pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Still Speaks

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 6: “Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel'”!

We begin this week’s readings with the calling of Samuel. One night when Samuel lay down in the temple, as he had done for many years, God decided to speak to him. In some ways it must have been a shock but in other ways it was expected. To understand why, a little background from the previous chapter. Samuel was, after all, born to Hannah, the fruit of a desperate prayer to the Lord. This barren woman had taken her case to God and he responded. Eli was there that day in the temple as she poured our her heart and her pain. After understanding her prayer, Eli blessed her, saying, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him”. When he is born, Hannah names him ‘Samuel’ “because I asked the Lord for him”. After Samuel is weaned he is brought to the temple so that “his whole life is given over to the Lord”. Samuel is raised in the temple by Eli, learning much about God. So, it is not a shock when God calls, “Samuel”!

Samuel’s story reminds me of my story and perhaps it also reminds you of your story. Long before I began to remember things for myself, my parents brought me before the Lord and baptized me, committing my life to a faithful walk with the Lord. My birth was an answer to prayer, some comfort to hurting hearts. Although I did not live at the church, worship and Sunday school were regular parts of my childhood. Youth group eventually replaced Sunday school. I was confirmed and became a member of the Congregational church. During my high school years I made the personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Perhaps your faith journey is similar to mine and, therefore, to Samuel’s. God has long been at work in our lives. God knows us well.

It took Samuel a while to realize that God was speaking to him and he needed Eli’s help to realize it. This too I recognize in my life. I do not always recognize that it is God “speaking” to me. At times I too need others to help me recognize the whispers, the nudged, the guidance. Sometimes three calls are just the beginning of the process for me.

Just as with Samuel, God has plans for our lives. God will call and call, full of patience and love. As we live out our faith each day, may we grow in our connection to the Lord so that we too are faithful in responding, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your faithful and persistent call upon my life. I am grateful for each person that has helped me to hear the call throughout my life. Open my eyes and heart to hear you better and better each time you call. Give me a willing spirit, ever ready to respond. Amen.


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To God Be the Glory

Reading: Romans 16: 25-27

Verse 25: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…”

The three verses that we read today come at the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church. These verses are the doxology or blessing given to the church. At the end of a letter we may write “best wishes” or “yours truly” or “until the next time”. Paul’s closing is more of a summary. In just a few verses Paul summarizes what he has said to the church in Rome in a long letter – fourteen typed pages of size 12 font in my Bible.

The people in the church in Rome are believers for two primary reasons. First, they gave heard Paul’s “gospel” – his good news story. For Paul it is the story of how he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and of how his life was radically changed. The “proclamation of Jesus Christ” is that he offers salvation and eternal life to all who believe in him as Lord and Savior. Paul spent much of his life preaching salvation in Jesus Christ and of the peace, hope, joy, love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, contentment… that comes to all who believe. Paul used both his story and Jesus’ story to draw others into the faith he knew and lived so that “all nations might believe and obey”. That was Paul’s mission and focus in life.

You and I have what Paul had – a personal faith story and Jesus’ Christ as our Lord and Savior. We too are called to do what Paul did: to help others to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And we are called for the same reason Paul was called: “to the only wise God be glory forever”. As we seek to witness to our faith, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others, may we bring God the glory this day and every day!

Prayer: Wise and true God, thank you for your saving grace, your tender mercies, and your inclusion of me in your family. The mystery of faith has changed my life. Help me to share my faith with others, opening the way for the Holy Spirit to change their lives too. Amen.


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God’s Mercy

Reading: Luke 1: 54-55

Verse 54: “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful”.

As we begin this week’s readings, we begin with the closing lines to Mary’s song. After receiving a visit from the angel Gabriel, letting her know that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who confirms that Mary will indeed be “blessed among all women”. Becoming fully aware that she will be the one who will give birth to the one whose “kingdom will never end”, Mary bursts forth in song. The song ends by recognizing one of the universal truths of the faith: God is merciful.

Mary recognizes that she is part of something that has been long awaited and that she is part of God’s ongoing story. The coming of the Messiah is something that Israel has longed for. The one who will redeem and restore Israel has been a hope for generation after generation. Mary knows that she is part of that plan, now coming into reality. She also acknowledges that her part, as significant and important as it is, to Israel and to the world, is but part of God’s ongoing gifting of mercy to the whole world. At an unexpected time and in a most unexpected way, the one who will save Israel and all who believe is about to enter the world through a most humble servant.

In today’s passage Mary sings, “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful”. God has chosen to help Israel once again, demonstrating his great mercy and love. A humble, very ordinary woman was chosen by God to be a part of his continuing revelation. Mary recognizes that this is something that God has done and will do “forever”. As we reflect today on these words from Mary, we must consider how God might use us too, ordinary as we are, to further reveal his mercy and love to the world. In what small yet significant way might God use you or me today or this week to further reveal his great mercy?

Prayer: Loving and most merciful God, thinking about Mary’s circumstances and about how she humbly stepped into what you called her to, I am amazed. To think that you call and seek to use even me is most humbling. Like Mary, guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit, using me as you will for the further revelation of your mercy and love for all the world. Amen.


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New

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 5: “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”.

The book of Deuteronomy closes with the death of Moses. Moses climbs Mount Nebo and God shows him the land that has been their aim for forty years. Moses has led the Israelites for a long time. He has guided and taught them, prayed for and interceded for them. In verse four God reminds Moses that this is the land promised to Abraham… This promise was first made about 700 years ago. This is God’s way of reminding Moses that the story is not Moses’ story, it is God’s story. Even so, death is hard, especially after a forty year relationship.

In verse five we read, “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”. There is a certain factual feel to this verse. I suppose it reflects the reality that death is a fact for us all. Even though we do know this, loss is never an easy thing to experience. Whether our loss is connected to someone’s passing or if it is due to the loss of a job or home or phase in life or of a relationship, grief and pain and mourning come with the loss. In our passage, the people mourn for thirty days and then prepare to move on under a new leader. Thirty days feels like such an arbitrary number. Yes, there is a reason it is thirty days, but the reality is that grief does not always end after thirty days. For some, for those loosely connected to the loss, the grief may not last that long. For spouses and children and close friends, the grief never ends. Time does bring a measure of healing. At some point, if life for the living is to go on, then one must return to the ordinary of life. One returns to work or to caring for the children or to whatever tasks life contained before the loss. A new way must be made. So it is with the Israelites. Under Joshua, the people move forward, on towards the promise. A new era begins.

New. Our faith journey, like life, is filled with new eras, things, relationships, experiences. Grief is but one thing that affects our faith journey. We experience other hard things in life that lead to growth in our faith. Some experiences that lead to growth are good: new insights, new understandings, new depths in our relationship with Jesus Christ and with others. These new experiences, even those that involve loss, remind us that God is ever with us, that God loves us and cares for us, always. In trust we learn to step forward in faith. In those moments or seasons of loss, may we too cling to God’s promises and presence, knowing that we are never alone.

Prayer: Lord God, you are always with me. Even in each painful new thing that has come, I can look back and see your hand guiding, your love comforting. Each experience deepens my relationship with you. In the good and in the bad, you are ever my God. Thank you. Amen.


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Far to Go

Reading: Psalm 106: 1-6 and 19-23

Verse 6: “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”.

Today’s Psalm connects into our Exodus 32 readings of the past two days. The Psalms often recount history as a way to both remember and to learn from it. In today’s case, the Psalm was likely written about 500 years after the Exodus from Egypt. Remembering thier stories was a big part of the Jewish faith. Like our stories or histories, for the Jews it reminded them of their sins and failures and of God’s love and mercy towards them.

Psalm 106 opens with praise to the Lord and with thanksgiving for how God blesses those who champion justice, shows favor and brings aid to his people, and gives a joyful inheritance from to his children. It is important to remember why they sought to live in a right relationship with God. Verse six shifts the focus. Reality enters.

In verse six we read, “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”. Despite knowing the story quite well, the Jews of the psalmist’s day struggle with sin just as their forefathers had. Sad to say, even with much more than 500 years gone by, we too continue to struggle with sin. In our society and sometimes in our very lives, golden calves abound. In many ways, our nation had forgotten God, just as the Israelites did from time to time.

Even within the church, we have gotten it wrong. Collectively and individually we have made poor choices, have walked out bad decisions, and have enforced policies that caused more harm – all scattered throughout our 2,000 year history. So often these blemishes, these lowlights, have come when we (the church or segments of the church) were so sure we were right that we could not consider any other possibility. Arrogance and pride and even tradition can be dangerous allies. To this point, I read a great line from Steve Harper in today’s Disciplines devotional: “We allege a certainty about our views apart from the humility to ever call them into question”. So true. Worse yet, we do harm to others from this place of arrogant and prideful certainty. We cast stones and look down long judgmental noses at those that dare speak out, that risk to question. And sometimes, once God forces us to see the error of our actions and words, in pride we refuse to seek forgiveness and to remedy the errors of our sins. Yes, church, we still have far to go.

As the body of Christ universal, may we begin to walk with Christ’s humility. May we each seek to be touched by God’s mercy and grace instead of clinging to our arrogance and pride. May we be a part of God’s stream of justice rolling down upon the earth. May the change begin within as we strive to let love alone be our guide and way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am wrong and especially when I think only my way is right, bring the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit fully to bear. Drive me to truly understand the path of Christ, the love filled humble servant who set the example. Strengthen me for the journey. Amen.


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Being Kingdom Builders

Reading: Matthew 21: 42-46

Verse 43: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”.

Our section for today opens with Jesus quoting from the Old Testament. This is one of many passages that point towards the Messiah. Jesus is the fulfillment of these passages. When he says “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone (or cornerstone)” he is referring to himself. Jesus will be the stone that is the foundation, the stone that holds all things together. The religious leaders fail to see Jesus this way. For them, this is not “marvelous in our eyes”.

Jesus’ quotation from the scriptures leads into a declarative statement: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”. The key attribute is producing fruit. Today we mainly call this “making disciples” but it also includes growing deeper in our faith. The task of making disciples, of growing the early church, will fall mostly to fishermen and other ordinary people. It will also be carried out by healed lepers, recovering prostitutes, reformed tax collectors, and the like. They all lack formal training but have first-hand experience with the cornerstone. It is the story that they tell that continues to draw others in. Theirs are the stories of transformed lives and new hearts. They are stories of love and hope, of mercy and forgiveness, of acceptance and welcome. As these stories drew others in, the church grew. Fruit was being produced.

The chief priests and Pharisees know Jesus is referring to them. They are not at work building the kingdom of God. They are about maintaining the status quo and limiting access to only the holy and righteous – the religious elite. Jesus is differentiating himself from the religious elite. The truth he speaks stings and angers them – “they looked for a way to arrest him”.

When we act like these religious leaders – being judgemental, accepting only those like us, keeping our faith to ourselves – then we are standing at odds with Jesus Christ. When we do not love the marginalized and the broken, the hurting and the lost, then we are not practicing the faith that Jesus modeled. To such as these belong the kingdom of God. Therefore, as disciples of Jesus Christ, may we cast open wide the gates and may we help all to enter into God’s love.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to build the kingdom today. Lead me to tear down walls that separate and limit access. Lead me to open doors that feel closed and to shine light onto the path to your love and grace. Enable me to be love lived out in the world, so that in me others see Jesus. Amen.


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Stories

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 & 12-16

Verse 4: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”.

On those days or in those seasons in life when it is cloudy and gloomy and stormy we desperately need a ray of sunshine. In those times when we feel stuck or trapped in the dark, we need the door to be cracked open, for a sliver of light to slice into our darkness. At times in my life there has been a weight upon me or a darkness and gloom hanging over me. It feels oppressive and defeating. On my own I was unable to move past that place. Looking back, though, I can recall specific conversations, lovely notes or letters, small acts of love – all done by family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ – that lifted me up. Each person was living out the love of Jesus Christ, bringing light into my darkness.

Psalm 78, much like other similar Psalms, was a way for the people of Israel to tell one another and their children of times when God’s love lifted them up or was light in their darkness. Just as me recalling those times when God’s love rescued me, by singing or teaching the Psalm, the Israelites were reminded of God’s love for them. To be reminded, to remember that you are loved, is especially important in those times of trial and hardship. Instead of withdrawing and turning within, which is our natural tendency, by remembering we are turned outward and upward – to others and to the Lord. It is then that we become receptive to the love and hope offered by others and by God. Living in exile, Psalm 78 would be salve to their situation. The Israelites needed to remember that God loved them and to believe that God would provide a way through the darkness. By keeping that hope alive, the Israelites got to the day that allowed them to begin returning home.

My stories of when I was lifted up are like Psalm 78. I can recall them for myself and I can tell them to others walking in gloom and darkness. I can remind them of God’s love and care for them. Your stories work the same way. Who in your life needs a little encouragement or an act of kindness? They are all around us. May we be the love today.

Prayer: Most loving God, this day lead me to those who need to be reminded of your love. Bring to mind the story to tell or the Bible passage to share. Use me to open another’s eyes and hearts to your love. Amen.


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A Story of Love

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 37-45

Verse 40: “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”.

Today’s Psalm passage is part of a larger Psalm that tells the early history of Israel. In the verses we did not read it speaks of the covenant and of God’s protection when they were small in number. It also speaks of Joseph and of the plagues that led to the exodus. Our passage today picks up the story of the actual exodus and of God’s saving acts out in the wilderness. The Psalm would have been sung on the way to worship or in worship. It would have been heavy in the song rotation in the period after returning from exile in Babylon.

As we reflect on our days reading from Exodus 16 this week, we get a different feel for the story. In the Psalm we read, “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”. This is much different from the repeated grumbling directly against Moses and indirectly against God. The story has been polished up a bit. But that is a common practice. When we, for example, tell of how God answered our prayers during a hard time or season in our lives, we do not include much about the days of doubt and frustration or anything about our anger at experiencing said trial or suffering. We don’t tell the story as one of weak or faltering faith and of God finally answering. Why do we tend to do that? Why did the psalmist?

The point of the story is not to recount our human weakness or failures but to tell of God’s love and care, of God’s investment in our lives. For the Israelites, this story played out in the covenant and the Law. For us, it plays out in our saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Both are great stories to be told. What song can or would you sing, telling others of God’s love for you? May our lives be that song today.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the story of my life. It is of your love and care, of your guidance and direction, and even of your correction and protection. It is not always pretty. It is not always neat and tidy. But it is the story of your love for me. Thank you. Amen.


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Vital and Connected

Reading: Psalm 114

Verse 7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob”.

Psalm 114, like most of the Bible, tells a story. Today’s Psalm is but one part of the story of Israel. Other parts of the Bible tell other stories as well. For example, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus Christ. For Christians, this is also part of God’s story. From Genesis through Revelation the Bible tells story after story that illustrates God’s love for humanity and for all of creation.

Part of Psalm 114 connects to creation. The psalmist sees creation as part of the story. In verses five and six the psalmist poses the question of why the sea, river, mountains, and hills moved as they did. There is a connection to the created world here in Psalm 114 that we mostly miss with our modern eyes and ears. Yes, you or I might sense God’s power in a good thunderstorm or recognize God’s beauty in a stunning sunrise or sunset. But we do not see or understand these things as rooted in God, as responding to God, as seeking to please God. We see them as things controlled by or manipulated by God, not as things in relationship with their creator. Their “life” is in and through God’s hands. Imagine our world if we saw the created world more as the psalmist and people of Israel saw the world.

From this perspective, and from God’s perspective, the sea, river, mountains, hills, rocks… are as much a part of the story as the people who walked through the waters or those who drank from the rock. This morning I also wonder who different our world would be if we truly saw all of humanity this same way. What if we truly heard one another’s stories as part of our own story, as a part of who we are? The creator of all the universe sees all people and all of creation al vitally connected together. Imagine if we saw and heard others from varied cultures, places, races, neighborhoods… as being vital and critically connected part of who and what we are. Perhaps then we would more fully live out the command that is so prevalent in the story of God: love your neighbor as yourself. May it be so.

Prayer: God of all, help me to better understand and see and feel all of my connections with what you have created, with what is good. Guide me to live well alongside both my neighbors and the created world around me. In doing so, may I better live out your love. Amen.