pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: 2nd Samuel 6: 14-19

Verse 16: “When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart”.

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

The Ark enters Jerusalem to a great and joyous celebration. There are sacrifices and singing and dancing and music and rejoicing. In verse fifteen we read, “the entire house of Israel” was present to celebrate this event. It seems that everyone is enjoying this time of celebration.

Some nights at youth group we are playing a game or singing worship songs and a kid is off by themselves, either physically or emotionally. They do not want to participate. More often than not they have been hurt by something someone did or said and rightly so. Some of the time it is because of something that happened at school or at home. The same thing can happen with us as adults. We wall up when we are hurting. We’re just better at hiding it. People are hurting all around us.

As the Ark proceeded we read of Michal watching from a window. She is not down in the street with the crowd. As she watches David we read, “When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart”. To see her husband, the king, celebrating when she was grieving, it hardened her heart. She had just lost her father and three brothers.

At youth group that young person looks at us playing or worshipping and wonders how we could do that when they’re hurting. In church the one who has lost a job or a loved one or… wonders how we can be joyous when they are in such pain. There are hurting people all around.

Our task is to notice – to connect with that kid at youth group or that person in church or that stranger on the bench. We are to have eyes that see and hearts that feel – gifts that allow and help us to draw others into the circle of God’s love. Doing so, may God’s love and our love bring healing and wholeness to our broken and hurting world.

Prayer: Lord God, grant that I may see and sense those who need to know your love today. May your love flow in and through me. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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Step Out

Reading: Psalm 62: 5-8

Verse 6: “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken”.

At youth events over the past years we have asked the youth to do a trust fall. The youth stands on a table or platform, closes their eyes, folds their arms across their chest, holds their body rigid, and then falls backwards. They are trusting that the eight or so youth lined up behind them will catch them in their arms. The process is usually the hardest for the one who goes first. For every person, though, there comes a moment, just before they intentionally fall backwards, in which they must decide to trust that the group will catch them.

David is the author of today’s Psalm. He has been on enough “trust falls” to have come to this place of confidence and trust in God. Our section begins with these words: “Find rest, o my soul, in God alone”. David is assured of God’s presence and of his place in God’s kingdom. Each time that David was asked to step out in faith, God has been there. God has been steadfast and true – David knows that he can rest in God. In the next verse David writes, “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken”. For David, there is no other – no other foundation, no other redeemer, no other protector. He trusts in God alone.

You and I will be asked to step out in faith as we continue to journey with Christ. Sometimes it is like a trust fall – we cannot see where we are going and we must trust in God as we leave the safety and security of our safe place. It can initially feel like a free fall as we cannot sense the way that God is leading. As we learn to trust, as we step out in faith, we come to know the assurance that pours out of David’s words in Psalm 62.

In verse eight we hear these words of encouragement: “Trust in him at all times, O people”. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Leading God, give me the courage to go where you lead, to answer the call each time the Spirit whispers or nudges me. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.


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Light Still Shines

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3

Verse 11: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.

Many years ago, early on in my years working with youth, I helped out at a 30-hour famine lock-in at the church. We spent 30 hours learning about poverty in places around the world. We interspersed games and activities as well. And we drank only water. We had no food or snacks. At the end of the lock-in we cooked a meal common to many living in impoverished areas of the world: rice and beans. After 30 hours without food you might think we longer for more, maybe steak and potatoes. Yet the simple meal tasted so good. It was completely filling and satisfying.

In today’s passage Isaiah speaks to a people who have come home from exile. They returned with such joy. They were eager to start the work of restoring Jerusalem and the temple. Their work labored on and outside forces threatened their safety and their ability to continue. Isaiah comes to them and tells them that God is readying “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness”. In verse eleven Isaiah speaks hope: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”. God will be with his people. What joy and hope these words must have brought. To hear that righteousness will “shine like the dawn” and that salvation will be like a “blazing torch” only builds their hope and joy.

There were times that night twenty-something years ago when the hunger gnawed at us. There were moments when the joy and excitement that we began the event with seemed like a distant memory. But times of prayer and worship sustained us and strengthened us to stay the course, to not give up. As I think about our current season, this time of pandemic, it reminds me of that lock-in. We began this season thinking it would all be over in two to three weeks. 30 hours without food isn’t that long, right? The months have drug on, our hard labor continues, enemies seem all around, and our hope and joy are challenged often. Just as times of praise and worship lifted our souls and spirits and just as Isaiah’s words of hope lifted the Israelites, so too will these things lift us now.

In just two days believers will gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Isaiah spoke of him, the one who “will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”. This Christmas Eve is a chance to renew faith, to praise the one who brings salvation, to worship the one who is righteous, to exult the light who still shines into the darkness. If you do not have a church home, find a church online or near by you to worship on Christmas Eve. Join the faithful throughout the world as we worship Jesus Christ, Lord and King.

Prayer: Living God, continue to sustain us, to encourage us, to walk with us these long days. Draw us in to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Allow all to see the light that is still shining in the darkness. Amen.


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Well Done…

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 23: “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness”.

We return today to the Parable of the Talents. Yesterday we focused on the one servant who allowed fear to hold him back. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to use the talents, gifts, resources… that God has given us to build up the kingdom here on earth. When we willingly and joyfully invest in the lives of others we do not lose those blessings ourselves, but we gain even more. The upside-down kingdom of God that we can experience is illustrated in today’s parable.

When we make the intentional choice to use the talents that the Master has given us, whatever the talent(s), we are usually investing in relationships. If your talent, for example, is working with children or youth, then your time given at Sunday school or VBS or youth group is being invested in their faith and in the relationships with the children or youth and their families. If your gift is musical, your time given in the choir or praise band is being invested in your faith, in the members of the group, and in the worshippers’ relationship with God. If your talent is cooking or baking and you invest time in providing food for the times of fellowship at church or for those in need in the larger community, then your talents are building relationships within the body of Christ or with the larger world. No matter what your talent, it can be used to build relationships and the kingdom.

Two of the servants in today’s parable invested the master’s money using the talents they had to bless their master. It was not for their own reward or profit. Yes, the master did bless them for their service. Our Master will as well. When we choose to live out our faith, using the talents that the Lord has given to each of us, we too will one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!… Come and share your master’s happiness”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for orienting me towards doing and serving. Thank you for the talents that you have given me to live out my faith in these ways. On those days when I’d rather not, when I want to make the selfish choice, remind me again of your love and investment in me. Call me to do your will, not mine. Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen.


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See and Engage

Reading: Luke 13: 10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”.

Perhaps you know someone like this woman. They are limited by some ailment – at least from most people’s perspectives. Like this woman, they mostly live on the fringes of society. She would have been unable to work and would have relied on family or the kindness of others. To some this is a burden, pushing her closer to the fringe. The common understanding is that she is crippled by a spirit – another reason to avoid her. To many on the periphery of her life, she would have long ago blended in. Those in the synagogue probably don’t notice her coming and going most days. Today there are people just like this woman.

Over the years I have helped lead a few high school mission trips. Without fail we meet people like this woman. Their ailment might be physical, like hers. But more often than not it is emotional. They might have a mental illness or a traumatic experience has impacted them. Once in a while the person is simply very different and this creates the barrier. There is also something that happens without fail. A youth or a group of youth will come back from a day of serving and will share that “that guy” or “that woman” is a really neat person or that they have a really cool life story. Almost all of the time they shift to calling them by name part way through the retelling and that almost always ends with some version of a “he/she is just like us” statement.

In order for all that to happen, at least two things must occur. First, the youth(s) must be willing to see the other. Second, they must be willing to engage the other. This is what Jesus did in our story. In verse twelve we read, “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity'”. He saw her come in. He chose to engage her. She was absolutely worthy of his time and attention. The barriers that others saw and the Sabbath day barrier did not stop Jesus. He ministered to her that day. Her life was forever changed. On mission trips or whenever we engage those like the woman, we do not heal them. But we do introduce them to the idea that Jesus can.

Today, who will you truly see and engage that others avoid or do not notice?

Prayer: Lord, continue to give me eyes to see the other and a heart to engage them. Lead and guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Signs

Reading: John 2:11

Verse 11: “This, the first of His miraculous signs, revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him”.

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus offers the first sign. The miracle of changing ordinary water into extraordinary wine is an amazing event. Yet, the the book of John, he chooses the word “sign”, not miracle. John’s gospel focuses on revealing the divinity of Christ, using several signs to point people to Jesus as the Son of God, as the Messiah, as the light of the world.

There are only seven signs or miracles in John’s gospel. Each is chosen from the more prolific ministry of Jesus because of the way they point to or reveal Jesus as the Son, the light… The signs demonstrate Jesus’ power over substances and nature, His power over illness, His power over hunger and need, and, lastly, His power over death. With each sign there is a growing awareness of Jesus’ true identity. There is also a growing fear of Him that will lead to His death and resurrection.

Today’s passage is the first sign in John’s gospel that begins to reveal who Jesus is. If we were to reflect upon our lives, we too have a first sign – that moment when we first began to see Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It was that first tug at the heart. Maybe it happened in Sunday school or at youth group. Maybe it happened at church one morning or at VBS. Maybe it was at church camp or maybe it was one day when you were alone with your Bible. When it happened for them, “His disciples put their faith in Him”. That first sign in our lives started us down that road as well. Each ensuing sign that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the light, our hope and promise, builds up our faith and our relationship with our Lord and Savior. May we continue to see the signs, continuing to grow in our faith, always awed by the ways that God is revealed to us and through us.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for that first inkling of who you are. Thank you for every sign and every gentle nudge and whisper. Continue to reveal yourself to me, drawing me ever closer to you. Amen.


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God Story

Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4 and 12-19

Verse 12: How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?

The psalmist begins by declaring his love for God because God heard his voice.  Because of God turning His ear to him, the psalmist commits to call on the Lord as long as he lives.  If only we were so steadfast in our relationship with God.  Sometimes we are more likely to coast in our relationship with God and then to ramp it up when trial or suffering set in on us.

I began my working career as a teacher.  I soon added ‘coach’ to my titles.  Shortly thereafter I added middle school Sunday school teacher.  That was the beginning of a long transition in my life.  Eventually I taught high school Sunday school and that led to working with the youth program.  God continued to work on my heart.  Almost seven years ago I left coaching and went to work serving part time as the youth director at my church.  Almost five years ago I left teaching and became a pastor.  God blessed my path in life and opened many doors for me.  This is one story.  While it is all true, it is not the whole story.

Eleven years and nine years ago I applied for the youth director’s job.  Twice I was not selected as the church hired someone else.  Rejection is always hard.  But perseverance is part of who I am.  And God’s call helped me to continue to be a part of the youths’ lives, He kept me engaged.  Those four years were a part of shaping me, a part of preparing me to do the job when God decided I was ready.  God’s timing is excellent.  It is perfect.

The first part of my story tells how God was at work in my life, slowly drawing me in.  The second part involves some trial and a little suffering, but it too is an essential part of my story.  Like the psalmist, I too must ask, “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me”?  The first response is to tell my story of what God has done in my life.  The second is to do what the psalmist did: praise the Lord!  What is your God story?  How can you tell it?  And what is your responsive praise to God?