pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Restore Us, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7 and 17-19

Verse 7: “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

Today’s Psalm is a plea to God. In the opening verses the psalmist pleads with God to “Hear us” and “awaken your might, come save us”. There is an urgency to the plea, a sense of desperation just below the surface of these words. As we have journeyed through life we have each felt these feelings at times. In our current world more and more people are feeling these emotions every day.

These feelings become clearer in the next verses. The psalmist wants to know how long God’s anger will “smoulder against the people”. He asks God how long they will have to eat “bread of tears”. There is a lot of hurt going on in this Psalm. A lot of pain and heartache are being experienced by the people of God. In verse seven the psalmist begs, “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. This is a familiar refrain used in Psalm 80. It is a refrain that many could offer up to God on a frequent basis in this season of illness and pain and loss.

In verses seventeen thought nineteen the writer asks for God’s hand to rest upon “the man at your right hand, the son of man”. The psalmist is likely referring to an earthly king or to a prophet of God. The people need one to lead them. From our New Testament eyes we read these words and think of Jesus Christ. On our faith journeys Christ is the one we turn to, the one on whom we call. Jesus is the source of our salvation, the cornerstone of our hope, the example of love lived out. In our Christian faith we look at the Lord Jesus Christ and pray, “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. May the Lord restore you and shine his face upon you today.

Prayer: Lord God, awaken your might and bring healing to our land and to our souls. Heal us of our COVID, heal us of our prejudices and injustices, heal us of our pride and consumerism, heal us of our sin. Restore us and make us more faithful disciples, better neighbors, people of love. 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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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.


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Too Good

Reading: Luke 24: 36b-40

Verse 38: “He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”?

I can remember when I first re-met my wife. I had a big crush on her in high school and then we went off to college and to begin adult life thereafter. Then one night her and a friend happened into the place I and a friend were. Without going into much detail, I found myself on a late night stroll at the camp she was working at that summer. I could not believe what was happening. My head reeled as I drove home.

It had been three great years with Jesus. The things He taught and did would stay with them forever. But then there was the trial and the crucifixion and placing the definitely dead body in the tomb. And oh the hurt that was felt and the tears that were cried these last three days. What they could not believe could ever happen now felt so real and permanent. Then there were some saying Jesus was risen and two others said they met and walked and talked with Him. But the last three days are so real.

Jesus steps into the disciples’ presence and says, “Peace be with you”. The disciples were startled and frightened. The last three days felt so real. They had begun to have those ‘what now?’ conversations and to consider the possibility of what they would do or return to. Jesus entering their lives again was not one of the things they considered.

As I drove home that night, I thought it all too good to be true. I was sure she would not even take my phone call asking for a date. And I was more sure she would not say yes.

“He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”? The better question is why wouldn’t they be troubled and doubting. We too would have been in the same place mentally and emotionally. So Jesus offers them some proofs, saying, “Look at my hands and feet” – don’t you remember where they put the nails? And then Jesus invites them closer: “Touch and see”! He is among them, flesh and bones and all. It is not a ghost. Touch and feel and see Jesus right then and there.

The men and women in the room that day will take what they see and touch and feel and they will go out into the world to witness to what they know. They will go forth to share the good news that Jesus defeated sin and death and will help all who believe to do the same. It is good news still today – yes, almost too good to be true. We too are called to help all to hear this good news, to know the risen Christ. May we go forth to bear witness this day and every day.


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Together 

Reading: 2 Timothy 1: 1-8

Paul and Timothy have a special bond.  Paul calls him “my dear son” and Timothy sees Paul as a father figure.  Paul has mentored Timothy and watched him grow in his faith.  Timothy has been poured into by Paul, both in terms of the knowledge of the faith and in how to live out that faith.  Again we read of tears.  Paul recalls Timothy’s tears at their last parting and declares that he longs to see Timothy again.  These tears are partly tears of sorrow but they also testify to the deep, deep connection that Paul and Timothy feel through Christ.

Paul encourages Timothy in these opening verses.  He first reminds him of the “sincere faith” that he sees in Timothy, a faith not only taught but passed down to Timothy.  He exhorts Timothy to “fan into flames the gift of God” which is present in and through the Holy Spirit.  In this section Paul finishes by encouraging Timothy to live out a bold faith, empowered by love and self-discipline.  The mentor is building up the pupil while he is physically distant.

But this is not a one-way street.  Paul also receives from Timothy.  Paul us writing Timothy at a time when he is in custody.  It is a time of suffering for Paul.  As he looks around Paul sees that he is all alone, that all have deserted him.  Paul is a prisoner for Christ and he is reaching out to Timothy, his dear friend.  In his suffering, Paul draws strength from the relationship he has with Timothy.  He also knows that Timothy will pray often for him and will be with him in spirit.

In our walk of faith we will have mentors who help us grow in our faith and at times we too will pour into others.  Our faith is a communal faith, one that is to be lived out together.  It is both a joy to walk alongside a brother or sister growing in Christ as well as to walk alongside them in their times of pain and suffering.  May the Lord bless each of us as we laugh and cry and grow together with our brothers and sisters in Christ.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

The title of the book from which we read says a lot about the content.  There is much to be sad about.  The words chosen convey this: deserted, desolate, distress, weep, grieve, slave, exile, sins.  It is indeed a dark time in Israel’s history.  It is made even darker because of the reason they are lamenting.  It is not because of a cruel twist of fate or because of a random act of history.  It is because of a long period of sinning against God.

There are times in our lives when we find the need to lament.  These are times when many tears are shed.  The sadness seems deeper when we have had a hand in bringing on the season of lament.  Because of our own poor choices or bad decisions, we find ourselves in the wilderness.  We can look back and see how our own actions have led us to where we are.

The years the Israelites shed were at first tears of sadness.  They looked at their new situation and cried and mourned.  They longed for what was.  This is often our first reaction as well.  But we cannot stop here.  Just as the Israelites realized the error of their ways and repented and came back to God, so too must we learn from our poor choices and bad decisions.  Our tears of regret must lead us to change, to become more than we have become, to repent, and to begin walking as God calls us to walk as disciples of Jesus Christ.

As the Israelites cried tears of repentance, God began to work in their hearts and began to restore them to a righteous relationship once again.  God desires to do the same with each of us each time we go astray, each time we fail, each time we hurt.  We too must repent and turn back to God.  Then God will dry our tears and lead our hearts to turn back to our faith.  There we will find healing and wholeness and love.  There we will be made righteous and holy once again.  May we humbly and earnestly seek the Lord our God.


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All of the Time

Reading: Psalm 8: 2

Even though God and His creation draw praise and worship from some, others do not see the beauty and majesty of His creation or acknowledge His power and might.  Instead of lives that steward and protect His world and all He has created, some choose to abuse the earth and its inhabitants for their own gain.  Some even go so far as to murder, to wage war, to pillage the land for its resources.  They ignore or deny God’s existence because it eases their consciences.

In nature we also find occurrences or events that seem to fly in the face of God and His love.  Tsunamis and earthquakes destroy property and kill scores if not hundreds of people.  Disease strikes and takes innocent lives, often too soon or too young.  Individuals or groups carry out heinous crimes or spew hate and we shake our heads.  There is much pain and death and sorrow in this world.  But God does not cause these things to happen.  Violent storms are part of nature; disease and death come to perishable and frail human bodies; and, at times, mental illness occurs or Satan’s plans occasionally win the day.

We can ask where is God in the midst of all this.  We can ask why God doesn’t intervene to keep all harm from His children.  These are hard questions.  But we know the rain falls on the just and on the unjust.  God loves the sinner just as much as the saint.  God does plan good for our lives.  He blesses us with gifts and talents and often with many resources.  He seeks to be in a personal relationship with us.  In the midst of our trials, God sheds tears right along with us.  He seeks to be our rock in the storm, our comforter in the pain.  Simply put, God seeks to be present to us all of the time, in the good and in the bad, not just on some days.  May we too do the same.


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Walk Where He Leads

In her deep distress and anguish, Hannah prays.  She cries out to God with groans and sighs and the silent moving of her lips.  I can picture her maybe shifting from foot to foot; perhaps her head is bobbing in a steady rhythm as she prays.  Hannah is so lost in her prayer that Eli, the priest, assumes she is drunk.

One can also get lost in God because you are so in love with Him.  King David, filled with the Spirit, danced and sang before the Lord.  Almost as if to some of the horrified onlookers, David said he would become even more undignified than this.  In a huff of embarrassment or disgust, some stormed away.

Although the content of their prayers are on the opposite end of the spectrum, Hannah and David have much in common.  First and foremost is their absolute passion for God and their relationship with Him.  Second, they pour out their hearts in reckless abandon – they do not care one bit what others think – it is just them and God.

On occasion one enters into this space.  Maybe it is during a hymn or song and suddenly tears arr streaming down the cheeks and the heart is filled with the presence of God.  Maybe it is when one steps out for God and offers an act of compassion or mercy for another.  Afterwards, one looks back and thinks, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’

This day may we each encounter God in a special, life-changing way.  Allow God to lead.  Walk where He leads.

Scripture reference: 1 Samuel 1: 9-20