pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Practicality and Eternity

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Verse 1: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

The words of Ecclesiastes 3 are familiar. They speak of life – the good and bad, the work of our hands, the eternity of God. Our passage begins with these words: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” God’s stamp is upon everything. God is present in it all. If one has lived very long, each of the pairs that we find in verses 2-8 becomes a reality. We begin some things and see others come to an end. We experience birth and death. We have times when we fix things and times when we tear things apart. We laugh and we weep. We experience times of war and of peace – both personally and societally. Yes, there is a time for everything.

The writer also addresses a key component of life: our work. For the Israelites, work was one of God’s gifts to us. Yes, at times it is toil. And yet “God made everything beautiful in its time.” This even includes our toil. God desires that we “find satisfaction in all our toil.” To do a job or task well, to look at a finished product, to see how one is making a positive difference – here is where our work is a blessing to our lives.

There is also an eternal aspect to all the practicality of today’s verses. We’re reminded that God has “set eternity in the hearts” of humankind. While we cannot fully comprehend eternity, we long for it and we look forward to it. Our text closes by reminding us of God’s eternal nature: “Everything God does will endure forever.” Yes, God is infinite and all-powerful. We are very finite and greatly limited. It is a good reminder. This is why we revere the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you’ve created, organized, and structured our world. You’ve guided, taught, and shown us life. There is much to all of “this” and you are fully present in all of it. I am awed that you take a personal interest in me. May all I do and say and think be pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Make Way – God at Work!

Reading: Luke 2:1-7

Verse 4: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth… to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.”

As Luke’s birth of Jesus story begins, a census is ordered. Caesar Augustus decrees that all people travel to their home towns to be counted. In verses 4 we read, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth… to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” The purpose of this census was not a lot different than the ones we take every 10 years in the US. The gathering of data is useful to the government for planning and decision making. It is amazing to me that God uses (and probably orchestrates) this secular action that places Joseph and Mary 90 miles from home – but right where the prophets said the Messiah would be born.

Once they arrive in Bethlehem, we see that Mary gives birth, swaddles the baby, and “places him in the manger” – because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Born is a stable or a cave – either way it was a humbling and extraordinary place for Jesus to be born. It was humbling for Joseph and Mary too. The “inn” that refused them a room, well, that would’ve been spare rooms in extended family’s homes. They saw a very pregnant Mary and a new husband and, in essence, said, ‘Not in my house.’ Finally a relative with a little compassion sends them out back to the animals’ quarters. There Jesus is born.

Even though Joseph’s hard decision to follow the guidance of the angel ‘costs’ he and his wife, he was faithful. Here again we see God at work in the ways of the world, using even the bad to work things out according to God’s plan. Christ would grow up to shepherd his people as a humble servant. Where better to start off than in a stable! In all things – from Jesus’ birth to our lives – God works for the good. Day by day may we trust in the God who always makes a way.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever present and always loving and good. You have provided and protected, redeemed and defended, restored and guided me day after day. Thank you for the work of your hands in my life. Amen.


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Idle or Active?

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13

Verse 11: “We hear that some of you are idle.”

In this week’s Epistle reading Paul advocates for an active and engaged faith. In the opening verse Paul directs the people in the church in Thessalonica to “keep away from every brother who is idle” and to steer clear of those who “do not live according to the teaching you received from us.” Paul reminds all of the example set by both he and his companions. When they were there they worked “day and night” so that they were not a “burden” to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Speaking to those who were being a burden Paul says, “We hear that some of you are idle.” He then commands them to “earn the bread they eat.” To these and to the rest of the church, Paul says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” Bread can be physical but it can also be spiritual. As Paul identifies the idle as “busybodies,” we can infer that they were neglecting their spiritual work too. This is where many of us today can struggle with idleness.

Many Christians are all in for going to church on Sunday – unless they were out late on Day or if the kids have an activity to go to. Many Christians are willing to support their church financially – let’s just wait and see what’s left over at the end of the month. Many Christians think that service and mission and witness are important – that’s why the church has a staff and a pastor, right?

Paul warns against having a idle or passive or complacent faith. He calls for a faith that is obedient, active, and engaged. How would you describe your faith? Does it match the first or the second sentence in this paragraph?

Prayer: Lord God, in this time when we like to hire someone to mow our lawn or to shop for our groceries, don’t let me be comfortable just farming out my faith. In this culture that says “just do it” and “have it your way,” guide me to live according to your will and your way. Amen.


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Bold and Trusting

Reading: Jeremiah 32:8-15

Verses 8-9: “I knew this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth.”

As the Babylonians besiege the city, Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel comes to him, just as God had foretold, to sell Jeremiah his field. Jeremiah was also under house arrest for prophesying against the king and for speaking of Babylon’s great victory over Judah. Instead of waiting to see how all of this plays out, Jeremiah buys the field. He buys it just as he has prophesied – boldly and in full public view. There is a witness and lots of people present to see this “crazy” purchase. But this is just Jeremiah being Jeremiah. He is fully trusting in God, just as he has always done. To put a stamp on it, in verse 15 he says, “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” What feels like doomsday, what feels like the end, it’s not. Israel’s story will continue again one day.

Where in our world or in our lives might God be asking us to act with the same boldness and trust? What feels like it might be coming to an end that God can give new life to? Maybe it is a chapter in your work life. This calls for trust that one door will open as another is closing. Maybe it is a loss you’ve endured. This calls for brave steps forward into your “new normal.” Maybe it is an injustice that’s been happening for too long. You feel a call to speak truth and to redeem this situation. Maybe it is something stirring that you can’t quite identify. This calls for prayer. Whatever or wherever God is calling you or I to, may we be as bold and trusting as Jeremiah.

Prayer: Lord God, how do you desire to use me? What bold and perhaps crazy step of faith are you calling me to? Empower me, fill me with a holy courage. Guide me into your will and purposes. Amen.


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Abundantly Poured Out

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verses 13-14: “Even though I once was… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.”

In the Epistle reading for this week Paul describes the change that God has worked in him. He wants young Timothy to understand how God can work in his life too. Many people looked at the change worked by God in Paul’s life and thought it a radical change. It was only radical in one way. Paul was as zealous as ever. He was committed to the cause as passionately as ever. Paul still spoke with great skill and power. His faith and trust were now in Jesus Christ instead of in the Law. That is what changed. This simple change in focus changed Paul’s life.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young man who has shown some gifts and graces. He has accompanied others on their evangelical and missional trips. He has been poured into by these men as well as by his faithful family. It is now time for him to begin to lead. God has been slowly and steadily shaping Timothy’s life to be a leader in the early church. God is at work changing Timothy’s life too.

God continues to be at work in these ways and more. God is ever at work, guiding us, leading us, refining us. Sometimes it manifests itself as it did in Paul. We use the gifts and talents that God has given us – just not for God’s glory. Then in a moment our focus changes and we become focused on Christ and others, being filled with God’s love and grace. Sometimes it is the long walk of faith that guides us, God patiently yet surely working in and through us to reveal God’s glory in increasing measure.

In order for God to work in our lives we too must be touched by God’s abundant grace. This is a touch that reaches out to all people. May it be abundantly poured out in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I invite your touch. Shape me and form me, lead me and direct me, refine and purify me. Day by day may you use me in increasing measure, reflecting your grace, love, and mercy to the world. Amen.


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Wonderful

Reading: Psalm 139:13-18

Verse 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.”

God’s knowledge of us and intimate connection to us begins before we are even born. Once again this week we are reminded that God knit us together in the womb, creating each of us just as God wants us to be. Yet we can look in the mirror and question God’s handiwork. Sometimes we look in the mirror and wish we were more attractive, stronger, thinner… Sometimes we look deeper than the surface and wish that we were smarter, funnier, kinder… Even though we know in our heart of hearts that we are the handiwork of God, the standards or expectations of this world can creep in and tell us that we are less than. It is not so!

God is perfect and created each of us in that perfection. We are not the tallest or the best looking or the wisest person in the whole world. But we are each the most loved. In verse 14 we read, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.” You are wonderful. I am wonderful. Each creation of God is wonderful. We are each lovingly and intricately designed, each a unique creation of God. We are precious to the Lord, beloved beyond our understanding. What awesome reasons to praise the Lord!

Today I invite you to think of someone who does not know these truths. You may see this person in the mirror, but for today I ask you to look beyond yourself. Think of a friend who sees themselves as “less than” or as unworthy of love because of something they’ve done or are. Begin to pray for them, to ask the Holy Spirit to begin to work in their life and in yours, showing you how to introduce them to these truths. Then be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Thank you.

Prayer: Lord God, when I look in the mirror or reflect on myself, help me to see me as you see me. Prevent me from defining myself by the flaws I see or by the things of this world. Root me and ground me in who you created me to be. Living into that may I help others to know that they too are wonderful, that they too are loved. Amen.


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Even Though

Reading: Hosea 11:1-7

Verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.”

As God speaks at the start of Hosea 11, we are reminded that God loved Israel and rescued them from slavery in Egypt. This is but one of many stories of God redeeming and guiding the beloved family of God. Another aspect of this familiar pattern comes in verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.” This is the other half of the cycle. For the Israelites, their relationship with God was often one of sin and repentance, forgiveness and restoration. Our faith can follow a similar path.

God laments how the people have turned to false gods. It is a choice we all make in our lives. Whether it is pursuing wealth or popularity or power, at times our focus is askew. We prioritize something other than God. God laments that the people do not recognize who healed them, who led them in love, who lifted the yoke, and who bent down to feed them. At times we too fail to see the work of God in our lives. We can miss the fact that the door that opened or the hole we avoided falling into was God’s hand at work. The verses for today close with a reality: “My people are determined to turn from me.” How often God must think this of me.

Even though we are not always what God designed us to be or who God wants us to be, God’s love remains. Even though we must sorely disappoint God at times, God’s compassion never fails. God ever desires to wrap us in love and kindness. It is a no-matter-what love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you formed me in my mother’s womb. You’ve loved me since the thought began. I know your love, your compassion. You’ve rescued me and have forgiven me, again and again. Even so, I stray, I wander, I sin. Thank you for a love that always, always reached out, ever drawing me back into right relationship. Amen.


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Pray a Prayer!

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 3 and 4: “The Lord has done great things for us… Restore our fortunes, O Lord.”

Psalm 126 is a passage that makes a great prayer. Many of the Psalms work this way. That is how and why many were written. In ancient times this song was a sung prayer, often used when going to worship or when traveling to Jerusalem for one of the yearly festivals. For the Israelites these sung prayers functioned like the early hymns of our faith. Both contained truths about God and our relationship with God. I think of songs like Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Great Are You Lord, and All Who Are Thirsty as ‘modern’ versions of the Psalms.

Psalm 126 is a great example of God’s love and care, both past and present. This is illustrated well in verses 3 and 4. Verse 3 recognizes God’s past work on behalf of God’s people and verse 4 asks for God to continue to work amongst the faithful. The first three verses of the Psalm are reminders of God’s faithfulness and the last three call for God’s faithfulness to work in and among the people as they move forward.

The Psalm is a good one for us to pray too. We can pray it as it is. Or we can use the basic structure to personalize a prayer. To do this we can substitute in a time when God rescued or redeemed or saved us (in place of being brought back from captivity) and we can insert actions or outcomes that we desire in place of sowing, seeds, and sheaves. In doing so we are reminded of God’s faithfulness in our past and we are naming our need for God’s work in our present and future. With this in mind, pray a prayer today!

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoiced in my heart when you called me to Grace. I ask that you would continue to grow my faith as I seek to serve you and this community of faith. Amen.


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Perceive It!

Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

Verses 18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

Our passage from Isaiah 43 begins with a recounting of God’s saving acts in the past. After recalling how God parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the Egyptian army, God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” Why would God direct them to do this? So often our memories of God’s power and presence in our lives encourage us as we face the next trial or time of suffering. By remembering and by being thankful we are reminded of God’s love and care for us and we are also reminded of our dependence on God

Yet just as pride can cross a line, so too can living in the past. To have pride in what we do and to allow that to guide us to produce a great product or service – that’s awesome. To allow pride to take the next step and to draw extra “look at me” attention – that’s not so awesome. We can take our past a step too far as well. When we allow what God has done in the past to limit what we think and believe God can do in the future, then we’ve made God small, we’ve hemmed God in. Like with all institutions, in the church limited thinking can lead us to the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset, keeping us stuck and limiting God’s work. The same is true in our personal lives and faith.

God proclaims to the people, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” God is ever at work, seeking to build the kingdom here on earth. But we don’t see it. I think this happens all too often in our lives and in our churches. We miss the opportunity that God is giving because we like the comfortable, the routine, the known. Yet God invites us to see way beyond the past and to walk faithfully into what God is already doing in our lives, churches, and communities. Lent, by its very nature, is a season of dying to old ways and giving new life to where God is leading. In your life and church, what new thing is God doing? How can you perceive it and then walk with God into that new life that God is offering to you and/or to your faith community?

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see the plans that you have for me and for the church. Equip me with willing feet and a humble heart, walking where you lead. Amen.


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Walk the Path

Reading: Genesis 45:3-8

Verse 7: “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

As we turn to Genesis 45, we first must acknowledge that a lot has happened to Joseph up to this point. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He has been falsely accused and imprisoned. He has also been empowered by God and is now only second to Pharaoh himself. Famine has forced his birth family to seek food in Egypt. Joseph has tested and tested his brothers to see if they’ve changed since the day they sold him into slavery. Finding that they have, Joseph reveals the truth to them, saying, “I am Joseph. Is my father still living?” The brothers are terrified – they do not know how this will play out. Joseph is no longer the scrawny, annoying little brother they had so easily disposed of.

The brothers are not the only ones to change over these many years. Joseph has changed too. God has worked and worked in his life, humbling him and drawing him closer and deeper into relationship. Joseph understands how God was at work even through the trauma of his youth. Joseph sees that it was God who acted to save lives, to reunite his family. Assuring his brothers, Joseph says, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives.” Yes, the brothers played a role – cruel and hateful at the time – but God works for good so Joseph offers forgiveness and grace.

When we find ourselves in similar places, can we offer the forgiveness and grace demonstrated here? We all experience traumas – times when we are hurt or treated wrong by others or by circumstances. Often, at the moment of the hurt, the other was much like Joseph’s brothers. We can feel that they don’t deserve forgiveness. We can withhold grace. Sometimes we even do this to ourselves. We can be pretty tough on ourselves. Can we turn to God in these moments, seeking to discern how God has been and is at work? Can we see and choose to walk the path of forgiveness, offering grace to the other? It is the path our Lord walked as he made his way to the cross. May we too be people of forgiveness and grace.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I am imperfect. I’m a sinner on my best days. Soften my heart towards others Lord. Enable forgiveness and grace to flow from my heart, bringing healing and restoration to all, including me. Amen.