pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Connection

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7-8 and Psalm 1: 1-3

Verse 7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

In both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 we read about being connected to God. It is a connection that helps us avoid those who are wicked and who are sinners. It is a connection that lessens our fears and worries. In Jeremiah 17:7 we read of the benefits of staying connected to God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

The psalmist identifies the connection point. When we delight in the law and when we meditate on it, we are blessed. When we read our Bibles and when we meditate on what we read – seeking understanding and application for our lives – then we are blessed. For the psalmist, this is the source that is like water to the roots of a tree. Water is essential for life. It nourishes the tree. In time, the tree produces fruit. Its leaves do not wither, it prospers. So it is with us when we sink our roots down into the Word, delving into our Bibles, soaking up God’s word.

Jeremiah also speaks of blessing when we are connected to God. When ‘heat’ comes we do not fear and when hard times come we do not worry. If our roots are connected to God, then we can rest in God’s presence and peace. The things of this world do not consume us. In those times when life ramps up and we feel the heat, we can turn to God for assurance and refuge. When we face difficult situations, instead of worrying, we can turn to God and place our lives in His hands, trusting in His love.

This metaphor is also picked up in the New Testament. Just yesterday I shared a message from John 15. In the first five verses, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus emphasizes our absolute need for connection too. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And just as Jeremiah and the psalmist speak of bearing fruit, so too does Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus shares the key to bearing fruit: “remain in me and I will remain in you”. We do this by spending time in our Bibles and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In these ways we remain connected to the true vine – Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, our commission is to make disciples. By sharing the good news of Jesus and by telling the story of what He has done in our lives we help others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. As others come to know and accept Jesus as Lord, our lives are bearing fruit. In John 15, Jesus tells us that when we remain connected to Him we will bear much fruit.

This day and every day may we connect to our Bibles, drinking deeply from the connection that we find in Jesus. May this be the source of life that we share with the world!

Prayer: God of all creation, help me to know you more intimately today. Strengthen my connection with you, build up our relationship. Fill me with you so that all I do and say brings you glory. Amen.

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Worship God… with all our heart

Reading: Psalm 138: 1-3

Verse 1: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”.

Today’s three verses from Psalm 138 are about worshipping God because of and through our personal relationship with God. Like all relationships, this relationship resides in our heart. It is a relationship build upon love and faithfulness. God’s love and faithfulness is, of course, much more pure and constant than our fickle nature allows. But God does not let our nature deter His. God’s love and faithfulness are “no matter what” – God loves us and remains faithful to us regardless of what we do or do not do.

Our proper response is what David begins the Psalm with: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”. The competing interests of self and world make it pretty hard to love God with all of our heart. In our day to day living the voices to succeed and attain and to earn and to gather more and more are loud. To have a chance at loving God with all of our heart, this relationship requires what all relationships require: time. If we really want to love God fully, then our daily disciplines should reflect that. Our day should include both structured and spontaneous times of prayer. Our day should include some time set aside to read the Word and to meditate upon what God is saying to us through the Bible that day. If we give time and attention to prayer and the Word, then our relationship with God will grow and deepen. Yet there is one more thing.

If we are to really love God with all of our hearts, then we must also worship God daily. This type of worship in not necessarily or even often done in a church. Yes, a time of corporate worship done at least weekly is essential in our relationship with God. But intimate, close, personal heart worship is the key to loving God with all of our heart. Taking time each day to reflect on God’s blessings and presence in our lives each day is essential to building our love of and faithfulness to God. This can be done anywhere and at anytime, but, again, making this practice a part of our daily disciplines will help our love of God and our faithfulness to God to grow.

Whether now or at some other point in the day, take some set aside time to worship God with your thanksgiving and praise. Thank God for being present in this situation or for guidance in that project or relationship. Worship God for the ways you saw God in your child or spouse or co-worker. Take some set aside time and grow more in love with God. Be faithful to God today. And then… do it again tomorrow and the day after that and…

Prayer: Lord of Lords, I marvel at how your love and faithfulness are always present, both revealed in so many ways. I praise you for the small and the big ways that you are present to me in and throughout each day. You are the creator and the God of the entire universe, yet you are also my God. All praise to you, O God. Amen.


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Growing Closer

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-6

Verse 2: “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”.

The psalmist is calling out to God, seeking refuge in God. In verse two he also asks God, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”. He goes on to ask for saving and deliverance. The psalmist wants God to act. This same theme is found in our gospel reading for this week. In Luke 4 the people of Nazareth want Jesus, the home town boy, to perform a miracle to prove who He is. They want Him to act.

Our lives parallel the scene we find in the Psalm and in Luke at times. When life brings us an unwanted change or an illness or loss, we too seek for God to be our refuge, to save us from the trial we are facing. We want God to rescue us from the suffering that we are unduring. We too want God to act, to do something to prove who He is.

Most of our lives, however, are not spent in trial or suffering. Most of our lives are spent in the normal routine. We work, eat, and sleep. We spend time with family and friends. We pursue the activities that bring us joy. There is also a critical component that affects how we face the times of trial and suffering. Carving out time to read our Bibles, to worship, to spend time in prayer are essential. These day to day rhythms are what connect us to God. They deepen our faith. They build a foundation for when the rains fall and the flood waters rise. Through our faith practices we learn that God will never forsake us, that God will always be there for us. It is in the day to day living out of our faith that we come to know and believe these things. It is through these practices that we come to know that we are a beloved child of God.

If we walk daily and regularly with our God, then we live out verses 5 and 6 from Psalm 71. God is our hope and our confidence. From birth – from new birth in Jesus Christ – we rely on God. Like the psalmist, we too can say, “I will ever praise you”. When we walk daily with Him, then in the good and in the bad, in the joy and in the sorrow, we can ever praise God. Yes, you are my God and I will ever praise you.

Prayer: Lord, may I always seek you – in the quiet of the morning, in the sanctuary, in all times and in all places. Step by step may I follow you, O God. 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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Faith Formation

Reading: 2nd Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Verse 26: “The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

After being dedicated to God, young Samuel continued to grow both physically and spiritually. Hannah would make him new priestly garments every year and would bring them to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice in the temple. Our passage tells us that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

As I think about Samuel’s upbringing I think about how we raise our children – both in our nuclear families and in our church families. Just as Samuel was dedicated to God at birth, so too do people of faith dedicate their young children to God. In some faith traditions we baptize our infants, marking them as a member of the family of faith and pledging to raise them in the faith. In other faith traditions, infants are dedicated or consecrated with the same marking and pledge to raise them in the faith. In both cases the congregation has a role to play. The congregation pledges to do all they can to help raise the child in the faith.

As soon as they are able to we begin to bring our children to Sunday school or perhaps to a Wednesday night faith formation class. They learn the stories of the Bible and begin to apply its teachings to their lives and decisions. At some point we hope our children grow out of the faith of their parents and into a faith of their own. In some churches baptism marks this point and in others confirmation does.

As we look at Samuel’s life and at other examples we find in scripture, we see that the plan that God has for all children is to be raised in the faith. May we be attentive to all of our children, ever aware of our roles as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, mentors, teachers, pastors… to be a part of their faith formation, helping them to always “grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful in leading and guiding my children and all of the children that come under my care, helping each to know you more and to draw closer to you. May I ever do these things with both my words and my actions. Amen.


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Your Love

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verses 30 and 31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… soul… mind… and strength… Love your neighbor as yourself”.

If I had to choose one word to describe God and Jesus, it would be love. Love defines so many of their thoughts, words, and actions. It is no surprise that Jesus identifies loving God and loving each other as the most important commands in the Bible. Love is why Jesus died for us. Love is how others will know we are His disciples. Faith, hope, and love abide – but the greatest of these is love.

Jesus loved God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. This love is reflected in many ways. Jesus loved God’s Word. The Bible reveals who and what God is and to spend time getting to know God is a way to love God more. Jesus knew the scriptures. Jesus was obedient to God. In always following God’s will, Jesus demonstrated love through obedience. He aligned Himself with God, being God’s extension of love here on earth. Jesus modeled God’s love in the ways that He loved those that He encountered. Jesus revealed God’s love for humanity in the interactions and relationships that He lived out while here on earth.

Our love for God should reveal itself in the same ways that it did in Jesus’ life. We should spend time daily in the Word, getting to know God better so that we can love God more fully. Our obedience to God’s will and way should show our complete love for God. And, like Jesus, the love of God should flow out of our hearts and into the lives of all we meet. The love we have for God should go out to all of God’s children. No matter who our neighbor is at any particular moment, in them we should see a fellow child of God and we should love them as God loves us and as God loves them.

Like God and Jesus, may all know us as love. May our words, actions, and thoughts reveal the love of God in us to a world that needs to know that love.

Heavenly Father, in you is love. May I dwell and rest in you today. May your love in me become more and more complete. May it be so. Amen.


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Simple Relationships

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 6: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.

Today’s passage deals with who we are as opposed to who we want to appear to be. This passage applies to us as individuals and to our churches as well.

The Pharisees and religious leaders notice Jesus’ disciples doing something that they think shouldn’t be done. They are eating with unclean hands. The disciples did not wash their hands before eating. Yes, there is a practical side to this. But the religious folk aren’t concerned with this aspect. They are concerned with the spiritual implications of eating with unclean hands. By simply being in the world, one can possibly touch something that itself is unclean. If you then eat without ceremonially washing, then the sin or impurity enters you. So they ask, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders”?

Jesus does not really answer their question. He turns the subject back on them. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. The religious folks know what to say. They also ought to know why they are saying it. They have lost their connection with the source of the Law. Over the years the Torah or law has grown to the point of being cumbersome. Many of the traditions or rules are things that man has added over time. The intent was to help people follow the law, but it has become a long list of things to do or to check off the list. It has moved far away from worshipping God. Jesus reflects, “You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding onto the traditions of men”.

We too can fall into following man-made traditions or rules and can allow these to drag us far from God. If we go to church on Sunday morning but it becomes a burden or hardship, is it really worshipful to God? If we go up and eat the bread and drink the juice but do not confess and repent of our sins, is it really holy communion? If we say we are a welcoming church but do not engage the stranger who enters our midst, are we really loving all people? If we read our Bibles each day but do not apply the Word to our lives, is it really a meaningful discipline? Yes, this is just the beginning of a long list of questions.

O Lord, give us faith and not religion. Give us relationships and not lists of rules. May our faith be about simple relationships – loving you and loving neighbor. And may all we say and do and think flow from these two central commands. May it be so. Amen.