pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love and Strength

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verse 29: “He gives strength to the weary and his understanding no one can fathom”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

The second half of our passage from Isaiah 40 continues the theme of yesterday’s verses: God is everlasting. Isaiah again asks, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Just as we need to be reminded over and over, so too do the Israelites. God is still our God, unchanging and eternal. When we get weary and when we feel isolated and alone, we too need to hear again that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. Isaiah goes on to remind the faithful that God doesn’t get weary or tired and that God’s understanding is unfathomable. How often we grow weary and fail to understand the depth of God’s love and wisdom and might!

Although almost none of our trials or struggles or even seasons of separation from God or one another are as long as the forty years Israel spent in exile, we can all relate to their situation. We’ve all walked through the valley for so long that we feel like we cannot take another step forward. Sometimes, though, we are to blame for the weariness and/or the isolation that we “suddenly” find ourselves in. We get caught up in chasing the things of this world until the moment we find ourselves wrung out and exhausted and alone, hitting the wall and realizing it was all for naught. However and why we got to the place of weariness or isolation, verse 29 speaks balm to our souls: “He gives strength to the weary and his understanding no one can fathom”. Our everlasting, eternal God is right there. God understands. Our wise and mighty God is right there to give us his understanding and his strength.

This is goods news for us, yes, but it is also good news that we are meant to share. When God gives us strength and understanding, it is a wonderful gift. It is life changing for us to realize that we are not alone, that the God of the universe is on our side. Experiencing those touches of God draw us deeper into our relationship with God. In that place, we know what it means to be truly loved. Filled by that love and strength we are equipped to share that with a broken and needy world. Going out into the weariness and loneliness of the world, we bear God’s presence into the lives of those who are hurting and who are thirsty. May we each bring hope into the world today and every day.

Prayer: Loving and almighty God, guide me today to those who are weary, to those who are lonely, to those who need to feel and experience your love and strength, even if they do not know it. Fill me with the words or actions to help others know you today. Amen.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. Amen.


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He Will Gather

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”.

Our passage from Jeremiah feels very relevant for the time in which we live. It begins with the Lord inviting the faithful to “sing with joy” and to “make your praises heard”. Then, God reveals what they are to sing: “O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel”. It would maybe seem odd to sing with joy when the chosen people are but a remnant, a fraction of what they once were. But God has plans to restore them, to bless them once again. In verse eight God tells the Israelites that he will gather them “from the ends of the earth”. In fact, a “great throng” will be gathered back together. Sometimes, for me, this is what church feels like in these COVID times. We feel scattered. Just a remnant gathers. I, perhaps we, long for the Lord to regather the flock, to end this exile.

Verse nine brings a bit of reality. God tells them that they will “come with weeping” and that they will pray as they return. The children of God will weep tears of joy as they come home, as they are finally where they belong. I remember well the tears of joy and the emotions that stirred within me back in August when the church regathered in the sanctuary for the first time in what felt like forever. Once again we have been isolated, in exile if you will. It feels like we might gather again soon, ending the online only of December. I do not believe that I will be alone in my tears of joy when the people of God are once again brought back home.

In verse ten we read, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”. The promise was kept – God gathered Israel from their places of exile. God remained faithful and lovingly watched over his people Israel. God redeemed them and made them strong again. God was faithful. The people’s mourning was turned into gladness. Their sorrow was replaced with joy and comfort. The good shepherd remains faithful. The Lord will gather the church; he will lead us to sing for joy as we make our praises heard. God is good. We await the day in trust, sure of his love for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you have always guided and cared for your people. I ask that you continue to lead and guide us as we consider gathering again as your people. Fill us with wisdom, O God. Amen.


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Thanksgiving and Prayer

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 18: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”.

In my Bible the section that we are reading today is called “Thanksgiving and Prayer”. Paul is thankful for the faith in Jesus and for the love for “all the saints” that is evident in the church in Ephasus. As I think about the church that I am part of now, I too am thankful for these same things. This, of course, could be said of other churches that I have been blessed to be a part of. This truth also extends outside of Methodism to include many people that I know and have known. Faith in Jesus Christ and a love for our brothers and sisters are two of the hallmarks of faithful Christians. Thanks be to God when these are evident.

Paul prays that the Spirit will continue to give the church wisdom and revelation – for the purpose of knowing Jesus Christ better. This too is my prayer, both personally and for the community of faith where I pastor. Our faith is a journey, one of growth and maturation. From the day we first meet Jesus as Lord and Savior to the day we stand before him in glory, we are ever involved in the process of being made more like Christ. To that end Paul prays “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”. Hope is one of the bedrocks of our faith. Paul uses the word “know”. This is an invitation to a rock solid belief in who and what Jesus is in our lives. Paul continues, identifying “the riches of his glorious inheritance”. In this world, this inheritance is the power and strength we find in following Jesus. In Christ we find power to live out our faith and strength to resist the temptations of this world. As we grow and mature in faith, we too come to know that “all things” have been placed under Christ. We come to know that we are on that list.

As we reflect on how we are growing in Christ, may we give thanks for the journey so far. And as we consider the journey ahead, may we pray for enlightenment, power, and strength. God be with you!

Prayer: Lord God, I ask for strength for the day. Just for today, Lord. Give me discernment and wisdom for all that lies ahead. Give me courage and strength and power to walk humbly in your will as I seek to follow Christ. Amen.


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Joyful Response

Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18

Verses 10 and 14: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord… or… your heart heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord”.

As the people are nearing the end of their time and training in the wilderness, Moses speaks these words of wisdom. Today we are fast forwarding from last week’s story of the golden calf to the point where they are ready to enter the Promised Land. In this passage I hear a Moses who is emotional and compassionate as he prepares to say goodbye to these people. In today’s passage, Moses reminds first of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac,… The Israelites are about to enter the land “flowing with milk and honey”. Just as God has provided for almost forty years, God will lead them into a land that will provide for all their needs.

Starting in verse ten, Moses implores the people not to forget all that God has done or to neglect to recognize what God will continue to do. In these verses we read, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord”. First we note the assurance that Moses has that God will continue to be with the people. God will be their God. Then he begs them not to forget the many, many ways that God has blessed and will bless them. Moses encourages them to always be thankful lest “your heart heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord”. It is so easy to assume responsibility for our success, for our accomplishments,… Moses warns against this tendency which we too are prone to. Taking time each and every day to be thankful for our families, our jobs, our friends, our homes, our communities of faith… is the best antidote to pride and arrogance. So, this day, may we each pause before going on to thank the Lord our God for his presence and blessings in our lives. Happy praying!

Prayer: Lord God, you are so good to me. I am so grateful for those you surround me with – family and friends, mentors and teachers. I am thankful for this time and place in a wonderful community of faith set in the beauty of your creation. Thank you, God. May all of my life be a joyful response. Amen.


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Pressing On

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

In today’s passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for a radical change – his death, followed by him being “raised to life”. The time the twelve have spent with Jesus must have been the best time of their lives. They have witnessed all kinds of miracles and have been a part of a few. They have been side by side with love lived out to the full. They have been blessed with the wisdom of God. If I could just have dinner with anyone in the world, far and away my choice would be Jesus.

The news Jesus delivers is hard to fathom. How could this even happen to the Messiah? How could that be the end of the story? There had to have been a personal side to the emotions the twelve felt too. Peter says, “Never, Lord”! This is the same Peter who was proclaimed the “rock” upon which Jesus would “build my church”. Following these new words from Peter, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan”. Imagine how that must have stung Peter. The Lord has a way of keeping us humble. Peter is not thinking of the “things of God” – of the plan laid out for Jesus and for humankind. He is not thinking of the Messiah of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Peter is thinking of what Peter wants – to just continue as it has been. We never want to lose someone or something we love.

Jesus then turns to all of the disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. For Peter and probably for all of the disciples, the initial denial will be the desire for Jesus to stay with them. The death and resurrection are critical pieces of the plan. They will also be asked to deny self in many more ways as they follow the risen Lord. They will each take up the cross and sacrifice many things along the journey. Such is the cost of discipleship. It is a sobering thought.

Like the twelve, we prefer life to be good, to move along smoothly. It is well with our souls when we are surrounded by those we love, enjoying life, feeling closely connected to the Lord. But the storms of life come, we are drawn to crossroads, we too face death and loss. And at times we too must take up our faith, stand with or for Jesus, and count the cost. This is how we carry our cross. With God, it is always one we can bear, always a path we can tread. It is so because we do not walk alone. As we long for our reward, may we each press on toward the goal of heaven, trusting in God each step of the way.

Prayer: Redeeming and saving God, strengthen me for the journey ahead. Grant me the power to walk the path you place before me. Fill me with your love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Each day may I offer all that I am in service to you, my Lord and King. Amen.


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Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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Eyes, Ears, Minds

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2: 6-16

Verse 12: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God”.

Paul and the church today speak a message that is not the wisdom “of this age or of the rulers of this age”. It is a message that the world struggles to understand. Paul says this is why the rulers of the world crucified Jesus. Today many rulers do not understand the message of faith and they continue to persecute Christians. In some places, death comes to the faithful. The things of God remain foolishness to those without eyes to see, without ears to hear, without minds to conceive.

The people who chose to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior do understand God’s wisdom. We join Paul and the early church to proclaim: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God”. Thanks be to God. The Holy Spirit connects us to God by “expressing spiritual truths”. We are guided and protected, convicted and redirected by the Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit we become humble servants, seeking to share God’s love and our blessings with the broken and needy. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are present to the grieving and lonely, offering God’s love and our love. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are voices of power for the weak and mistreated, bringing God’s love and justice to bear on unjust and oppressive situations.

The people and rulers of the world look on such actions and they do not understand what motivates such selfless behaviors. It is foolishness to those we seek to exert power and control, who seek to exploit and oppress. But to those who have “the mind of Christ”, this is the path that Jesus walked and it is the path we seek to follow. It is the path that God “has prepared for those that love him”. Guided by the Holy Spirit, may we reveal the love of God to all we meet today. May our eyes see, may our ears hear, and may our minds conceive the path that the Lord has prepared us to walk today.

Prayer: God of all, may I be open to the needs and hurts of the world around me today. Send the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me to be a humble servant if that is needed, to be a voice of justice if that is needed, to be a spirit of comfort if that is needed. Use me as you will today to help build your kingdom here in this place. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 25: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”.

The Corinthian church is struggling to understand Jesus. The Jews in the church want Jesus to have power and might – think of the God of the Old Testament who parted seas and destroyed enemies. The Greek part of the church wants Jesus to have great wisdom – think of a group of philosophers sitting around arguing about which god is smarter. Paul and other apostles came and preached Christ crucified. Those of faith saw the power and wisdom of God in the cross. To them, on the cross Jesus chose humility and love. This was all foolishness to those looking for a God of power or intelligence. But to those who believed, the cross was the power to save.

The world continues to look at the cross and at the one who died on it as foolishness. Just as it seemed so to the secular culture of Corinth, so it is today. The cross meant weakness and death and defeat and failure to the eyes of the world and to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For the one who came to save the world, the Messiah, dying on a cross seemed like a foolish choice. How could you save anything or anyone if you were dead? To one looking at the whole thing without faith, it makes little sense. Success in the world means accumulating power and possessions and better and better titles. This is not the way of the cross.

Paul’s message does not end at the cross. The story did not start there either. For three years before the cross Jesus taught a message of love. Key to that message was the idea of loving God and others more than oneself. This agape love was revealed by being a humble servant to all. Jesus lived out his love and service on the cross. There, in love, he bore and defeated the power of the sins of the world, performing a final act of service for all of humanity. Then the crucified body was laid in the grave. The story appeared to be finished. But in three days, God revealed true power as Jesus emerged from the grave, defeating the power of death.

On and through the cross Jesus would defeat the two things that all the power and possessions and titles in the world cannot defeat – sin and death. This is foolishness to the world but is the power to save for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. For those who do believe, we know and live this truth: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you revealed yourself through Jesus in ways that many do not understand. Even for the faithful, at times your ways are still higher than our ways. I sometimes fail to understand. But the cross and what it is rooted in – love – is easy to understand. It’s not always easy to walk it out, but love is easy to understand. So I pray that I may too be love in the world, revealing Jesus to others, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the deep and real work. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.