pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Into the World

Reading: Psalm 125

Verse 2: “The Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

Psalm 125 is in the ‘Song of Ascents’ section. These songs would be sung heading to worship or as personal reminders of God’s love and care and protection. Verse one speaks of the safety and security felt when we place our trust in the Lord. The psalmist compares such trust to Mount Zion. Zion will endure forever. One day the new heaven and earth will descend, establishing God’s presence with us forever. There God will reign forevermore.

Continuing the psalmist writes, “The Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” Like the physical mountains standing guard over Israel, the Lord stands guard over the Israelites. This relationship continues to this day. Because of Jesus, you and I are under God’s watch. In God’s presence we too seek to be righteous and upright, bringing peace to our lives and to the lives of those we meet. This second half is a subtle Old Testament to New Testament shift.

In Old Testament times these songs of ascent were unifying and reminded the Israelites that they were God’s chosen people, set apart from the world. As the New Testament times begin we are still clearly God’s people – God sends Jesus to reconcile all of the world in love. As the New Testament unfolds the fuller revelation of God, Jesus Christ, commissions his followers to go to the ends of the earth to “make disciples of all people.” No longer to be set apart we are to be sent out.

Each of our homes or apartments are set in communities and neighborhoods. The same is true of our churches. Our God reigns today and forevermore, offering hope and peace, light and love, healing and forgiveness to a world in need. In faith and trust may we go into our communities and neighborhoods, bringing God’s love and presence into the world. In and through us may others come to know the God that cannot be shaken.

Prayer: God of all time, you are enduring, you cannot be shaken. You love us always and forever. Use me today to help others know the hope that sustains and the joy that brings true life. Amen.


Leave a comment

Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 1: “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of our praise”.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Psalm 48 speaks of God’s presence in Jerusalem, in the city of David. For the psalmist the city of God is beautiful and will stand forever atop Mount Zion. God is present in the city itself – in the citadels that protect her from foreign kings and in her temple, the place the people “meditate on your unfailing love”. For the Israelites, Jerusalem will be God’s home forever and ever. Zion will always stand as the fortress of God.

It was another time and place when the Psalm was written. It was a time when people from all around would move inside the city walls in times of danger. It was a place of constant threats from the outside. A great fortified city was of importance to the many kingdoms of the world. For Israel, though, God was at the center of their power. God defended them, kept their walls secure. Within those towers and ramparts the psalmist felt safe and secure, trusting in God’s presence.

In your world today, where do you feel safe and secure? For many of us, our home is one place of refuge and rest. It is a place we feel protected, a place we can trust. For many, God’s presence is felt in the sacred spaces – sanctuaries, chapels, cathedrals. There we feel safe, secure, loved. Yet God is not limited to these structures either. So, in your world, where else do you sense God’s presence? For me, I sense God’s presence out in the wilderness, where his glory is often on full display. There I sense God’s greatness and am drawn into praise. Wherever we encounter God, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “This God is our God forever and ever”. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Living God, you are present in so many ways. Your strength and care and protection surround me. In you I am loved. Be with me always, O Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

Transform Us

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verses 2 and 3: “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white”.

Peter, James, and John go up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus is transfigured before them. He is still Jesus but he has been changed, elevated, further revealed. His glory and power shine out from him. To the disciples, this appears or is described as “dazzling white”. Even though their words paint an image that we can form in our mind, we too know that their human words and description fall short of the fullness of this divine moment. Their words provide but a glimpse of what they saw and felt and experienced in that moment.

We too have moments when we are blessed by the very presence of the divine. Once, when I was in high school, I was praying with two friends in the church balcony. We were praying for a friend of mine whose life hung in the balance. In that balcony, God touched me. I felt surrounded, loved, assured that no matter the outcome my friend would be alright. These words relate my experience to you but they do not fully capture what I felt and experienced that night. It too is but a glimpse into someone else’s encounter with God. Just as Peter, James, and John’s moment was transforming for their faith, so too was that balcony moment. What moments have you had that have transformed you?

As we consider that question, we are on the verge of entering into the season of Lent next week. It is a season of introspection and reflection. When and if we are open and honest with God, he will meet us in those places of need or brokenness or hurt as well as in the ordinary moments of life. He will surround us and lift us and remain with us if we are but willing to go up the mountain or through the valley or to simply recognize him in the ordinary of life. May we be willing and may Christ transform us during this holy season.

Prayer: Lord God, you seek to be with us in all of our moments – the highs and lows and the moments in between. Help me to recognize your presence in each moment of my life and draw me deeper into that connection point and into our relationship. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Power of Touch

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 9: “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him”.

At a Promise Keepers event many years ago I ended up in a prayer room. I must admit that my attitude was not good as I entered that room. After a brief conversation the prayer team surrounded me, laid hands upon me, and prayer over me. We were connected by touch. After we finished praying I began to leave. A young woman stopped me and asked if she could share something with me. She shared that God gave her a vision of me while we were connected in the circle. God had joined our circle, touching her heart. In turn, what she shared with me left me shaken in the moment but then very much helped to shape my ministry. Touch is a powerful way to connect to one another and to God.

In our passage today there is a change of leadership. In verse nine we read, “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him”. Moses knew his journey was over. He did not sulk off or pout. His ministry and mission were now complete. He taught and molded the people’s faith as he led them to the edge of the Promised Land. Another would now lead. So Moses lays hands on young Joshua, prayer a blessing over him, and passes the mantle of leadership to the one who will lead the Israelites forward. Joshua becomes filled with the Holy Spirit, the key to being a wise and good leader.

The practice of laying on of hands and praying and blessing with the Spirit is a long tradition in the church. Early in life we lay hands on an infant or child, anoint them with or place them in the waters of baptism, and invite the Holy Spirit into their lives. At other stages – first communion, 3rd grade Bibles, confirmation, marriage, ordination, mission trips… – we lay hands upon the person or persons and pray God’s blessings over them. In many of our churches we will gather around someone or a family and lay hands upon them as we pray for healing or a safe move or…

Jesus promised, “Where two or more gather in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Whether simply holding hands as we pray or as we lay on hands as we surround one with the tangible touch of God’s love and care, may the powerful presence of the Lord be on you and may it work through you as you minister in his name.

Prayer: Lord God, it is powerful to connect to one another as we pray. In those times in the circle, whether at the center or around the center, your power has been made known so many times. Please continue to join us as we gather in your name. Amen.


Leave a comment

Abundant

Reading: Exodus 16: 9-15

Verse 12: “…Then you will know that I am the Lord your God”.

As our passage opens, Aaron calls the community of faith together, acknowledging that God has heard their grumbling. As they gather to come before the Lord, God’s glory is revealed in the cloud. In verse eleven we again hear God acknowledge to Moses that he has heard their grumbling. In response, Moses passes along that the people will have meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The announcement closes with the pronouncement: “…Then you will know that I am the Lord your God”.

In the provision, the Israelites certainly know that it was God who provided. In the evening, the quail come and cover the camp. Cover the camp – there is an overabundance implied here. The same is true with the manna. A covering of dew surrounds the camp. It was not here and there – it surrounded the camp. After the dew is gone, God’s care is again made evident as bread appears and covers the desert floor. Again, a feeling of overabundance. Each and every person is able to gather as much as they need.

Is there something to be learned about God because the quail and manna come in such abundance? Can we learn something about God and our relationship with God through this passage? I tend to think that God sounds annoyed by the grumbling. That is because I know I would feel annoyed. In the same way, at first I see the overabundance as God saying, “Do you have enough? How about now? Now?” as the quail and manna almost pile up. But these thoughts do no align well with my overall understanding of God. God hears the grumbling through the unconditional love that defines all God does and says and is. The abundance is a reflection of that endless, unconditional love. That is the lens through which God sees their relationship too. Yes, the people grumble; they complain. Maybe even a few whine. I’m guilty of all three at times. When I digress into these attitudes and when my prayers reflect this, it is because I lack trust, because I think God is taking too long to answer, … We grumble… not because we think God unloving or uncaring. We grumble because we are not loving God enough, not trusting enough, not secure enough…

God loves us. In abundance. God will care for us. In abundance. May our growing faith step more fully into God’s abundant love and care.

Prayer: Loving God, in my heart I know you love me fully, dearly, completely, abundantly. It is a love I can only begin to fathom, a love I can just scratch the surface of emulating. In your abundant love, guide me to love you and others better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today… Amen.


Leave a comment

Perfect Love

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-22

Verses 21-22: “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”.

The Passover had been the final miracle before the Israelites packed in haste and fled Egypt. Amidst Egyptian cries of grief and heartbreak the people of God left behind slavery and oppression. Their mighty and powerful God has intervened and freedom lay ahead. After 430 years in Egypt about two million Israelites began a journey to their new home. After just a short time, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and his army heads out to bring the Israelites back. Camped up against the sea, they are filled with fear as Pharaoh’s army approaches.

As we pick up the story today, God acts quickly to protect his people as the pillars of cloud and fire both move between the Israelites and the Egyptians, creating a barrier neither will cross. Moses stretches out his hand and God drives back the waters of the sea. In verses 21 and 22 we read, “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”. As the people of God walked through on dry ground, a wall of water stood on either side. Talk about seeing God’s power up close and personal!

This image brings up two things for me. The first is the song “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music. In the bridge they sing, “You split the sea so I could walk right through it, my fears were drowned in perfect love”. It is such a beautiful lyric. The second thing I am reminded of are the many ways that God has acted in powerful and mighty ways in my life and in the lives of people I know. God has a habit of doing what he did that day in the desert – of entering our fear and doubt and worry, of walking with us to a place of safety, and of protecting us as we journey. God’s perfect love does indeed surround us and assured us of his presence. As you consider how and when our powerful God has intervened in your life, please take a moment or two to recall when God has led you through. Rejoice and thank God for his perfect love.

Prayer: Lord God, your power is amazing. Thank you for the times when you have provided a way when I could not see one. Thank you for the times when you led me, even though I did not think I could step forward. Thank you for your abiding and perfect love. Amen.


Leave a comment

As One

Reading: John 17: 1-11

Verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”.

Sometimes people think a trial or time of hardship will draw a group closer together. Someone may cite a sacrifice made by someone to save a dear friend or fellow soldiers. Another may tell of how this church surrounded a family that experienced that traumatic event. While all of these things do occur, they are predicated on one fact: there was a bond or sense of team or family or community that had been built prior to the time of testing.

As Jesus prays for his disciples in today’s passage, he is asking God to watch over the bonds that he has built. Jesus knows that “the time has come” and that he will soon complete his work, bringing God the glory. He identifies what makes the disciples into a team or community: “they have obeyed your word” and they believe that Jesus and God are one. Faith in Jesus is what binds them together. Jesus closes the section of the prayer that we read today with these words: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. Jesus knows that more trials are to come. He knows that the road ahead will be scattered with persecution and death, with rejection and alienation. So Jesus prays for his friends, for his followers. He prays for unity.

The unity Jesus asks God to give is twofold. First, he knows that they need to remain one with each other. If a group or team or community is not fully bonded to one another in love, then a trial can destroy the unity. Sometimes the group looks for a scapegoat or for someone to blame. Sometimes the group can take an “everyone for themselves” attitude. As this small group heads out to change the world, Jesus knows that they will need God’s protection to stay as one and to remain focused on the goal. The disciples must also remain one with Jesus. Jesus taught them often about the need to remain in him – the vine, the root, the cornerstone. This unity is paramount. In the trials that lay ahead, the disciples must remain one in Jesus Christ. He is their only hope. The same remains true for us. As followers of Jesus Christ we must do the same. May we seek to be one with each other as we are one in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to yourself. You ever draw us in. We are not called alone though. Help us to see those around us who we can walk this journey with. May your love lead and guide us as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


Leave a comment

Believers in Fellowship

Reading: Acts 2: 42-47

Verse 44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”.

The book of Acts records the early history of the church. In our passage today Luke writes about what makes the church the church. It remains true today. The early Christians learned about Jesus and God. They spent time together in fellowship meals (that included what we call communion) and in times of prayer. The Holy Spirit was present, filling them with awe and empowering the apostles to offer signs and miracles. Generosity abounded. No one was in need as they cared for one another. They were a community. Verse 44 summarizes this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. Over all of this was their faith in Jesus Christ, revealed in their love for one another. Non-Christians, who were primarily Jews with a few Romans mixed in, noticed. In some cases, they were drawn to the love and became followers of Jesus Christ.

There are many times when the church today reminds us and the larger world of the picture painted by Luke today. That picture continues to attract people to the church. In times of trial, the body surrounds someone or a family or group of people. In times of need people step up both financially and physically. At gatherings there is joy and love present. This is the common “scene” in many churches. But the scene outside most all of our churches is much different than the scene outside the early church in Jerusalem.

Although “the Lord added daily to their number”, the city was not particularly welcoming or friendly to this new group. The church was a very small minority in a very Jewish and Roman world. Neither the Jews nor the Romans liked these Christians. At this stage they were sort of tolerated. As the church stuck and started to grow the persecution and worse would grow too. The reality of this fellowship of believers would change soon. Yet it would grow and grow and grow. God remained at work in and through the church. The same remains true today. Faith and love still guide the way. The Lord still draws us closer and closer while inviting others in. Praise God!

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the church. Although not a building, it is a “place” filled with loving and faithful people. I am blessed to be a part of your church. Continue to be present to us, to lead and guide us in fellowship with you, with one another, and with the world. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Joy of Our Salvation

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me”.

Psalm 51 is often read on Ash Wednesday and at other times of repentance and renewal seeking. The Psalm centers on God removing our sins and restoring us back into right relationship. Today many will be marked by ashes, an ages old symbol of humility and contrition in God’s presence. For many centuries the Israelites have put on ashes and sackcloth when coming before the Lord in times of deep prayer and confession.

The psalmist begins with “Have mercy on me, O God”. Many of us sinners have uttered these words an almost infinite number of times. We know what David is talking about when he writes “my sin is always before me”. While this is true, there is an even greater truth: God’s love is always before us too. And behind us. And in front of us. God’s love surrounds us always.

In verse ten we hear a familiar verse for this day: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. On Ash Wednesday this is ever our humble prayer. As we begin our Lenten journey towards the cross of Calvary we desire to begin cleansed and renewed by the Lord our God. As we allow our sins and failures to fall away in worship, we will experience God’s love and mercy working within us, making us new again. As God makes us new again we can join David in proclaiming verse twelve: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me”.

The joy of our salvation is not just a heavenly thing. It is that but it is also a part of our daily lives. The ashes that will be placed on foreheads and hands today remind us of our mortality, connecting us to the urgency of confession and repentance. The ashes also remind us of God’s grace. The ashes in the shape of the cross remind us that Jesus’ sacrifice has covered not only our sins but has secured our salvation as well. The victory was over both sin and death.

Our passage today closes with this reminder: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart”. May we be broken today by our sin. May we lay our whole selves before the Lord today. In his great love and mercy God will wash us clean; he will restore us to the joy of our salvation. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, you are my God forever and ever. Your love never fails, it never runs dry. On this day help me to trust fully in that love. I pray for a broken and contrite heart. Turn my heart inside out, search me and know me completely. Then and only then will you be my all in all. Only then will I be fully yours. May it be so today. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

Acknowledging Sin

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”.

David begins Psalm 32 recognizing that the person whose sins are forgiven and not counted or held against them is blessed. He then offers a juxtaposition to that idea in verses three and four, recalling how he wasted away and felt a heaviness upon him in those times when he lived with sin in his life. We can all relate to the two places or emotions that David brings to light.

In verse five we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He is owning a step we too must own: confession. David saw the sin in his life and came before God, claiming his sin and laying it before the Lord. In love, David received God’s grace and mercy. His sins were forgiven, the guilt was washed away. We too come to this place. We live with sin to a point. Then the Holy Spirit will work in us, bringing a conviction that leads us to lay our sins before God.

The step that follows next is a changed life. We call it repentance – a desire to leave our sin behind us and an effort to live accordingly. In verse eight God’s voice is heard. God lets David (and us) know that he will “teach us in the way we should go”, counselling and watching over us. We are warned not to be like the stubborn mule, returning to our sinful ways.

In verse ten we read, “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in him”. May that be our walk of faith this day and every day – turning to God, being honest and transparent before God, calling on God to guide us. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your mercies that are new every morning and for your unending love that never fails. Lead me over and over to the place of kneeling before you, being made right again. Thank you for your love and mercy. Amen.