pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Heed the Warning

Reading: Luke 18:9-12

Verse 11: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.”

Today we will look at the first part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Let us begin with the audience. Luke shares that Jesus tells this story to those who were “confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Jesus is not talking with some Pharisees or other religious leaders here. He is talking to a group of his followers. This tendency towards feeling superior and towards judging others remains strong today. These words very much apply to our lives, to our churches, to our world.

As Jesus begins we learn that two men go to the temple to pray. Going to pray – an personal and private time with God. Prayer is a good thing – like going to church or serving on a mission project. Two men go to pray. One is a Pharisee and one is a tax collector. Jesus is intentional with these characters. These two men represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was highly respected. One was deeply despised. In Jesus’ day these men were seen as the most and least connected to God and to faith.

In the parable Jesus offers the Pharisee’s prayer first. He begins by standing up, praying aloud to be heard. It is not a conversation between him and God. He first thanks God that he “is not like other men” and then goes on to name them. They are the bottom rung, the lowest of low. He gestures over and adds the tax collector to the list. The Pharisee clearly thinks that he is on the top rung. As proof he shares that he fasts twice a week and that he tithes. Like prayer, these two spiritual disciplines are good things. They are practices that express our gratitude to God. But, like almost all things, these too can be twisted and turned, used for personal glory instead of to bring God the glory.

For the Pharisee, it is all about him and how holy and righteous he is. In his life and in his prayer, there is no humility, no compassion or kindness, no faith that moves a heart closer to God. We can fall into thinking we’re high and mighty. So may we heed Jesus’ warning today. When we are tempted to compare ourselves to others, when we are tempted to think about how religious we are, may this Pharisee remind us of the dangers of elevating self over others and over our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, is it so easy to slip into feeling superior, judgy, critical. When self and ego rise up, draw me back down. Knock me down if necessary! Focus me back to the call to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 19b: “Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?”

In our time yesterday we looked at Jeremiah’s trust in God’s presence during a time of hardship and trial. Jeremiah’s heart cries out for the wayward people, for those who were crushed. His heart mourns for the suffering and the slain. Through it all is a sure confidence that God is with them. Jeremiah displays a mature faith. Life has taught him that God is there in the highs and lows and in everything in between.

The people of Israel cry out, “Is the Lord not in Zion?” They question if God is even with them. The response should be to seek God, to turn to God. The history of Israel suggests that God will be there. The covenants promise that God is there. In the latter half of verse 19 we hear God’s response: “Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?” Questioning God’s presence, the people turned once again to idols. They decided to trust in something other than the Lord God.

The sad reality is that many of us do the same thing. If an unexpected or difficult tragedy befalls us, we can question if God is real or present or good. If we have a rough day or if something doesn’t quite go our way, we can turn to food or drugs or alcohol. If we are in a season that pinches our finances or some other earthly form of security, we can turn to leaders or systems for help. We too can be slow to turn to God. We too can turn to worthless idols.

When tempted to turn to idols or to someone or something other than God, may we remember that the Lord God loves us, is always seeking our good, and is steadfast and true. May we ever trust in God.

Prayer: Lord, in the pain or the trial, draw me back to you. In the times when I’m drawn to something else, draw me back into your love. Amen.


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Oh the Depths

Reading: Psalm 81:1 and 10-16

Verses 11-12: “My people would not listen to me… I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.”

Psalm 81 is a song of celebration, disappointment, and promise. The first verses, 1-2, prepare the people to worship and sing and play. The next verses, 3-7, celebrate how God rescued Israel and led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Then, in verses 8-9, God reminds and warns Israel: no foreign gods! We did not read most of these verses.

Verse 10 again promises provision and rescue by God. God longs to care for Israel. But it is not to be so. In verses 11-12 we read, “My people would not listen to me… I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.” They would not submit to God. They followed their own wants and desires. We can almost hear and feel God’s frustration and disappointment. At times we too must make God feel this way. I’ve often thought that God must be shaking God’s head at some of the things I’ve said and done and thought – like a parent with a foolish child.

In spite of all that rebellion and self-centeredness, God still longs to care for and to provide for the children. In verses 13-16 God reminds Israel and us that God will subdue our enemies and fill us with the finest wheat and honey – if one will follow God’s ways. If one “would but listen to me.” God will subdue our rebellious and selfish ways, will defeat our sin, if we will turn our hearts back towards God. Oh the depths of God’s love for you and for me. “Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!”

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me even though I can be selfish and inwardly focused. Thank you for your no-matter-what love that is always ready to restore and redeem me, to care for and guide me. What great love! You are an amazing and awesome God. I love you too! Amen.


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Heart Turned to God

Reading: Psalm 146: 5-10

Verse 8: “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

The second half of our Psalm for this week encourages us to put our hope and trust in the Lord. The psalmist is drawing the attention of the Israelites to the Lord God. Throughout much of their history Israel has either been off in exile or has been surrounded by other tribes or nations. All around them have been people worshipping “gods” – Baal, Molech, Dagon, Asherah… The Israelites often needed reminders to stay faithful to the one true God.

Reading these ancient texts we can be tempted to look down upon the people who worshipped these gods carved out of wood or stone. We like to think we’re better than that. Yet we too need to be reminded often not to worship the gods of mOneY, sPoRts, poPuLarIty, pOWer, SeLf… These gods that consume lived all around us can be powerful influences on our lives if we do not remain steadfast in our faith. All of these gods gain strength when we turn our eyes and heart inward.

In verse eight we read, “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.” These false gods are like prison – one chases and chases after more and never quite finds enough. Peace, contentment, joy… remain elusive. In the Psalm we read of what consumes God’s heart: the oppressed and hungry, those bowed down, the alien and the fatherless and the widow. To love these as God loves them not only aligns us with God’s heart, it also de-aligns us from self and from the ways of the world. When we truly love the least of these we break our own attachments to money, power, popularity… Seeing these as a means to better the lives of others, we develop humble servant’s hearts. With hearts turned to God we are set free and are able to see as God sees and to love as God loves. With hearts turned towards God we too can sing, “Praise the Lord, and my soul. Praise the Lord.”

Prayer: Lord, use me each day as a conduit of your love. Transform my heart to be more like yours each day. With your love, may I be a humble servant in your kingdom. Amen.


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Words of Life

Reading: John 6: 56-69

Verses 68-69: “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”.

Photo credit: Sarah Berriman

Our passage today picks up part way through Jesus’ conversation with the crowd. The crowd wants more physical bread and Jesus offers spiritual bread. They want sustenance for the day. Jesus extends an invitation to something eternal. Jesus tells the crowd that in order to enter into this kind of relationship with Jesus and God, they must “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. This teaching is too hard for many in the crowd. It creates a pinch point in the path. Many who had followed Jesus up to this point turn away and quit following him. The path had become too hard to walk.

To me the journey of faith continues to be a challenging path. To catch ahold of Jesus, to be drawn to him – it still happens today. For some it is a long, slow process, built upon many seeds of faith planted by family, friends, churches, the Spirit… For these folks, the roots grow deep as faith continues to be an evolving part of their lives. For some faith came quickly – through a chance encounter or during a time of loss and suffering. These found or shared in a faith that carried them through, much like the fish and loaves carried the crowd through to the next day.

Jesus tells the crowd that the next step is their step, not his. They must invest deeply to continue to develop this new relationship that has begun. Those in the crowd were drawn to Jesus; they were caught up in the miracles, in being carried through. Jesus requires a deeper commitment. He wants to change their lives and then to continue doing so. This is the point at which many struggle, myself included. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ brings one to the pinch point many times – that moment when we realize that yet another thing inside of us must die. Depending on the size of that cross that Jesus is asking us to lay down, it too can be hard. To continue to walk with Jesus, to partake of the Bread of Life, one must die to self again and again. For some, like the crowd, it is too great a cost and they turn away. For others the Spirit leads you through and the walk with Jesus goes on. The bond is tighter, the connection stronger, the love greater.

When the Spirit asks, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, may our soul answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go”? Like the faithful disciples, may we daily respond, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”. May this ever be our faith.

Prayer: Lord God, at times the road feels narrow and the way is hard. Your call echoes into all areas of my life. There is no part of me that you don’t want to touch, to shape, to refine. Although at times this journey is difficult, I cannot imagine life without you. So please continue to lead and guide me, to refine and mold me, to love me. Amen.


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After God’s Heart

Reading: 2nd Samuel 5: 1-5 and 9-10

Verse 2: “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler”.

Today’s passage begins with leaders from the tribes of Israel coming to David, asking him to be their king. David has already been made king over Judah and Simeon, the two southern regions of what was once a united nation. After Saul’s death David took up residence in Hebron, a major city in this region. A civil war had torn the nation apart. The ten northern tribes retained the name “Israel” and were under the control of Saul’s army and family. During the war David’s position grew stronger and Saul’s forces grew weaker and weaker. As the ugly civil war ends, representatives of the northern tribes come to David and ask for him to rule them too. They quote from the time when the prophet Samuel anointed a young shepherd boy, saying, “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler”.

God’s words come to fruition as David moves his capitol to Jerusalem and builds up the city and the fortifications. God continues to bless David as he grows “more and more powerful”. The one who anointed him and led him all these years continues to guide David.

David is one of my favorite Bible characters. While God was always with David, as he is with us, David was not perfect. The civil war and the establishment of Jerusalem as the capitol are filled with stories that turn the stomach. David’s affair with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, and his poor parenting techniques reveal plenty of flaws in David. Yet just as grace and forgiveness are not about us, so too was the case with David. Grace and forgiveness come from God, a free gift to us. Over and over David experiences God’s grace and forgiveness not because he was perfect but because he had a repentant heart. David remained a man after God’s own heart. May it be so for us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the example of David, one who was truly a man after your own heart. Even though he stumbled and failed at times, he always came back to you, the source of his hope and strength. When I stumble and fail, draw me back to you over and over. Thank you for your great love. Amen.


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Only with God

Reading: Psalm 70

Verse 5: “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”.

David begins Psalm 70 with a cry for help. Enemies are pressing in on him. They seek to put him to shame, to ruin his life. At times we have probably experienced these situations. If we are living out our faith, it will happen from time to time. Being the light sometimes draws a reaction from the darkness. David turns to God and asks for God’s help. He does not strike back physically or with harsh words. David does not engage them in battle but asks God to take up his cause. It is hard to walk this path. It is difficult to hold the tongue, to stay the anger and hurt. It is also the way of Christ. As we walk with Jesus through these next two holy days, we will see Christ model full trust in God.

In verse four David chooses to seek and to praise God. Instead of hiding his faith, instead of withdrawing from it to avoid those who insult and abuse him, David stands, lifts his arms, and praises the God of his salvation. He sings aloud, “Let God be exalted”! Knowing God’s love and salvation should lead us to praise God as well. In those moments of difficulty, singing a few verses of “How Great Thou Art” or “10,000 Reasons” or your favorite hymn or praise song draws us into God’s presence and reassures us of his great love.

The Psalm closes in honest humility. Turning to God in prayer, David says, “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”. Only with God can David get through this time of trial. Again, as we will see with Jesus, only with God can he face the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the insults, the denial, the flogging, the shame, and the cross. Only with God. As we too face times of criticism or abuse or accusation or affliction may we too turn only to God. Only with God will we be able to walk the hard and narrow roads of faith and love.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise your holy name! Your love for me is so great. You have walked with me, carrying me at times, through every trial. All praise and glory are yours, O God! When the hard days come again, may I trust fully in you. Only with you can I walk the valleys. Amen.


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Give Thanks, Sing Joy!

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19-20: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”.

In the opening verses of Psalm 107, which we read yesterday, we hear of the depth of God’s love and care. It is a love that is unconditional and unending. In today’s verses from this Psalm we see an expression of that love. In verse seventeen we read that some have turned away from God. This is a road we all have gone down and will continue to go down on occasion. We become foolish and rebellious and then we often suffer the consequences. The Israelites who had wandered finally cry out to God. They are in distress, near to death. Perhaps we do not wait quite that long, but we can get stuck in our sin – either too proud to admit we need help or to deep in our guilt and shame to approach our holy God.

Again, yes once again, God demonstrates his faithfulness. In verses nineteen and twenty we read, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”. God healed them and rescued them from their place of distress and despair. The Israelites again received God’s unfailing love. When we cry out we too will be healed. We too will be rescued from whatever place we have wandered to. God’s love will save us. Like the psalmist and the Israelites, may we give thanks to the Lord our God and may we sing songs of joy for his unfailing love. May we rejoice in the Lord always!

Prayer: Lord God, when I wander you always call me back. Your Holy Spirit guides me to the place of repentance. There you cleanse and restore me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Dominion

Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31

Verse 28: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

The words that we read in today’s Psalm seem far from the realities of our world. The world feels like it is full of suffering. Many of their cries seem to go unanswered. The poor do not appear to be satisfied. All the earth has not turned toward the Lord. In the midst of these continuing realities, verse 28 calls us to a higher truth, to an eternal reality: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

The hope that we find in our faith reminds us that this world and its trials are temporary. God is truly in charge and one day the Lord will be the only king or ruler. All people past and present will “kneel before him”. This is a future scene that one day will come. As we live out our day to day lives, do we simply wait for Christ to return or to call us home? Do we just go through the motions of life and live with the suffering and the cries and the plight of the poor? Should we be okay with all the lost souls?

As Christians in the modern world reading these words written long ago by King David, our role is to connect to that “future generation” and to be the ones who “proclaim his righteousness” and who share the hope we have with a world in need. Rather than seeing ourselves as David and the Jews did and do – as a chosen people set aside for God – may we see ourselves as Jesus saw and lived out his ministry: as one sent into the world to minister to needs, to care for the marginalized, to alleviate suffering. May we, by our words and actions, proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near, manifesting this reality in the world. May all that we do and say reveal the dominion and rule of Christ here and now. In and through us, may Christ reign.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to the cries of the suffering and to the needs around me. Lead and guide me to make your love known in this world. Amen.


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Baptized to Minister

Reading: Mark 1: 9-11

Verse 11: “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”.

In our passage today Jesus comes to the desert to be baptized by John the Baptist. John was offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The actual baptism was proceeded by a confession of sins. The waters of baptism represented a cleansing – the old sins were washed away and the person emerged “new” or “born again”. They had repented of their old ways and emerged committed to live a life devoted to and obedient to God. There was an element of turning and walking in a new direction.

As Jesus came to be baptized there was no need for confession. He was without sin. So why come at all? For Jesus, it was a turning point. He was entering into ministry, revealing fully who and what he was. He was turning to something new, beginning to walk as the Son of God. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters as God spoke in Genesis 1, so too is the Spirit present as God speaks, saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”. With these words of affirmation Jesus begins his formal ministry. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus will teach and heal and restore many as he lives and ministers, being fully obedient to God.

Today, for some, I encourage you to remember your baptism. Remember you are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth in ministry. For some, I encourage you to reclaim your baptism. Reclaim your place as a son or daughter, seek to draw close once again. Renew your faith commitment and go forth in ministry. And for some, you have never entered the waters of baptism. Reading this, you are at least a little bit drawn to God. I encourage you to become connected to a local community of faith or to talk with your pastor about baptism if you are connected someplace. Continue your journey!

As we each go forth into the world, may we all seek to walk closer to God, following Jesus’ example of love.

Prayer: Lord God, today I pray for all believers. Help each of us to live out our faith more fully, bearing witness to your love. Encourage us, strengthen us, empower us to walk faithfully as your son or daughter today. Amen.