pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Restore

Reading: Psalm 80: 5-7 and 17-19

Verse Five: “You have fed them with the bread of tears”.

Psalm 80 is a song of lament.  As one reads the Psalm, you can feel the people’s pain and hurt seeping out of the words.  They are calling out to God and and feel as if God were not there.  In the opening line of our passage, the psalmist asks, “How long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people”?  They are searching for God.  They long for God’s face to once again shine upon them.

Today our headlines are filled daily with stories of people who could use God’s face shining upon them.  And there are countless others who feel this way whose stories do not cross our TV screens or our Facebook feeds.  There is much hurt and brokenness in our world and even in some of our lives.  We continue today to ask where is God in the midst of the pain and suffering of our world.  We wonder why God would allow tings to be as they are for so many people.

On behalf of the people Israel, the psalmist laments to God: “You have fed them with the bread of tears”.  It is a sad image to have in our minds.  Instead of being filled with God’s love and compassion and healing, they are eating tears.  They long for God’s presence instead.  The psalmist goes on to ask, “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.  The people long for God to look their way.

Many would voice this call today.  “Restore us, O God Almighty”.  You are powerful and can do anything.  You came down to earth and lived among us, healing many – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  You continue to be present both through the Holy Spirit and through us, your disciples.  So Lord, God Almighty, send us out, led by the power and presence of your Holy Spirit.  Send us out to bring healing and restoration to the broken people of our neighborhoods and communities.  Send us out to be your love and compassion to those who are eating tears.  Lead us and guide us to fill them with your bread of love and hope.  Send us out.  Amen.


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Come and Save Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 103

Verse Two: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s Psalm is written at the time of the Assyrian invasion.  The nation of Israel is divided and the Northern Kingdom has fallen to the invading army.  The psalmist expresses the hope of the Southern Kingdom when he writes, “Awaken your might; come and save us.”  It is a great plea for God’s intervention and help.

At times in our lives we will issue a similar plea.  We may not be facing an approaching army, but many things invade our lives and try to steal our faith in God, our commitment to our family and friends, our joy and peace in life.  The invading force may be ‘small’ things like gossip or jealousy or greed or resentment or pride.  As these things come to permeate our life, they draw our focus away from God.  ‘Larger’ forces such as addiction, slavery to our jobs, and selfishness can steal time and attention from things that really matter in our faith and in our lives.No, we may not have a vast army with horses and chariots on our border, but we do have plenty of things in life that can make us cry out for God’s might to save us.  And He does.

Our Psalm today begins by calling God a shepherd.  This image of God evokes care, protection, guidance, and watchfulness over the sheep.  As our shepherd, God provides all of this for us, the sheep of His flock.  As our shepherd, God also helps us avoid dangers and evils while trying hard to guide us to good and safe pastures.  It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that God leads and guides us as we journey through life.  When we listen to and follow the guidance of the Spirit, we find peace and rest and joy and contentment in this life.  These things help us to fend off those invading armies and to keep to the path that God intends for our lives.

We are saved not to simply rest in our salvation, to enjoy a quiet God-centered life.  We are not called to be silent, isolated sheep.  We are called to be in the world, trusting God to be with us as we go forth to share our peace, joy, love, and contentment with other sheep who are lost and are seeking these things for their lives.  We are called to bring God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others so that they too may come to know the Good Shepherd.  May Jesus flow out of us today, so that in all we do and say others may see Him today, coming to know the Good Shepherd as Lord of their lives.


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Distance

Reading: Isaiah 64: 5-9

Verse Five: “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

There are times when we all feel distance from God.  Sometimes it is because we are struggling with sin in our life and this separates us for a time.  Sometimes it is our own inability to move past the guilt or shame that comes from our sin.  We stew init a bit.  We feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness so we do not ask for it.  And some of the time we want to be near God but it just feels as if He were absent or very distant.  We can cause the distance some of the time, but once in a while it is not rooted in us.  It just feels like there is some distance between us and God.

In our writing from Isaiah, there is some distance or separation that the people are feeling.  Verse five opens with a truth: “You come to the help of those that gladly do right”.  This verse may be wishful thinking or it may be a call to get back to doing what is right so that God can again feel present.  As verses five through seven unfold, we see that sin has definitely been a part of the separation.  Isaiah also admits that “no one calls on the name” of God and that no one “strives” to get a hold of God.  There is a complacency also at work here.  despite it primarily being their sins that separate them from God, the people still want to blame God.  Their logic makes no sense.  God cannot be more present.  God’s mercy and grace are always available and at work in our lives.  God never hides from His children.  They are playing the “if only you were here” game with a God who is always there.

The tide begins to turn in verse eight.  Isaiah writes, “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  He is reminding the people that they are indeed in God’s hands and that, even in the midst of feeling like there is separation, God is still at work.  Even in the trials, God is shaping us too.  Verse nine closes with a plea: “Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people”.  God has, is, and always will be looking upon His people.  It is a reminder to themselves as much as it is a request of God.  At times we too must confess our need for God.

When we feel separation, we must find the root.  If it is sin that separates us from God, may we cast that aside,  repent, and seek God’s forgiveness.  If it is just a feeling, may we seek God with all that we are.  When we seek Him, we will find Him.  Delve into the Word.  Go out and be the hands and feet.  Spend time in fervent prayer.  Lift your voice in praise.  God is present.  We will find Him when we seek Him.  Amen.


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Anticipate

Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-4

Verse One: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”

As we begin Advent today, we are preparing to remember when Jesus first came as a baby.  There is an anticipation that builds as we walk through this holy season.  There is an excitement that grows as we draw nearer to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Part of our excitement and anticipation is built upon what comes next though.  The birth is exciting and grand partly because of the life that is then lived by Jesus the Messiah.  Jesus the Savior brought new life and love into the world.  Jesus allowed people to connect to God in a new way and also opened up the way to eternal life for all who believe.

As Isaiah wrote today’s passage, there was a deep longing for hope and God’s presence.  The Israelites had just returned from a long period in exile.  Things were not as they had been.  Life was hard.  Isaiah voices the people’s deep-felt need for God when he writes, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.”  It is a plea.  He is begging for God to come down and to intercede for the people.  The people long for God to come down to “make your name known” as God once again does “awesome things”.  The people of God are anticipating the restoration of God’s reign.  It is a waiting they want ended very soon.

On the edge of Advent, we too anticipate God’s reign.  Many people long for God to intercede in their lives today.  They long for God to bind up their hurts, to end their season in exile, to make all things new, to once again feel hope and love.  We all long for the God who “acts on behalf of those who wait upon Him”.  We too wait with hope and excitement for Christ to come down once again, to begin His forever reign.  In the interim though, we live now with the risen Christ, daily looking forward to His presence and activity in our daily lives.

As we wait, we pray for Jesus to be near the broken, to heal their hurts, to restore their lives to wholeness.  We ask that we may be used in the process, to have open hearts and willing hands.  May it be so.  Amen.


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The Only Question

Reading: Matthew 25: 45-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we come to the end of Matthew 25, to the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats.  For me, it is one of the most difficult passages of scripture to read and ponder.  It often leads me to the question of whether or not I am doing enough for the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God and His justice are not about keeping score, but I often feel conviction when I read this passage.  I fail on both ends of the spectrum.  There are times when I see hunger or loneliness or some other need and I fail to act.  There are times when I do act but not for the right reasons.  I do meet a need but it was not for the building of the kingdom of God but it is for a selfish reason that I served.  So when I read, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”, the word ‘whatever’ looms large.  It seems that I often fail Jesus and the ones He loves and the ones sent my way.

I also often try and rationalize things in my mind to assuage my guilt.  I make excuses or I rationalize why I should not give this person money or I try to convince myself that I do not have the time…  I judge and try and make the one n need unworthy of love in my mind, helping my inaction to feel a bit better.  And when I do all of these things, they eventually bring on their own conviction and sense of guilt.  This sometimes leads me to try and do something for someone, but soon enough I am made aware that my motivation is in the wrong place and I am a goat in the parable.

It is a tough parable to wrestle with.  I do not like where it often leaves me.  Yet in the end, I realize that it is not a giant scoreboard that Jesus keeps, ever balancing my times when I did meet Jesus in the service of another against those times when I did not serve or when I served for the wrong reasons.  Instead Jesus keeps an overflowing well of mercy, grace, and love, offering me chance after chance to love as He loved, to serve as He served.  In the end, I believe the only question that will matter is this: do you love me?


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Serve

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-44

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me”.

At first, today’s passage is challenging because we can all think of times when we we both the sheep and the goats.  There are times in our lives when we have taken the time for one who was hungry or thirsty or have visited with a stranger or one who was sick.  There have also been times when we have passed by or ignored or chosen not to help, not to stop, not to care fore one in need when we could have.  But I do not think today’s passage is about making us feel guilty that we did not serve one in need or proud that we did.  It is about helping us to understand that Jesus is present in all of us.  It is about being open to the times when the Holy spirit nudges us to be of help and also about how we grow in our faith when we step outside of our comfort zones.

What is it about our times with the hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned and strangers that allow us to experience Jesus more?  In those times when we step outside the normal, outside our comfort zones, we are more willing to see or experience Jesus in a new way.  Sometimes it is in the experience of serving another, sometimes it is in seeing Jesus in them, and sometimes it is about feeling personally connected to Jesus ourselves.  It is much like going on a mission trip or going to camp or a revival meeting – we are then mentally predisposed to experience Jesus in a new and powerful way, so we are more likely to do so.

More often than  not, when we feel nudged or even led to engage or serve another, we should if at all possible.  Simply because we might meet or experience Jesus more is reason enough.  May we heed the warmth we feel in out hearts, allowing ourselves and others to know Jesus and His love today.


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Mind and Heart

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 17: “I keep asking that God may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation”.

Paul is thankful for the church’s faith in Jesus and their love for the saints.  He writes that he has “not stopped giving thanks” as he remembers them in his prayers.  But Paul is not content to end his prayers of thanksgiving here.  He goes on in the next verse to write, “I keep asking that God may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation”.  Paul realizes that the church in Ephesus is not “there” yet.  This verse finishes with these words: “so that you may know Him better”.  This is the purpose of our journey of faith too.  As followers of Christ, we never fully know Jesus.  Each day of our lives we can know Him more and more, coming to be more and more like Christ.

We know Jesus in two interconnected yet different ways.  We first come to know Jesus in our minds.  Whether as a child in Sunday school or as an adult who later comes to faith, we begin by learning about Jesus.  Whether that is through the Sunday school stories or through seeing faith lived out in the lives of other Christians, we first come to know Jesus.  This head knowledge eventually travels the path to our heart and we begin to sense a need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  When we get to know Him sufficiently we respond to that “knock on the door of our heart”, one day finally professing Jesus as the Lord and Savior of our life.  Then Jesus has a place in our heart.  But beware – we are not “there” yet either!

Paul’s prayer is for the Ephesians and for us to have the “Spirit” of wisdom and revelation.  In having a spirit that yearns to know Him better, Paul prays that the eyes of our heart be enlightened so that we know both the “hope to which He has called you” and the “incomparably great power” for us who believe.  In coming to know and live into these two requires both wisdom and revelation because these two are both in our heart and in our mind.

This day may we have mind experiences that cause our heart love of Jesus to grow as well as heart experiences that reaffirm and expand our mind knowledge of Jesus Christ.  In both ways we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, ever drawing closer to Him.


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Thanksgiving

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse Four: “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.

As we begin the day, the psalmist encourages us to “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.  It is very appropriate for Thanksgiving Day.  This is the day when we will gather around the table and list off all of the things we are thankful for: family, friends, home, employment, time off, the food!  And in the midst of the holiday, let us not forget to be thankful for our God.

People will come into this day of thanks with a wide range of emotions and from different places in their lives.  Most will come into the day with the joy and praise called for by the psalmist.  But for some, this will be their first big holiday or their first thanksgiving without someone special.  May we be sensitive to and extra loving of them if this is the case.  Others will come to the gathering with different struggles or sorrows or burdens.  To each of these may we offer kindness and understanding and acceptance along with our love and welcome.

Maybe this is how we enter Thanksgiving today.  Then these words that open the Psalm are harder to live out.  we think: joyful songs when I feel this way?  Shouts of praise as I am going through this?  If so, perhaps just verse five matters today: “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness endured through all generations”.  Sometimes we must just cling to God’s love and His faithfulness.  Sometimes we must lean into God and His presence and know that it is enough.  As we turn to God in our need, He will surround us with His love.  And in time we will be grateful for this and we will thank Him for His love.

May our day today be filled with God, family, and  friends and with wonderful food and a joyous time of fellowship!  Amen!


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Faithful Prayer

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.

Today’s passage is about how Paul prays for others.  He is praying for a group of believers that he has heard of.  I think we all pray for a group of people.  While I most regularly pray for family and friends, I do add people to my daily prayers that I hear about at church.  At times, events in the community or in our wider world will draw my heart to be in prayer for those people or that situation.  So, like Paul, we too pray for people we do not know.  It is part of our role in the fellowship of all believers to pray for one another.  This all leads me to think about prayer.

The core of our daily prayer life focuses on the people and events that are close to our hearts.  Early each morning I pray for my extended family by name, for those I know battling cancer and illness, for those I know who have experienced recent loss, and for our church.  It is a pretty standard list.  It changes from time to time but remains pretty constant.  As I go for a walk, I also pray.  I pray for each pastor and their churches in our area.  I pray for our leaders – national, state, and local.  I pray for our police, highway patrol, EMTs, and firefighters and those who lead them.  I pray for the jail, both the inmates and the workers, as well as for the judicial staff across the street.  It is good to have a pattern of prayer to follow.  It is good to have a time set aside to pray.  It is good to have a regular list of folks to pray for.  It is good to be in prayer.  What and whom do you pray for each and every day?

Two other important areas of prayer that we need to consider are thanksgiving and confession.  It is important to take time each day to reflect on our blessings and to name them before God.  It acknowledges God as our provider and it reminds us of our need for His provision.  It helps us to be humble.  Another important area of prayer is our confession of sin.  We are sinful creatures so we are not usually in short supply of confessional material.  It is so important to daily bow before our Maker, to confess our sins, to seek His forgiveness, and to pledge repentance.  This act of prayer helps us stay in a right relationship with God.  How well do you offer thanks and practice confession?

Lord, may we ever bring our praise, our petitions, our thanksgiving, and our confessions to you.  You are faithful.  May we be as well.  Amen.


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Are We Willing?

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.

Ezekiel is writing to a people who are discouraged and downtrodden.  They feel like the sheep he is describing who are lean, weak, and driven away.  The Israelites have been in exile for many years.  The years have separated them from each other and many of them from their faith.  Even those who did not go into exile have become mixed in with the people living around them.  Ezekiel looks at the people and sees their deep need for a shepherd to rise up who will gather the scattered flock, protecting the weak and poor among them while ruling with justice, compassion, and love.

The need for a good shepherd is very real today.  On a personal level, we need one to walk the walk of faith.  Our inner bent towards sin is in almost constant need of the voice of the good shepherd to guide is on the right path and to keep us from wandering off of the narrow way.  We also need the good shepherd to lead us where we should go at times – to those green pastures.  As we follow Jesus and His teachings and example, we are following the one true good shepherd.  As we follow, we in turn open ourselves up more and more to the voice of the good shepherd as we feel the nudges and hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

This voice calls us to the least and the lost.  It calls us to those who do not know the good shepherd.  The lost are wandering around in the darkness, going from one thing to another, never finding what they truly need.  Others are marginalized and struggle in the simple day to day of life.  The Holy Spirit calls us to them as well.  The least often cannot begin to hear the voice of the good shepherd calling out to them until their basic needs are met.  The need for shelter, food, and safety must be met before there is space for the good shepherd to speak into their lives.

The Good Shepherd says, “I will save my flock and they will no longer be plundered”.  He says this to us in our times of need and encouragement.  He calls us to help bring this message to those who are hurting and broken and lost and discouraged.  Are we willing?