and away my choice would be Jesus.

The news Jesus delivers is hard to fathom. How could this even happen to the Messiah? How could that be the end of the story? There had to have been a personal side to the emotions the twelve felt too. Peter says, “Never, Lord”! This is the same Peter who was proclaimed the “rock” upon which Jesus would “build my church”. Following these new words from Peter, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan”. Imagine how that must have stung Peter. The Lord has a way of keeping us humble. Peter is not thinking of the “things of God” – of the plan laid out for Jesus and for humankind. He is not thinking of the Messiah of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Peter is thinking of what Peter wants – to just continue as it has been. We never want to lose someone or something we love.

Jesus then turns to all of the disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. For Peter and probably for all of the disciples, the initial denial will be the desire for Jesus to stay with them. The death and resurrection are critical pieces of the plan. They will also be asked to deny self in many more ways as they follow the risen Lord. They will each take up the cross and sacrifice many things along the journey. Such is the cost of discipleship. It is a sobering thought.

Like the twelve, we prefer life to be good, to move along smoothly. It is well with our souls when we are surrounded by those we love, enjoying life, feeling closely connected to the Lord. But the storms of life come, we are drawn to crossroads, we too face death and loss. And at times we too must take up our faith, stand with or for Jesus, and count the cost. This is how we carry our cross. With God, it is always one we can bear, always a path we can tread. It is so because we do not walk alone. As we long for our reward, may we each press on toward the goal of heaven, trusting in God each step of the way.

Prayer: Redeeming and saving God, strengthen me for the journey ahead. Grant me the power to walk the path you place before me. Fill me with your love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Each day may I offer all that I am in service to you, my Lord and King. Amen.


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With Us

Reading: Matthew 14: 28-33

Verse 31: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”.

The disciples have just been a part of feeding 5,000+ with two fish and five loaves. As they headed out in the boat, life probably couldn’t get any better. Then a storm arises. That is usually how they come – out of nowhere. Life is moving along really well and then we hear the word “cancer” or the words “your position has been eliminated” or some other difficult news. All of a sudden we feel as if we are right there in that boat with the disciples. Fear, doubt, worry all rise up.

The disciples are in a storm. They are in need of Jesus’ presence and strength. He comes to them. Despite the words of encouragement from the teacher, Peter still doubts. He does not trust that Jesus is there in the storm. Peter demands proof. He demands a miracle. In our times of most desperate prayer we too can go here. We have all prayed the “God if you’re real…” prayers, demanding that the cancer go away or that God will ‘fix’ whatever else has fallen apart. These prayers belie our lack of faith just as Peter sinking revealed his failure of faith.

Jesus is there for Peter. When Peter sinks we read, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”. Right away. No delay. When our faith is teetering and we’re about to sink, Jesus does the same for us. He reaches out, he is fully present, he extends compassion and understanding. Jesus is there with us. Even if the cancer ‘wins’ or if the difficulty does not end as we had hoped, Jesus remains there with us, giving support and encouragement, peace and strength. Our faith cannot prevent some storms from running their course. But our faith promises a companion in the boat. Jesus promises to be with us. His grace is sufficient in all things. May we trust in Jesus.

Prayer: Loving Lord, your promise to be with us never fails. At times we fail to keep the faith, to really trust in you. When the storm causes me to begin to falter, whisper your love into my ear. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Take Courage!

Reading: Matthew 14: 22-27

Verse 22: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead of him”.

Jesus’ actions in today’s passage have an immediate teaching moment for the disciples as well as application for all who follow as disciples. Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him so that he can pray in solitude. They head out into the waters and a storm arises. As the night progresses, the disciples are increasingly battered and afraid. Into their fear and tiredness, Jesus walks across the water. He comes through the storm to be with them, to calm their fears, to reassure them. As he nears, Jesus echoes the words that God spoke to Moses during a storm in his leadership, saying, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. The winds and waves calm as Jesus enters the boat, validating who he is: the Son of God.

In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first disciples and the early church would read this passage and see themselves as the ones in the boat. Jesus commissioned all disciples to go into the world to share the good news. For the early church the storm was the Jews and Romans. Today, for us, it is secular culture that defines the post-Christian world that we live in. For the early followers, the harassment and ridicule were the early wind and waves. As the storm increased they endured persecution and prison and even death. It felt like a storm raging against their boat. The same God who came to Moses, the same Jesus who came to the disciples in the storm – the same Holy Spirit continued to be with the early disciples and continues to come to you and me when the storms of life rise up.

Jesus continues to call us out into the world. In response, as followers we seek to live out the gospel, to share our faith when opportunities arise, and to be examples of the humble servant whenever we can. At times we too will find ourselves in the storm, battered and afraid. But we will not be left alone. Jesus continues to come to us, to walk right through the storms, to bring us peace and strength and assurance. Through the whisper of the Holy Spirit, Jesus repeats over and over, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. May we ever remember, Jesus is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, your abiding presence is always with me. Ever guide me, ever walk with me. Help me to remember, especially in the storms, that I am never really alone. No matter how bad the storm, Jesus is by my side. Help me to cling to his power and strength. Amen.


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Flourish

Reading: Psalm 52

Verse 8: “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”.

The first seven verses of the Psalm are like the tempest of life. For David, Saul is creating the storms that rage around him. Sometimes for us it can be a person or a single situation that is creating the swirl that feels very consuming. Sometimes it is a combination of factors. We can become overwhelmed, especially when we are running at or beyond capacity.

This week we have VBS at the church. It makes a full schedule a little fuller, adding about 5 hours to most days. I love cooking and I love hanging out with middle school youth, so I was looking forward to the week. And then a wicked head cold settled in on Saturday and was going strong until this morning. Just that one little thing was enough to make the first three days extra hard.

David’s struggle lasted a lot longer. He was pursued by Saul for days on end. The constant pressure of moving and hiding again to avoid confrontation was draining. It was very hard. This is revealed in verses 1-7. But then comes verse 8. David pauses, takes a breath, and writes, “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”. He stops and pauses and then reminds himself that above all else, above all that is happening with Saul, that God is his refuge and his shelter and his strength.

An olive tree sinks down deep roots. These roots can draw nourishment from the soil. Olive trees are tough looking and are gnarly – they stand strong. David’s faith parallels these trees. He is deeply rooted in God. The connections that he has to God nourish him and allow him to even flourish in the midst of this struggle.

At times we too must pause and stop all of the busyness. At times we too must take a breath, pause, and reconnect through the roots that we have deep down in our relationship with God. Maybe it’s just an extra 15 minutes of quiet time after lunch. Maybe it is sleeping in just a bit to refresh the body. Maybe it is pausing at your desk to offer up a little extra prayer and praise. When we are pressed may we too take a little time, pausing to remind ourselves of our connection to God. In those moments, soak up the nourishment for the soul that time with God provides. Then we too will flourish.

Prayer: Dear Father, when I try and become or do too much, when I just try to push through on my own, slow me down, draw me back in, fill me with your love. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


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18″ Journey

Reading: Job 42: 1-6

Verse 5: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”.

In our passage today, for Job, God has made that 18″ journey. Previous to his great trials, Job was a righteous man. He was obedient in following the Law. He worshipped God on the Sabbath, he gave to his local synagogue, he spoke to God daily. In life, Job was an honest man, a hard worker, a person who could be counted on. Job lived a blessed life – a wife, lots of children, large herds and flocks, many servants, good friends. Job was blessed and saw God as the source of his blessings.

Then one horrible day the storm hit and Job’s world was rocked. It was not a doctor saying they had found cancer. It was not a spouse saying they were done with the marriage. It was not a boss handing him a pink slip. These are horrible things that we and those we love experience. For Job, it was losing all of his kids, flocks, herds, and servants. And then being covered in painful sores.

Job succeeded in two things during his trial: he knew that God was still with him and he knew that God was ultimately in control. Yes, Job questioned why all this was happening to him – much like we do in our trials. But Job held onto God. In the wrestling with and questioning of God, Job was transformed. Verse 5 speaks of this: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”. Job knew who God was and he followed all His rules – because that is what you do. He knew who God was and he followed out of obedience. But then Job experienced God up close and personal. He got to know God because of and through the trial. God made that 18″ journey from head to heart. Job now had a personal relationship with God.

If God exists in your head, may the Lord bless you with a season of wrestling and questioning, drawing you into relationship. If God dwells in your heart, join me in rejoicing as we shout “thanks be to God”!

Lord, I thank you for dwelling in my heart. I thank you for such a great love that loves even me. I pray for my fellow brothers and sisters who have begun their journey but gave yet to surrender their heart. Move in them, Lord, to become the king of the throne of their heart as well. May it be so. Amen.


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Keep My Eyes

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 41: “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him”!

One of the things Jesus taught about just before getting into the boat was about the lamp on a stand. He reminded the crowd (and the disciples) that faith was something that was put on a stand to bring out whatever was hidden in the dark corners and to open what is concealed there. Jesus concludes this teaching with the statement that whoever has faith will be given more and that whoever does not have faith, even what little they have will be lost.

As the seas got choppy and the water level in the boat began to rise, the disciples had a choice to make. They could turn their focus to God to seek His protection and help. Or they could keep their eyes on the storm and the wind and the rising water level in the boat. Often in our lives we come to the same point. Our decision is the same: do we turn to our own powers or do we allow fear to take over or do we simply give up?

He was right there in the boat. I can envision sone of the disciples looking to Jesus and then to the waves, looking to Jesus asleep in the stern and then looking to the rising waves. With each glance away a bit of their faith ebbed away. With each longer gaze upon the rising waters, a bit more of their faith ebbed away. Again, so it is with us. If only we could look to Jesus at the first hint of rain and then keep our eyes on Him alone. If only we could choose to allow Him to be our all in all.

With just a few words Jesus banishes the fear and doubt and worry that had been building with each wave. An absence of faith, a moment of doubt – they allow the deceiver room to bring in thoughts of doubt and fear and worry. After being awakened and calming the storm, Jesus asks, “Do you still have no faith”? Instead of grasping the moment and allowing their faith to grow, the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him”! It can be easy to do. They are caught up in the miracle and not in the miracle-maker. It can be so easy to do. So we pray, Lord, keep my eyes focused on you and you alone. Help me to see you and not just the amazing things you do. Ground my faith in your love and care. Be my all in all today and each day. Amen.


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Trust in Him

Reading: Psalm 62: 5-8

Verse Eight: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge”.

The psalmist calls out from a place we find ourselves from time to time.  With all that life can bring, at times we too turn to God for rest from the storms and trials.  We do so precisely for the same reason the psalmist does: our hope comes from God.  We can find true rest in God alone.

The psalmist uses words to describe God that build our confidence in Him as our source of hope.  God is our mighty rock, our refuge, our fortress.  These words bring us images of power and security – in this God we can indeed find a place where we can rest.  The psalmist also adds, “I will not be shaken”.  In this place of rest our God holds us secure.

The psalmist closes this section of Psalm 62 with these words: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge”.  It is a clear call to always trust in the Lord.  In the good and the bad we are to pour out all that is within us to God – our joys and our sorrows.  It is an intimate relationship that God seeks.  We are to hold nothing back from God.  In all times, God is our refuge.  May we make time each day to connect deeply to our rock, our refuge, our fortress, our salvation.


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His Love and Care

Reading: Isaiah 40: 3-11

Verse Three: “Make straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”.

Have you ever been lost, either physically or spiritually?  Have you ever lost your way because of a storm?  Maybe it was an actual storm – a good blizzard perhaps – that you can remember being lost in.  Before long you lose your sense of direction and the safest thing to do is to hunker down and wait it out.  At some point the snow and wind subside and, more often than not, the white-covered world that is revealed is beautiful to behold.

Sometimes our storm is not a physical one, but what we feel is very similar.  The storm could be the loss of a loved one or of a job; it could be the loss of a special relationship or the loss of a home.  It can be depression or anxiety or stress that rises up to an all-new level.  Many things can rise up and swirl around us to the point of feeling lost and not able to see where to go or how to proceed forward.  Often we want to hunker down at these times as well.

In these stormy times in our lives, Isaiah calls out to us as well: “In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord”.  He invites us to open our hearts and minds for God’s presence and activity in our lives.  In the midst of the storm, Isaiah encourages us to “Make straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”.  He is encouraging us to allow what God desires to do: to lead us out of whatever we are in, out of our proverbial wilderness.

Our passage closes with these words: “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart”.  It is both a beautiful image and a promise from God.  God loves us dearly and so desires to let us know and feel that love.  This day may we open ourselves up to His love and care, resting in our good shepherd, trusting Him to guide us through all that life brings our way this day and every day.