pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

“I am with You.”

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

These past two years have been filled with fear, unknowns, angst, grief, anger, conflict, sorrow. Perhaps we’ve had others seasons filled with these things, but outside of the great world wars we have not experienced a prolonged difficult season like this. Isaiah speaks to a people who felt all of these emotions and maybe more. The Babylonians swept in like COVID, bring much sorrow and pain and… As their years in captivity drug on, the Israelites surely asked questions like, “How long?” and “When can we return to what was normal?” These are very much the questions of our day as well.

Into the anger and sorrow and unknown and everything else, God spoke these words through Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” Into these powerful and very real emotions, God reminds the people: “I am with you. You are mine.” Yes, this is an unprecedented time, but God is with the Israelites. Yes, it’s starting to feel like forever, but it is not. Going on in verse two we read, “I will be with you.” Those waters and rivers that feel like they’ll sweep over you? “No, I am with you.” Those fires that feel like they will consume you? “No, I am with you. You are mine.” These words of reassurance and hope kept the people going in exile. It sustained them until this season passed.

As we near the two-year mark for this current pandemic, we too need the hear these words: “I am with you. You are mine.” We too need to claim these words, to cling to them, to write them on our hearts. May our trust and hope in the Lord drive away the fear. May God’s presence carry and sustain us as we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you have been faithful always – forever. You have calmed fears and brought peace. Your love has strengthened and encouraged. Be with us on this journey, walking with us day by day. Amen.


Leave a comment

Home with God

Reading: Luke 2: 41-52

Verse 48: “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

Today we get a snapshot of Jesus as a teenager. The gospel story fast forwards from toddler to the ministry of Jesus at about 29 or 30 with this one little snapshot along the way. Unknowingly, Mary and Joseph leave Jesus behind in Jerusalem when they begin to head home after the Passover celebration. People and family groups often traveled together for safety and protection. Mary and Joseph must have thought Jesus was with other family or friends as they headed towards Nazareth. It must’ve been at night, after their first day’s journey, as they got ready for bed, that they discovered Jesus was missing.

Imagine the thoughts that ran through Mary and Joseph’s minds! Did he just wander off along the way? Did he fall in with the wrong crowd? Was he wandering the cold streets of Jerusalem all alone, scared and hungry and afraid? In what must have been a hasty return, Mary and Joseph return to the big city. And then spend three days searching for Jesus. Imagine the thoughts that went through their minds after day one! Then on day two? And day three?!

On the third day (no coincidence here), Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple courts. He is absolutely fine. As an expression and release of the building worry, Mary asks, “Son, why have you treated us like this?” To explain, she goes on to let Jesus know, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” What was lost has been found. In his own defense Jesus tells his earthly parents that he was in his father’s house – right at home. Where else would I be?

Have others ever thought you lost when you were not? Has your faith or trust in God ever been questioned in a difficult time or by those without faith? Our reality is the reality Jesus demonstrates in today’s passage: we are most at home when we are abiding in our with God’s presence. As Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). May it ever be so for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my strength when I am weak. You are my joy in moments of difficulty. You are ever my rock and my salvation. Ever draw me home to you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Yes

Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

Verse 45: “Blessed is she [or he] who has believed that what the Lord has said to her [or him] will be accomplished.”

Today we walk with Mary, Elizabeth, and God. Both women have been chosen to give birth to babies that will change the world. Elizabeth, about six months ahead of Mary in her pregnancy, will give birth to the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah. Mary will give birth to the Messiah. The common way to approach them is to see Elizabeth as the one who was barren and to see Mary as the one involved in the virgin birth. These are parts of each’s story. These are amazing things that God did.

The women are amazing too. They said “yes” when God invited them to be a part of this world changing plan. Either or both could have fought it all the way. Imagine being 50 or 60 or older and receiving news that you were having a baby. Imagine being 12 or 13, unwed but at least engaged, and receiving news that you were having a baby. Would your reaction to this God news be the same as their reactions? They said “yes” and began to live into this plan to change the world.

When has God whispered a thought, a plan, a mission, a vision to you or I that was much less significant than Mary and Elizabeth’s and you and I did not say “yes”? Is your answer “often” too? These two women did not have training or experience with this sort of thing. There was not too much that was extraordinary about these two women. Except their faith in God. Their trust and belief was deep enough that they said “yes” when God came around. And look what happened. Both spoke prophetic words as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Both were a part of changing the world.

Part of Elizabeth’s words were these: “Blessed is she [or he] who has believed that what the Lord has said to her [or him] will be accomplished.” Yes, she is speaking of Mary here. She is also speaking about herself. Both women are blessed by saying “yes” and walking faithfully forward with God. God would like to whisper these same words over our lives. A “yes” might not change the world, but it might. It would at least change two lives. In those times when you or I have said “yes” to that whisper or nudge, have we not been blessed by being a part of God’s plan? With that truth in mind, may we go forth today with a willing spirit and a servant’s heart.

Prayer: Lord God, make me more of a “yes” person. Draw me deeper into you so that I become a more willing partner. Lead me to step out more boldly and faithfully when you call. Amen.


Leave a comment

All We Do

Reading: Isaiah 12: 2-6

Verse 4: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what God has done.”

Today’s words from Isaiah are titled “A Song of Praise.” This is an appropriate title and great content for this time of year. During the Advent season we focus on the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our world is more aware of faith in this season. In the previous chapter in the book of Isaiah the prophet details the coming of the branch of Jesse – the one who “will stand as a banner for all peoples.” In this chapter Isaiah celebrates the justice and righteousness that will typify Jesus. Today’s words are a song of praise in response to God’s gift of Jesus Christ.

One can sense the elation in verse two: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid… the Lord is my strength and my song.” Yes! God is our salvation. God’s no matter what love allows us to live with trust and without fear. God gives us strength in moments of need and gives us words of praise in times of thanksgiving and worship. It is both wonderful and beautiful to acknowledge all that God does for those who love and follow the Lord.

We turn to our evangelical charge in verse four. Here we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what God has done.” As disciples we call on God to help us make Jesus Christ known. We are to share with the world what Jesus Christ has done and does for us – how Jesus changed our life and continues to change our life. Our good news of Jesus Christ is good news to share with the world so that others can come to know the Lord and Savior. May all we do “shout aloud and sing for joy” of the good news of the “Holy One of Israel” and of all the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may I raise my voice in praise and my hands in service. In all I do and say may others be touched by your love and power. Use me to reveal your love for all of humanity. Amen.


Leave a comment

Give Thanks

Reading: Matthew 6: 25-33

Verse 33: “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

We take a break from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Matthew 6. This is a common passage for Thanksgiving. These words of Jesus tie in well with the themes of this time of the church year. We just celebrated “Reign of Christ” Sunday in many of our churches. In this passage Jesus calls us to trust in God’s love and provision for us – to trust that God reigns over all things. This coming Sunday begins Advent. Many will light the candle of hope. Today’s passage calls us away from worry and from seeking the things of this world, towards placing all of our hope in our “heavenly Father.”

There are many things that we can worry about. Jesus names food and clothing in today’s passage. We can also worry about shelter, heat, safety, health care, education. These too are necessities. They are also givens for most of us – things that we simply take for granted. Yet many worry day to day about these basics of life. In our land of abundance and plenty, no one should worry about any of these things.

This day many will gather with friends and family to celebrate a holiday. Many will include giving thanks to God today. In verse 33 we read, “Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we trust first in God and not in the things of this world, then we truly receive a blessing. The blessing is not in the things we receive or do not receive. The blessing is in the relationship, in the abiding presence of God – the one who is loving and faithful, generous and steadfast. On this day of giving thanks may we celebrate and live into our relationship with the God who reigns over all the earth.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking day by day with me, for loving me unconditionally. Each day may I lean into your reign, O Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

Walking Faithfully

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verse 2: “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Right after receiving Jesus’ teaching on the trust in God exhibited by the widow who “put in everything” Jesus and the disciples leave the temple. As they are heading to the Mount of Olives one of the disciples draws attention to the grandeur and magnificence of the temple buildings. Straight out of a teaching about relying on God and not on money (or any other earthly thing), a disciple marvels at these earthly structures. At times we too can be drawn away from what really matters. We can marvel at the new house being built by our new neighbor. We can be jealous of the new car our coworker just bought. We can long for the security of a big retirement fund. We can invest a lot of time and energy into finally having “enough.”

Jesus redirects their focus, saying, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another.” All of this – the grand buildings, the wealth of the rich, all we chase after here – all of this will crumble and fade and rust. Arriving at the Mount of Olives, Jesus continues. Jesus answers the disciples’ “When?” question with how and what. What? “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The world and even some in ministry will offer all kinds of answers to what we need, to what ails us, to what ‘success’ looks like. The disciples have come to know the way, the truth, and the life. So have we. Do not be deceived.

How will we know the end is here, Jesus? He gives them some signs that will indicate it is drawing near: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines. These signs that have been happening for almost 2,000 years are “the beginning of birth pains.” It has been a long labor. Even though the groans of birth pains persist and grow louder we still await the day of the Lord’s second coming. With a hope placed squarely on Christ alone and with an enduring faith in God’s plans, may we continue walking each day hand in hand with the one who was and is and is yet to come.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes the world swirls around us and it is hard to focus on faith and trust in you. When the waters rise, part the sea and pull us back in. When the fires rage, walk through them with us. When the doubts and lies of the evil one creep in, wrap your love around us. Day by day, guide us. Day by day, use us to walk as witnesses to your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Perseverance in Prayer

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”

Today we begin the story of Samuel. The story, of course, begins with his mother Hannah. As the story begins we learn that Hannah cannot have any children because “the Lord had closed her womb.” Children were a sign of God’s blessing. The other wife, Peninnah, had many sons and daughters. Because of Hannah’s barrenness, the husband Elkanah would give her a double portion. This attempt to show her love did nothing to alleviate Hannah’s grief and suffering. It did intensify the rivalry between Hannah and Peninnah. In verses six and seven we read that Peninnah provoked and irritated Hannah year after year.

Have you ever prayed for something year after year after year? Have you ever endured long suffering? If so, you understand Hannah’s hardship. Year after year she prayed. Year after year. At times she must have wondered if God was listening. At times she must have wondered why her suffering and barrenness must go on and on. We’ve all prayed and prayed for relief, for healing, for a change… and have had these questions, these doubts.

One year Elkanah and the family travel to Shiloh to worship at the temple. Alone in her thoughts we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” Hannah prays from deep within her heart, from deep within her place of pain. The priest Eli questions her sobriety. Explaining that she was praying “out of my great grief and anguish”, Eli offers her a blessing from the Lord.

Hannah does indeed find favor with God as she becomes pregnant and has a son. Hannah’s steadfast faith and perseverance in prayer bears fruit. The thing she most desired was given as a blessing from God. May we, like Hannah, persevere in our prayers, trusting in the God who hears us and who loves us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in the waiting, keep me focused on you. As time lengthens out remind me to trust into your plans. I know your timing is not always my timing. Guide me to walk faithfully day by day, knowing you are good. Amen.


Leave a comment

Size

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 44: “They all gave our of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

The focus in the second half of this week’s passage from Mark 12 centers around the temple offering boxes. The first part of this week’s passage was about the showy nature of the religious leaders. As Jesus and the disciples begin to observe those giving to the temple treasury certainly some were like their religious leaders, waiting until just the right time to slowly drop in their gift, maximizing the attention drawn to their coins clinking down the funnel shaped receptacle. Were the disciples impressed by the clatter some big gifts made? Were they making gestures or exchanging glances about one gift being bigger that another or vice versa? It’s hard to read a person’s heart or motivation in this moment so judgment, both good and bad, comes at a surface level.

Then a poor widow comes along. How do they know she is a widow or that she is poor? What about her indicated poverty or age? Unless you know the person these are again surface level judgments. As the woman walks by she gives two small coins. The words Mark uses are loaded. The wealthy “throw” in their gifts while the woman “puts in” her gift. These words draw us towards considering the condition of the hearts of the givers. Jesus speaks, clarifying the differences.

Knowing more than we could ever know about people’s hearts, Jesus notes that the woman “has put more into the treasury than all others.” But it was just two small coins. Jesus points out, “They all gave our of their wealth.” Not so with the woman. Jesus continues, “She, out of her poverty, put in everything.” The woman put it all on the line, giving in a way that required great trust in a way that demonstrated her intimate knowledge of God’s love for her. This is the core lesson of Jesus’ teaching. This story is not about the size of the monetary gift; it is about the size of our trust in God’s love. May our lives mirror this story.

Prayer: Lord God, bend my heart to you. In times when you call me to give – whether financial or time or some other way – may I be generous. Lead me to trust fully into where you are leading me. Amen.


Leave a comment

Balance = Blessing

Reading: Psalm 127

Verse 1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”

Our Psalm for this week speaks of the needed balance between our efforts and God being in control. According to the world, we are each in control of our own little world. Campaigns and slogans like “Just Do It” and “Have It Your Way” typify the world’s focus on self. The ideas that we “deserve” anything we want and that we are always “right” reflects this same self-centered mindset. In the more is better, I am my own god world that we live in, the words of this Psalm are great reminders of the true realities about God, ourself, and our world.

The psalmist recognizes that all we seek to do totally on our own is futile without God. Whether building a house, guarding over the city, or toiling away at work, all are in vain if done without God’s guidance and direction. But we do have a role to play. We need to physically build or guard or labor, yes. We cannot expect the one who is in control to just do everything for us. There needs to be a balance.

When we rise up early or stay up late to accomplish our tasks we are giving a good effort. In these times we must be aware of the balance, of the way God designed us and the world. With a trust in God, in the one in control of all things, we too must rest at times. To work and work and work is to labor in vain. We must always take time to rest, to renew, to refresh. These times reconnect us with God, with ourselves, and with others. They bless us so that our journeys of life and faith may continue along as God designed them to. May this be your blessing today and every day!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder about balance. You are in control yet I must contribute too. You enable me to work for your purposes, yet you also call me to times of rest. Thank you for your love and care, for your guidance and direction. Amen.


Leave a comment

Trust in God

Reading: Ruth 1: 7-18

Verse 16: “Where you go, I will go… Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

In our passage for today Naomi decides to return home to Judah. She has lost her husband and her two sons. Going back home is the logical step. Just as the journey is beginning she tells her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you…” They are young and may be able to find husbands in their homeland of Moab. That would be better than three widows all going to Judah.

Initially Orpah and Ruth decide to stick with Naomi. Again she urges her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab, to be where their people are. Orpah sees the logic and kisses Naomi goodbye. Ruth is again urged to do as her sister-in-law has done: “Go back with her.” It makes sense for a widow to stay with her family, to remain where people love and will care for her. To go to a foreign land, as a complete stranger, as a widow – it doesn’t make much sense.

We, like Orpah, prefer the comfortable, the safe, the known. We like our routines and we tend to like to preserve the status quo. For most of us change is unsettling and disconcerting. When faced with a hard decision, like Orpah and Ruth were, we usually choose the easier way, the path of least resistance. What led Ruth to decide as she did? Ruth states, “Where you go, I will go… Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Out of a deep sense of love Ruth commits to journey with Naomi. Even though the future is uncertain, she commits to Naomi. And she commits to God. Being around Naomi for at least ten years, Ruth has observed Naomi’s faith. At this points Ruth commits to Naomi and to God. Ruth trusts in God as they begin their journey. In those difficult moments in our lives, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to trust in you, to walk in faith. In those moments, when it feels uncomfortable or unsure, speak clearly into my heart so I may know the way to go. Amen.